Commentary

Leach's players were prepared for this

Updated: December 30, 2009, 8:08 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

When it comes to dealing with distractions, the 2009 Texas Tech football team are experts.

The Red Raiders' ability to put controversy behind and focus on the task in front of them will be severely tested. Few things shake the foundation of a program like firing the head coach four days before a bowl game.

Recovering from it, especially in such a short period of time, won't be easy. But in a strange way, Mike Leach prepared his football team to deal with his firing and focus on winning the Alamo Bowl against Michigan State on Saturday night.

Why? Because Texas Tech has had controversy swirling around it like a West Texas wind all season. Before Wednesday's earthquake of a distraction, there already had been tremors rattling Lubbock for the past 10 months.

Leach had a prolonged contract dispute in February, finally agreeing to a five-year, $12.7 million deal. The negotiations played out in the media as Leach's agents and Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers argued back and forth before reaching a deal. Things ended once Leach sat down with chancellor Kent Hance shortly after Tech's final offer and nailed down the details of the contract.

Leach suspended starting offensive lineman Brandon Carter for violating team rules after Texas Tech had lost to Houston, a top-20 team, in September. Carter sat in the stands during Tech's next game with his usual multi-colored Mohawk hairstyle and had painted his face, which included tears streaming out of his eyes.

Later that week, Leach banned his players from having Twitter pages, saying they get enough attention without using the social-networking site. He did it in response to senior linebacker Marlon Williams tweeting that he was in the team meeting room and that "the head coach can't even be on time" to his own meeting.

"Anybody that's a malcontent doesn't stay around here very long, because we've got a pretty good line of recruits that are fully willing to replace him," Leach said on the Big 12 teleconference the next week.

Texas Tech beat New Mexico by 20 to end a two-game losing streak.

Following a 52-30 home loss to Texas A&M in October, Leach said his team was listening to "their fat little girlfriends" instead of focusing on the Aggies. On the Monday after the game, Leach said he was willing to go to "fairly amazing lengths" to get his players to focus. "I don't know if I will be successful this week or not, but I am going to try and there will be some people inconvenienced," Leach said. "And if it happens to be their fat little girlfriends, too bad."

Texas Tech did manage to focus even in the midst of the distractions. They won after Carter's suspension and Twittergate. And after Leach talked about the "fat little girlfriends," the Red Raiders won three of their final four games, including a 41-13 whipping of Oklahoma in Lubbock.

The common denominator, of course, was that a loss caused Leach to take some of the actions he did. But this team dealt with all of the internal strife and craziness and managed to win eight ballgames to get to the Alamo Bowl. They also did it despite some key injuries and an offense that used three different quarterbacks.

Of course, tweets and overweight girlfriends don't compare to losing your head coach four days before a bowl game. But the Red Raiders can use this as motivation. If the team is behind Leach, they can rally around their fired coach and win for him. It doesn't matter that he's not on the sidelines. They can also get fired up to win one for interim coach Ruffin McNeill.

The other interesting storyline is that Michigan State doesn't enter this game void of distractions. The Spartans have 14 players suspended or dismissed from the team for an on-campus altercation following Michigan State's annual awards banquet.

The team that can put everything else aside and worry about the opponent will have the advantage in the game. And even though the Red Raiders just lost a head coach -- and a unique offensive mind -- they know what it takes to deal with distractions and get the job done. Why can't they do it for one more game?

Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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