Sources: Leach anticipates firing soon

Updated: December 30, 2009, 12:03 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LUBBOCK, Texas -- The lawyer for Mike Leach says the suspended Texas Tech coach did nothing wrong in how he treated a player with a "mild" concussion, and Leach is seeking a court's help in allowing him to coach in Saturday's Valero Alamo Bowl.

However, Leach and his attorneys anticipate Texas Tech will try to fire the coach in the near future, multiple sources tell ESPN's Joe Schad.

Leach led Texas Tech to the best season in program history last year, going 11-2. But he and the university were at odds for months over negotiations for a contract extension. In February, Leach and the school agreed to a five-year, $12.7 million deal that could keep him there through 2013.

The clock is ticking on a portion of that contract. If Leach is the coach as of Thursday, the school owes him an $800,000 bonus.

A source close to the family of Adam James, the player involved, told Schad that the player was treated inappropriately while injured, including being confined to a room for a long period of time because he could not practice.

Leach's attorney, Ted Liggett, said Tuesday that keeping the receiver inside during practice was better for the player than letting him remain outside.

James is the son of ESPN college football analyst Craig James.

University officials suspended Leach on Monday while the school investigates complaints from James and his family about how the player was treated.

The motion for a temporary restraining order, which would allow Leach to coach in the bowl game, was filed Tuesday in Lubbock. Originally, an in-chambers hearing was set for 11 a.m. ET Wednesday in the 99th District Court, but early Wednesday morning, Judge Bill Sowder ordered the hearing open to the public.

A person close to the inquiry told The Associated Press that Leach was "begged to work something out to avoid a confrontation." The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

That person also said Leach late last week postponed a meeting related to the inquiry and refused to sign a letter saying "no one injured would be returned to work out without doctors' permission."

The school's attorney left a voice mail message with Leach's attorney late last week that the university needed a letter of apology by noon Monday, the person said.

It did not arrive.

"That's when they made the decision to suspend [Leach], thinking that would bring him to his senses," the person said.

In an affidavit included with his injunction request, Leach says he "would never intentionally harm or endanger a player" and that he has been "forced into this situation without being afforded any process."

He wrote "absolutely" no evidence had been given to him that showed he had violated any university rules or standards.

"I have never and would never intentionally harm or endanger a player. I am committed to Texas Tech University and the well being of my football players. I have been forced into this situation without being afforded any process," he said. "Not being allowed to coach immediately will cause irreparable harm because preparation for the game is ongoing and it will be over on January 2, 2009. Every minute of preparation is critical to be ready for the game."

Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill was chosen by the university to be the interim coach when Texas Tech plays Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.

A source close to the family told Schad that 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."

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."

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, 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.

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

A person close to the inquiry told the AP that James spent two hours Dec. 17 in a shed the size of a one-car garage that was filled with coolers and the player was "caught" sitting down on one. All the coolers were removed, the person said, and the door to the shed was closed with James inside.

On Dec. 19, James was taken to an electrical room but the buzz was too loud, so he was taken to a press room where all the furniture was removed and he was told not to sit down, the person said.

The person close to the inquiry told the AP that Craig James called to report the allegations on Dec. 19; a university attorney interviewed him and his son Dec. 20; Leach was questioned Dec. 20 or 21; and trainers, student trainers and the doctor who examined Adam James also were interviewed.

Jerry Turner, vice chairman of the university system's board of regents, said the investigation is being handled by the school president's office, with the assistance of its general counsel and athletic director Gerald Myers.

The NCAA is letting Texas Tech conduct its investigation and has not gotten involved, NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh said. A Big 12 spokesman did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.

Turner declined to comment on whether, if true, the incidents might lead to Leach's departure from Tech.

"We haven't gotten to that point, of course," Turner said. "This is an ongoing inquiry, and I certainly do not want to prejudice the results of the inquiry."

A blizzard in Lubbock last Wednesday and the Christmas holiday prevented the initial inquiry from being completed before school president Guy Bailey decided to suspend Leach on Monday.

Turner said Bailey conferred with him, fellow regent Larry Anders and Myers.

"It was more of a decision of the president with a sounding board review of the others," Turner said.

He said he did not know "who else needs to be contacted, what other files need to be reviewed" as the inquiry moves forward.

"I really don't know what's next on the agenda," he said.

In an e-mail written to the school on Dec. 26 that was obtained Tuesday by Schad and ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, current Tech inside wide receivers coach Lincoln Riley referred to James as "unusually lazy and entitled" and said he has been worried about James' effect on the rest of the receivers because of "his weak and conceited attitude."

In a separate e-mail to the Texas Tech AD, Riley wrote: "Two practices before Adam James claimed he had a concussion, Coach Leach and I were forced to discipline him for poor effort from the previous practice and poor effort during the early drills of that day. This has been a common theme about Adam's work ethic and attitude during his entire career."

Texas Tech players, speaking to reporters Tuesday for the first time since Leach was suspended, declined to discuss the incident or James. Cornerback LaRon Moore called Leach "different" but said the coach only wants the best from his players.

"He goes about it an unconventional way," Moore said. "But all he wants to do is push us, and we've talked about it with the coaches. That's just his way of doing it. He tries to push us, tries to make us better and tries to make us men and get the best of our ability out of us."

James was with the team in San Antonio as it prepares for Saturday's bowl game.

Asked if it was awkward for James to be around the team, McNeill said, "I hope not."

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 was the national coach of the year and got a big raise when he went 12-1 in 2007. 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.

James played behind former Texas Tech wide receiver Eric Morris, who defended Leach on Tuesday and said his former coach would never jeopardize the well-being of his players.

Morris, who graduated last year, described the electrical closet inside the stadium as a roomy enough space where the visiting media gathered for interviews after games. Morris said Leach mostly relegated injured players to what the team knew as "Muscle Beach" -- an area beside the practice field where those not healthy enough to play did strength and conditioning work.

Morris said Leach liked to keep injured players close so they could encourage their teammates and not "just be sitting around inside doing nothing."

Liggett said Leach's contract calls for him to receive a $800,000 bonus if he is Texas Tech's coach Friday.

Turner was uncertain whether the suspension meant Leach would not be eligible for the bonus.

Liggett seemed certain.

"It's our position that, of course, he's the head coach, and of course, he's owed the money," he said.

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

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