Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Updated: December 31, 5:31 PM ET
Leach fired short of Tech's bowl game
ESPN.com news services
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Texas Tech fired coach Mike Leach on Wednesday, two days after he was suspended by the school as it investigated his treatment of a player with a concussion.
"I'm very sad to say there's only one person to blame for this and it's Mike Leach," Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance told The Associated Press.
Jerry Turner, vice chairman of the university system's board of regents, said "other things" came to light during an investigation of Leach's treatment of receiver Adam James. Turner declined to elaborate about the other issues.
Later, in a telephone interview with ESPN's Rece Davis, Hance said: "I like him and I wanted him to be my coach, but insubordination and this type of activity just cannot be permitted."
Leach was in San Antonio with his team, which is preparing for the Alamo Bowl against Michigan State on Saturday, when he learned of his firing. Later Wednesday, he issued a statement to the media.
Saying he was proud of turning the program around and upping the school's graduation rate, Leach then blasted groups related to the university.
"Over the past several months there have been individuals in the Texas Tech administration, Board of Regents and booster groups who have dealt in lies and continue to do so," the statement read. "These lies have led to my firing [Wednesday]. I steadfastly refuse to deal in any lies and am disappointed that I have not been afforded the opportunity for the truth to be known.
"Texas Tech's decision to deal in lies and fabricate a story which led to my firing includes, but is not limited by, the animosity remaining from last year's contract negotiations. I will not tolerate such retaliatory action. Additionally, we will pursue all available legal remedies."
In the statement, Leach did not explain how he felt the school was lying. He said his reputation had been damaged but that "there will be time to answer questions about this issue in the future, but the serious legal nature of this situation prevents me from going into further detail at this time."
Earlier Wednesday, Leach left the team's hotel while his interim replacement, defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, was holding a news conference. Approached by a reporter, Leach said no comment before being asked a question. Asked how he felt Texas Tech treated him throughout the last two weeks, Leach responded, "I think that's apparent."
Texas Tech's official statement said Leach's recent actions made it impossible for him to remain coach of the Red Raiders.
"In a defiant act of insubordination, Coach Leach continually refused to cooperate in a meaningful way to help resolve the complaint. He also refused to obey a suspension order and instead sued Texas Tech University," the statement said.
The school handed a termination letter to Leach's attorney, Ted Liggett, minutes before the two sides were to appear in a Lubbock courtroom for a hearing on the coach's suspension.
Liggett said Texas Tech general counsel Pat Campbell approached him outside the courtroom and told him that win, lose or draw in the hearing, Leach was out effective immediately.
Liggett told the judge there was no need for the hearing on Leach's request that he be reinstated to coach the Valero Alamo Bowl. Texas Tech plays Michigan State on Saturday in San Antonio.
As for Leach's reaction, Liggett said, "Well, he's not thrilled." Liggett said he planned to file a lawsuit on Leach's behalf against the school "soon."
"We can guarantee that the fight has just begun," he said.
Leach was suspended by the university on Monday as the school investigated his treatment of James. The sophomore alleged the coach twice confined him to small, dark spaces while the team practiced.
James is the son of former NFL player and ESPN college football analyst Craig James.
When Leach decided to fight the university in court "in defiance" of his suspension, that's why "we are where we are," Turner said.
Some Texas Tech players believed the university's decision to dismiss Leach was appropriate.
"I have no complaints about this decision. [Leach] put Adam [James] in a shed like an animal. Like an animal in a cage. That was bull," defensive lineman Chris Perry said. "You call other players. I think it was a good decision. We have our pep back now. We practice hard this week. We had less stress this week. You know why? Because he's gone."
Wide receiver Tramain Swindall said he supported the decision to fire Leach.
"I do agree and I'm supporting Adam and what he's doing because it's the right thing to do," Swindall told the AP in a telephone interview.
Swindall said he believes Leach was at times out of line in how he treated players.
"And so do most of the players," he said. "It wasn't just about Adam. It was always a negative vibe."
Said cornerback Taylor Charbonnet: "The players make this team, not one coach. As Adam's friend, I didn't like it at all what [Leach] did. He was my brother and I didn't agree with it. I don't know why [Leach] did that. But I know we are fully behind [interim] coach Ruffin [McNeill]. We love him and support him."
Leach has his defenders as well. Several former and current Texas Tech players and coaches harshly criticized James' work ethic in e-mails obtained by ESPN.com.
Wes Welker, the New England Patriots receiver, said his experiences playing for Leach were positive.
"I can just go off my previous experiences from being at Texas Tech," Welker said before Leach's firing was announced, "and Coach Leach and the rest of the coaching staff was always great to me, always great to my teammates and everything like that. It's unfortunate and we wish him the best."
Former Tech wide receiver Eric Morris wrote in e-mails obtained by ESPN that James was "never known as a hard worker" and "seemed to have a negative attitude toward the football program the majority of the time."
Morris told The Associated Press on Wednesday the letters were written as school administrators began looking into the incident, before Leach was suspended. Morris said the writers wanted to show their support for Leach and show James' possible motives.
Morris said he spoke with Leach as the incident began unfolding.
"He told me he would never do anything" to harm a player, Morris said. "He was trying to hold someone accountable."
Liggett said Leach has evidence that shows the decision to suspend him was without merit.
"So they pulled the trigger," Liggett said. "They don't want that coming out."
