Texas Tech football: How 10 men contributed to decline of Red Raider football

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Mike Leach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during play against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Mike Leach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during play against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) /

Mike Leach

For ten seasons, Texas Tech and Mike Leach had a marriage that seemed perfect.  The quirky genius who shunned convention and enjoyed being a maverick was able to be himself in Lubbock far away from major media centers and among a fan base that had already shown a willingness to fully embrace a unique coach with a huge personality in Leach’s predecessor, Spike Dykes.

But as is often the case with so many successful people, Leach’s ego eventually grew so large that even the vast plains of West Texas could not hold it.  And the foundation of the program actually started to crack long before the incident in 2009 in which he was alleged to have locked one his players, Adam James, in an electrical closet as James was recovering from a concussion.

Books have been written about the end of the Leach era in Lubbock and few Red Raider fans have remained neutral in their opinion of whether the school administration or the beloved head coach was more culpable.  And while Leach sympathizers feel he got a raw deal, the winningest head coach in program history also played a huge role in his own downfall.

"“It is remarkable, in retrospect, that Leach did not recognize what a politically charged issue concussions had become” wrote S. G. Gwynne in a 2010 edition of Texas Monthly."

Certainly, the attitude around head injuries in the sport had already begun to shift in the fall of 2009 and it was foolish for a coach to treat any sign of a concussion without the utmost of care.

"“He should have known better, because in the climate today with concussions—you don’t screw around with that.  He is an idiot if he thinks nothing has changed” sports psychology consultant Alan Goldberg told Gwynne in the same Texas Monthly article."

But even more than his disregard for a major hot button issue, it was Leach’s ego that led to his downfall.  After all, he was presented with a way to get out of the situation and he refused.  All the Texas Tech administration asked of Leach was for him to sign a letter of apology.

"According to an excerpt from a 2013 book by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian titled The System,   “[Texas Tech Chancellor Kent] Hance called Leach and suggested three things that would put James’s complaint to rest: pay a fine, perhaps as much as $60,000; apologize to the James family; and sign a statement saying that he would not punish anyone under a doctor’s care.”"

While no one wants to apologize when we feel we’ve done no wrong, the reality is that virtually everyone who has had a job has had to swallow their pride and accept responsibility for their actions, even when feeling like they were getting the raw end of the deal.  And we have seen other high-profile sports figures issue apologizes in order to keep their jobs.

Last summer, former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer issued a half-hearted apology in the wake of a domestic violence scandal involving one of his assistant coaches, Zach Smith.  It was clear that Meyer did not feel like he was in the wrong in failing to report allegations of abuse shared with by Smith’s wife to Meyer and his wife but in order to put the situation behind him and keep his job, he bit down hard and did what Ohio State asked him to do.

Mike Leach was not willing to do that.  And it was the last straw for an administration that had grown tired of dealing with the cantankerous coach who had openly flirted with such programs as Washington and Miami while allowing three separate contract negations with Tech to turn nasty according to Gwynne.  That turned many of the major power brokers in Lubbock and at Tech against the most popular coach in school history.

"“Though Leach was an extremely popular coach who filled the stadium and was loved by the fans, many leaders in the Tech community—including [athletic director] Gerald Myers and a number of current and former regents and prominent alumni—found him barely tolerable” Gwynne writes. “It was all about himself; he was completely self-centered” a former Texas Tech regent told Gwynne."

Whether or not Mike Leach crossed the line in how he treated Adam James in December of 2009, we will likely never know for certain.  But what we do know is that Leach is far from blameless and innocent in the entire situation.

There’s no question he made significant mistakes in how he dealt with James and, more importantly, how he decided to treat his superiors.  Even the most popular coach in the country has to answer to someone but Leach acted like he was above reproach.

Fortunately for Leach, he landed on his feet at Washington State where he has had tremendous success but where he has also displayed some of the same troubling actions.  But while the former Texas Tech head coach is back to his usual antics, the football program left in his wake has found it much more difficult to recover.