When Lubbock's most famous resident got on a plane and perished in a snowstorm on February 2, 1959, singer/songrwiter Don McClean called Buddy Holly's death "the day the music died." Fifty years later, December 30, 2009 might go down as the day Texas Tech football died.
Texas Tech University's decision to fire successful head football coach Mike Leach based on overblown allegations from one player, a day before his contract stipulated an $800,000 payment and three days before the university's fifth consecutive bowl game, is a decision that will go down as one of the dumbest in the program's history.
While there's certainly no lack of fowl stench blowing around Lubbock, this decision stinks worse than the stockyard air. Texas Tech officials have really stepped in it this time. They have backed a pampered player with a famous dad at an even more famous television sports network over the head coach, his staff, and the majority of the players, past and present. They have also shown themselves to be about as loyal as Tiger Woods, willing to pull the rug out on a coach's hard-earned salary right before the bill comes due.
This is bad news for Tech fans and the Big 12.
If you were a candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Texas Tech and you just watched the previous coach get thrown under the bus to appease a TV network that has basically been spinning one side of the story (that of their sports analyst and illegally-paid former SMU athlete Craig James), would you be in a hurry to schedule an interview in Lubbock? Nevermind that it's Lubbock!
People who live there might not know better, and something can certainly be said of its sweeping vistas and big sky sunsets, but to the average city dweller (heck, even to the average Texan), a weekend trip to Lubbock is usually a day too long. Located in the middle of nowhere, it's hardly a recruit's idea of paradise and far from a coaching dream job. On top of that, now you have an administration and board of regents who unabashedly protect personal relationships and trump up charges from players' parents rather than stand by their team's coach and staff.
Something stinks alright. Most universities don't take the word of third string benchwarmers over coaches and trainers. Most universities hold comprehensive investigations to get all the facts straight before making rash decisions on the eve of bowl games. Especially universities with a history of hiring controversial figures like Bobby Knight.
Leach is suing the university and rightly so. To prove that they had cause to fire him, Texas Tech will have to show that he acted callously and demonstrated an unwillingness to treat injured players. If there is a history of this, if previous injuries and/or concussions were treated in the same or worse fashion as wide receiver Adam James, then Tech made the right call. However, that appears to be far from the case. No other allegations of mistreatment from current or former players have surfaced. In fact, Tech players appear highly motivated and dedicated to their coach. These are not the results typical of players who experience ridicule and abuse.
It should also be noted that the trainers have backed Coach Leach's decision and claim to have monitored the entire situation. The accuser has shown no negative effects or further injuries from his isolated time or his incident in "the shed." In reality, "the shed" and "utility closet" described by ESPN and Craig James appear to be much more comfortable facilities than actual sheds or closets. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a more spacious room at the Lubbock Holiday Inn. The player had access to water, ice, and fans, and the door couldn't be locked from the outside. In other words, he wasn't locked in. Even the ACLU would praise these amenities.
More and more it appears the reason for firing Leach was either a personal vendetta or purely financial. Ironically, the financial fallout will be far worse from firing Leach. Leach has brought national recognition to a school's football program that wasn't even on the radar a few years ago. He has clearly helped bring in millions of dollars that frankly make the $800,000 bonus the university is "saving" look like chump change. That money and recognition will disappear as Tech returns to its place as an also-ran in the Big 12 without a top tier coach. Sure, they might have a winning season every now and then, but no one is going to be talking about them in the same sentence as Texas or Oklahoma again, not to mention TCU.
I'm not Mike Leach's biggest fan. I think he's arrogant and cocky. But that's also one of his greatest strengths. He uses that to build confidence in his players, players who usually aren't as talented as the big schools, but play hard to make up for what they lack in skills or size. Leach has made Texas Tech a household name and has sent several players on to successful careers in the NFL. All that is now down the drain thanks to the James family.
Unless new charges surface, Leach will win a big settlement against Texas Tech and land on his feet somewhere else. Perhaps even the NFL. As for Adam James, who was on a questionable scholarship to begin with, here' s betting you will never hear from this loser again.
UPDATE: In the first paragraph, I originally wrote forty years instead of fifty. Please pardon my Homer Simpson math skills. The error has been corrected.