Leach suspended after player complaint

Updated: December 29, 2009, 2:33 PM ET
By Joe Schad | ESPN

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Texas Tech suspended coach Mike Leach indefinitely after a player and his family filed a complaint about the player's treatment after an injury.

The school said in a release Monday defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill will be the interim coach and lead the team in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 against Michigan State. McNeill will remain in charge of the team until the investigation is complete.

The player, Adam James, is a redshirt sophomore wide receiver for the Red Raiders and the son of ESPN college football analyst Craig James.

A source close to the family said James sustained a concussion on Dec. 16, was examined on Dec. 17 and told not to practice because of the concussion 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."

A source told The Associated Press that James said Leach told him if he came out, he would be kicked off the team.

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 Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported that the university had given Leach until Monday to write an apology and suspended him when he did not. But two sources close to Leach disputed that account, saying the coach was not offered the opportunity to make an apology.

An attorney for Leach said that while James was secluded twice, the circumstances were not as portrayed in that account.

Ted Liggett, Leach's attorney, 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.

Liggett said that on another occasion, James was placed in a "press room with air-conditioning and a stationary bike he could use."

Liggett also said Leach placed James in those environments because "Mike tries to keep the players that are unable to practice as close as he can."

Liggett said he will "soon begin" legal steps to overturn Texas Tech's suspension and allow Leach to coach the Alamo Bowl.

A source briefed on the situation said that on the first day in question, Leach asked trainers on the field, "Well, what can [James] do?" and the coach was told James could not have strenuous activity and should avoid sunlight and so Leach instructed, "Well, then put him over there."

Another source familiar with Leach's methods suggested that he believed Leach was attempting to "test" James.

The family released a statement Monday explaining why they filed the complaint but refusing to speculate or provide additional information out of respect for the investigation.

"Mr. and Mrs. James took the step with great regret and after consideration and prayer to convey to the Texas Tech administration that their son had been subjected to actions and treatment not consistent with common sense rules for safety and health," the statement read.

The statement went on to say the family felt the matter was important to "protect all the fine young men involved in Tech football and the University's reputation for developing and educating young men and women.

"Over the past year, there has been a greatly enhanced recognition of the dangers of concussions and the potential for long term physical damage to players. At virtually every level of football coaching, cases where children and young men have sustained concussions have generated serious discussion of the importance of correct treatment and diagnosis."

Craig James was scheduled to announce the Alamo Bowl. ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said James no longer will work the game.

The Red Raiders were 8-4 this season.

McNeill declined to answer questions about the incident after Monday night's practice in San Antonio. Players were not made available to the media.

"Mike's my friend, we've been friends for a long time, and I don't think right now is the right time to go into that," McNeill said to reporters after practice.

He said Leach arrived with the team in San Antonio and that Adam James also was with the team but not practicing.

McNeill said he was told around 3:30 p.m. that he was taking over for Leach, then told the players about a half-hour later.

"They were probably a little shocked, but at the same time, they did a good job of coming on the field and doing what I asked them to do. I was proud of that," McNeill said after practice.

Leach did not immediately return a call or a text message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

There's been internal strife this season with the Red Raiders and Leach has resorted to some tongue-lashing.

He chastised players after a loss to Texas A&M in October for listening to "their fat little girlfriends," and thinking the Aggies were a pushover. And after the Red Raiders' loss at then-No. 12 Houston in September, Leach suspended starting offensive lineman Brandon Carter indefinitely for violating team rules.

The loss to the Cougars was the second straight for the Red Raiders, who had fallen 34-24 at No. 2 Texas in an early Big 12 matchup. This season is the first since 2002 -- Leach's third season -- that the Red Raiders dropped two of their first four games.

That same week Leach banned his players from having Twitter pages after linebacker Marlon Williams asked on his account why he was still in a meeting room when "the head coach can't even be on time."

In February, Leach and Tech agreed to a five-year, $12.7 million deal that could keep him at the school through 2013.

The contract includes a $250,000 bonus if Leach and Tech win the national championship, a $75,000 bonus if Tech participates in a BCS bowl and a $50,000 bonus if Leach is picked as national coach of the year

If Tech terminates the contract, the school must pay Leach $400,000 for each year remaining on the agreement. There is no buyout amount.

Joe Schad covers college football for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Joe Schad

College Football