Leach's contract impasse overshadows Tech's recent surge

February, 18, 2009
2/18/09
8:42
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's hard to believe how things have changed at Texas Tech in less than four months.

On Nov. 1, the spotlight was focused on the school in remote West Texas with a national television broadcast, ESPN's "College GameDay" and all the rest. Members of the national media scrambled to unprecedented lengths to get to the Texas-Texas Tech game -- some flying from several hours away and driving across miles of Texas highways for a chance to watch the Big 12 South Division showdown.

 
  Douglas Jones/US Presswire
  We may know more about Mike Leach's coaching future by the end of the week.

The game didn't disappoint as Tech claimed a pulsating 39-33 comeback victory, capped by a game-winning catch by Michael Crabtree with one second left. It assuredly was the most memorable play of the season and might have been the biggest play in Big 12 history.

Those memories now seem like they happened years ago -- especially in the fallout of Texas Tech's announcement Tuesday that the school will conduct a teleconference of its board of regents to decide topics "including, but not limited to the position of the football head coach."

That doesn't sound like the group will be talking about Taylor Potts' ability to replace Graham Harrell, does it?

The board could accede to coach Mike Leach's wishes and grant him a $12.7 million, five-year contract extension. But it would be hard to believe they would go along with Leach's hopes on the wording and length of the buyout clause in his contract, his ownership of his personal property and naming rights, and how money from his speaking engagements would be divvied up.

It could let things lie as Leach has two years left on his existing contract. But that decision would cripple the school's recruiting after unprecedented recent success with the incoming class of 2009.

Or it could start the process of looking for Leach's replacement.

There really appears to be no middle ground. Either Leach's contract gets done to his wishes or he's out of there -- despite the most successful run in recent Tech history.

Amazingly, Leach could be fired by the end of the week -- despite matching the school single-season record for victories with an 11-2 record last season. The Red Raiders earned a share of their first Big 12 South Division title last season. And that's after taking Tech to the rarefied air of a No. 2 national ranking late last season.

Leach has directed the program to attendance and graduation rate records and a steadily escalating national public perception. The Red Raiders have been to nine bowl games during his nine-season tenure there. He was even the subject of a laudatory "60 Minutes" piece where he was called "The Mad Genius of College Football" for his unconventional strategy and his interest in pirates and history.

That national cachet hasn't been marketable in his own office where his contract talks have stalled. It appears it's more than money in this long-simmering personality battle between Leach, athletic director Gerald Myers and Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance.

Interestingly, Tech has just signed a multimillion-dollar sports marketing deal with Learfield Communications that will be worth at least $20.3 million to the school, providing rental of stadium suites and a new video screen at Jones AT&T Stadium. Tech was the last school in the Big 12 that outsourced its sports marketing business.

One of Learfield's biggest competitive rivals is IMG, a leading collegiate marketing and licensing company that also represents football coaches.

And one of IMG's top clients is Mike Leach -- making it understandable why the thought of a school-managed representation deal for Leach became such a contentious topic in his contract negotiations.

It was telling earlier this week when former Texas Tech running back coach Seth Littrell, considered Leach's top recruiter, left for a job on Mike Stoops' staff at Arizona.

Stoops' job security had been tenuous until a late run last season, capped by a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl.

But it appears that Littrell sees more stability among the saguaros in the desert on Stoops' staff than by staying on the High Plains working with Leach.

It all adds up to what should be a fascinating meeting on Friday for the trustees and an even more interesting result when the board finally makes its decision.

No predictions on the outcome here, but I'm guessing we might be seeing the end of those wild drives across the West Texas plains by my friends among the national football media corps.

And I wouldn't expect the Texas Tech band to be decked out again in their pirate regalia in a halftime tribute to their quirky coach anytime soon, either.

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