In February, Leach and the school agreed to a five-year, $12.7 million contract. Tech's termination letter said Leach was fired with cause, meaning the university believes it does not owe Leach any of the remaining money left on the contract. According to terms of the deal, Leach was due a $800,000 bonus on Dec. 31 if he were still the head coach at Texas Tech.
"We appreciate that the university conducted a fair and thorough investigation," said a statement from the James family. "From the family's point of view this has always been about the safety and well being of our son and of all the players on the team."
Texas Tech officials seemingly laid out their case against Leach in a letter to the coach that was included in court papers filed in response to his motion for a restraining order to lift the suspension.
set out guidelines for dealing with student-athletes that the school wanted Leach to agree to. He refused to sign the letter.
Among the guidelines were:
• "Decisions regarding whether an injury warrants suspension from practice and/or play will be determined by a physician without pressure from you or your staff."
• "There will be no retaliation against any student who has suffered an injury."
Liggett said Leach likes Lubbock and wanted to remain the football program's coach.
"Coach Leach has never, ever hidden his desire to coach the Texas Tech Red Raiders," Liggett said. "His accomplishments, his actions, his graduation rate all prove that."
Liggett read the termination letter aloud in the packed courtroom. When he reached the part that made it clear Leach was fired, many in the gallery gasped audibly.
Several fans called out that they wouldn't be renewing their season tickets.
Outside the court, after the firing had been announced, a motorist yelled out his vehicle window, "Fire Myers," referring to athletic director Gerald Myers.
Leach and Myers did not always see eye to eye, as was the case in last year's contentious contract negotiations. Myers was not happy that Leach met with University of Washington officials about their job opening without informing the university.
Myers did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
A series of e-mails obtained by the Dallas Morning News and released Wednesday night detailed the contentious nature of Leach's relationship with university officials during the contract negotiations. Prominent athletic department booster Jim Sowell wrote to Hance and other officials several times, urging them to be firm with Leach and to write a large buyout into his contract in case he tried to leave.
"Take it or leave it," Sowell wrote to Hance and Myers in one e-mail released by the Morning News. "I promise you our prospects for getting a better coach are much higher than Mike's prospects of getting a better job."
The e-mails indicated that officials and boosters felt that other schools, such as Washington, were much less interesting Leach than the coach and his advisors thought.
McNeill said he was shocked when he learned of the firing -- and he lobbied to be Leach's permanent replacement.
"I'm very interested in the job," he said. "I think that's a double yes, with some exclamation marks."
A source close to James' family told ESPN's Joe Schad that James sustained a concussion on Dec. 16, was examined the following day and told not to practice because of the injury and an elevated heart rate. The source said Leach called a trainer and directed him to move James "to the darkest place, to clean out the equipment and to make sure that he could not sit or lean. He was confined for three hours."
According to the source, Leach told the trainer, two days later, to "put [James] in the darkest, tightest spot. It was in an electrical closet, again, with a guard posted outside."
The James family released a video on YouTube on Wednesday that they say was shot on Adam James' cellphone camera while he was in the electrical closet they say Leach placed him in.
Dr. Michael Phy, a Texas Tech physician, examined James on Dec. 17, diagnosed him with a mild concussion and made recommendations regarding level of activity and treatment, according to a memo Phy wrote Dec. 25. In the memo, which was reviewed by Schad, Phy wrote that "no additional risks or harm were imposed on Adam [James] by what he was asked to do."
Liggett told Schad that while James was secluded twice, the circumstances were not as portrayed by the source close to the family.
Liggett said James "was placed in an equipment room as it was much cooler and darker" than the practice field "after a doctor had examined him and returned him to the field."
Liggett said that on that day, a trainer was posted outside the room and that James was provided ice. Liggett said that James was secluded for one to two hours.
Tech is the second Big 12 school to launch an internal investigation into a coach's treatment of his players.
On Nov. 16, Kansas investigated Mark Mangino, who got a big raise after he was national coach of the year and went 12-1 in 2007. Some players said he was insensitive, though others defended him.
Mangino resigned Dec. 3 after reaching a settlement with the school that was later disclosed as a $3 million buyout.
In an affidavit included in Tuesday's court filing, Leach said he "would never intentionally harm or endanger a player" and that he has been "forced into this situation without being afforded any process." He also said "absolutely" no evidence had been given to him that showed he had violated any university rules or standards.
Leach's dismissal comes a year after he was Big 12 coach of the year and led Tech to the best season in the history of the program. The Red Raiders went 11-2 last season.
A quirky coach sometimes called a mad scientist because of his pass-happy offense, Leach arrived in West Texas in 2000 with his high-octane spread offense. Since then, eight times has a Texas Tech quarterback led the nation in passing.
He parlayed his penchant for pirate lore into his coaching, telling his players they need to "swing their swords" to perform at their best. He began to not acknowledge players' injuries in 2003 to the media.
In 10 seasons, he won 84 games, surpassing predecessor Spike Dykes this season as the winningest coach at the school.
The year before he came to Lubbock, Leach was offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. Before that he spent two years as an assistant at Kentucky and five years at Valdosta State in Georgia.
Not unlike Bob Knight when he came to coach the Red Raiders' basketball team for 6½ years, Leach has raised the profile of the city and the school. He appeared on "60 Minutes" and was profiled in the New York Times Magazine.
Joe Schad is a college football reporter for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.