Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Falling on his pirate sword
I realize I'm late to the Mike Leach party, but I was off last week while taking in the circus via televsion and various websites. As a Tech alum, this fiasco, while definitely entertaining, was embarrassing for all concerned,. Both the Tech administration and Leach share some blame.
But let's be clear: Mike Leach fired Mike Leach. He's not a martyr. He's not a victim. He's out of a job because he felt he became bigger than the program.
The Adam James incident did not get Leach fired. I tend to agree that James was a prima donna and his dad, ESPN's Craig James, was a helicopter parent. But it was Leach's defiance afteward, which was just another act of insubordination over the years, that ultimately got him.
This would have never even been made public had Leach met with the administration and worked out a suitable solution. Tech was willing to work with him on this. Leach was not. If Tech was looking for a trigger point to discipline him, this was it. His refusal to work within the framework of the athletic department -- for the umpteenth time -- had the administration saying that enough was enough.
So they suspended him for the Alamo Bowl. He might have survived had he accepted the suspension, but he filed a restraining order against the school. It might have been more to get his $800,000 bonus, but that was the equivalent of suicide by cop. At that point, he knew he was going to get canned.
Tech gave Leach a lot of rope. They gave him a top 12-15 salary, and with the cost of living like it is in Lubbock, his $12.7 million, 5-year deal made him one of the top 10 paid coaches in the country. Not bad for never even winning a division. And unlike his counterparts, he didn't have to fundraise, didn't have to glad-hand the alumni and make speaking engagements, which is a big part of being in Division I coach.
Tech was willing to let him act like the crazy eccentric uncle, tell pirate stories and tales of Geronimo and tinker with his offense to win eight to 11 games a year. But when they tell you to do something, when they ask that you not do this or that, you better do it. Instead, he way too often thumbed his nose at the administration.
Leach is all about Leach. His campaigning for jobs every off-season became a running joke, even funnier or sadder when no school showed much interest. According to e-mails obtained by the Dallas Morning News, his agents even tried to get Auburn last year to interview him if he would pay his own way.
He changed since a year ago. Maybe it was the contentious contract negotiation last February, but he lost the team. It was telling that no current players came forth in his support, even after the win over Michigan State. If you were a senior, and you felt some real admiration for him, wouldn't you use the platform of a win and a hungry media to show your support for him? But the silence was deafening.
Mike Leach did a lot for Tech in 10 years. He elevated the football program's profile tremendously, turned the offense into a national showcase, and sent the Red Raiders to 10 bowl games in 10 years. He's the school's all-time winningest coach. Tech alumni and fans should be grateful and never minimize his impact.
But his time was done at Tech. He's the dumbest smart man in coaching. He made Tech football a good thing, sometimes a great thing, and really had it made. But in the end, he fell on his own pirate sword.