Commentary

No winners in Leach firing

Originally Published: December 30, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Mike Leach proved unconventional to the end. The Texas Tech coach and pirate captain got thrown overboard Wednesday, fired after what began this week as a one-player mutiny.

Mike Leach
Stew Milne/US PresswireMike Leach's quirky ways made him a national name.

Texas Tech will explain its decision. The university that overlooked Bob Knight's methods of handling players in order to have him revive its basketball program suddenly has become the Amnesty International of the NCAA.

The lawyers will do battle. Leach's attorney already has announced plans to contest the university's stance that it has terminated Leach "with cause," which means Texas Tech would not owe him a $1.6 million settlement.

That five-year, $12.7 million contract is the result of a combative negotiation last winter. Leach used public opinion and his winning record to outmaneuver the university officials who appeared reluctant to sign him. As it turns out, Leach won the battle but not the war.

The firing might have just hastened the divorce. It pre-empted Leach from taking part in a hearing Wednesday to lift the suspension the university placed on him Monday. Once Leach and Texas Tech got to court, it already had become a case of "Can this marriage be saved?"

Blame Leach for leaving himself open to a takedown. It's always possible there are other issues regarding Leach that the university has not made public. In the meantime, whatever happened to wide receiver Adam James regarding his treatment for a concussion he suffered in practice two weeks ago, it is clear athletes are less likely than ever to stand for mistreatment in order to be team players.

It also is clear this affair will extract a costly toll from everyone involved.

Texas Tech has fired the coach with the most wins in its history (84-43, .661), one year after he won several national coach of the year honors. The Red Raiders shared the Big 12 South championship in 2008, when they effectively knocked Texas out of the BCS Championship Game and reached No. 2 in the polls.

Now, Leach is out the door. Three days before the Valero Alamo Bowl and five weeks before signing day, the Texas Tech football program is without a leader. The football coach who provided the university with a national identity is gone, and it's a good bet that identity will go with him.

Leach's idiosyncrasies extended well beyond the spread offense that rewrote the NCAA record book.

His disheveled appearance made it clear he held collared shirts and ironed slacks in the same regard as holding penalties. Leach's news conferences held an air of unpredictability. You might hear about his summer trip to Europe. You might hear about his love of pirates, which became fodder for his recent cameo on the TV series "Friday Night Lights."

That's the sort of plum reserved for the Pete Carrolls and Joe Paternos of the world. Yet it was Mike Leach, standing in a gas station, telling the character of coach Eric Taylor of the fictional East Dillon High to unleash his inner pirate.

Sometimes, Leach's monologues wandered all over the place as a way of milking the clock. Other times, Leach revealed that his shambling gait and wrinkled clothes masked a sharp intellect. There is one fewer Football Bowl Subdivision coach with a law degree.

As of Wednesday, no other Texas Tech football player has stepped forward with a tale of mistreatment at the hands of Leach, which brings us to the third actor in this melodrama. It's hard to imagine the Texas Tech locker room will be a welcome place for James. His teammates came to Lubbock to play for a successful coach who is no longer there. Whether James stays in Lubbock or transfers, he is going to be known as the guy who got Leach fired. That isn't likely to turn out well, either.

There are three sides to this story. Texas Tech is without a coach, Leach is without a job and James might have some fence mending to do. Three sides, and no winners.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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