Texas Tech fires Leach|Two parties in midst of messy divorce

Published 1:28 pm Thursday, December 31, 2009

By By BETSY BLANEY, Associated Press Writer
LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech fired Mike Leach on Wednesday after the coach took the school to court to try to overturn his suspension for alleged mistreatment of an injured player.
‘‘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 AP.
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. The sophomore alleged the coach twice confined him to a small, dark place after the player was diagnosed with a concussion.
Turner declined to elaborate about the other issues.
Leach was suspended Monday after he refused to agree to guidelines for dealing with players set forth by his bosses in a Dec. 23 letter.
When Leach decided to fight the university in court ‘‘in defiance’’ of his suspension, that’s why ‘‘we are where we are,’’ Turner said.
Leach was in San Antonio with his team, which is preparing for the Alamo Bowl against Michigan State on Saturday.
He 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 on Wednesday gave a termination letter to Leach’s attorney, Ted Liggett, minutes before the two sides were to appear in court for a hearing on the coach’s request to be allowed to lead his team in the Alamo Bowl.
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.’’
James is the son of former NFL player and ESPN analyst Craig James.
‘‘We appreciate that the university conducted a fair and thorough investigation,’’ the James family said in a statement. ‘‘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 provided Leach a letter setting out guidelines for dealing with student-athletes. Leach refused to sign it. The letter was included in court papers filed in response to his motion for a restraining order.
Among the guidelines:
— ‘‘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 as suffered an injury.’’
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 a five-year, $12.7 million contract he agreed to in February. 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.
Liggett said he planned to file a lawsuit on Leach’s behalf against the school.
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 rewarded with 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.
Several former and current Texas Tech players and coaches defended Leach and harshly criticized Adam James’ work ethic in e-mails obtained by CBSSports.com.
Among those were former Texas Tech wide receiver Eric Morris, who wrote 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.’’
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, nonconformist with a pass-happy offense and penchant for pirates, Leach arrived in West Texas in 2000. Since then, he has become the winningest coach in school history.
He stopped acknowledging players’ injuries to the media in 2003.
Not unlike Bob Knight when he came to coach the Red Raiders basketball team for 6 1/2 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.
Associated Press Writer Paul J. Weber in San Antonio, Texas, Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas and AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo in New York contributed to this report.