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On November 1st, 2008, Texas Tech fans, administrators, and student athletes probably felt like Mike Leach was the perfect coach to lead their football program for the foreseeable future. That night, his Red Raiders upset the top-ranked Texas Longhorns on a heroic last second play by Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. As a result, Texas Tech climbed to number 2 in the following week’s AP Poll, the highest ranking in school history. No one in Lubbock would have even considered the possibility that Leach would be let go just a season later.
However, in December of 2009 allegations emerged over Leach’s mistreatment of a player suffering a concussion. There seemed to be no concrete investigation into the allegations and Mike Leach refused to apologize for his actions and claimed university officials illegally hid documents. This led the President of Texas Tech to suspend Leach, which prompted the coach to file a temporary restraining order against the school hoping to still coach the upcoming bowl game. Instead, the President and Athletic Director decided “the relationship was probably broken,” and fired Leach with cause.
As we just saw in the Urban Meyer downfall in Jacksonville, the for cause element in a coach’s contract can be a tricky element to figure out. There is a fine line between upholding morality and violating a rule or breaking a law. Texas Tech obviously believed that Leach crossed the line. However, Leach has strongly maintained over the years that he was cheated out of money promised in his contract. He has insisted that he won’t go away until he gets a check for the roughly $2.5 million he feels he’s owed.
Ever since, Leach has been in a legal battle with the university for nearly 12 years now. His temporary restraining order fell short when he was fired and when he sued the school for wrongful termination, the Texas Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 2012 without an opinion. More recently, Wayne Dolcefino, who runs an investigative media consulting firm, has battled Texas Tech over public information record requests.
While it’s said that time heals all wounds and many in college athletics have forgotten about this case, it was brought back to the limelight in this year’s bowl season. After elevating the Washington State football program from 2013 to 2019 following his dismissal from Tech, Leach took a job in the SEC at Mississippi State. In his second season at the helm in Starkville, his Bulldogs accepted a bid to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl to play… the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
In his initial press conference following the news of the bowl matchup, Mike Leach addressed that he is still not happy with the officials at Texas Tech who made the decision to fire him with cause over a decade ago.
“In Lubbock, there were four bad apples that were determined to cheat me out of my salary,” Leach said. “We know about that. And the other four years on my contract. And then continued to hide the documents illegally.”
“I’ve been willing to settle this thing for a long time, but they don’t seem to be willing to,” Leach added. “I think that’s unfortunate. I think all the people there are great. Some of the leadership, at least when I was there, was very sleazy and slimy and dirty. I enjoy naming names on it too, which I might as well. They all know who they are. We should get this thing settled. They should pay me. And we should all celebrate achievements together. But that doesn’t seem to be what they have in mind.”
Going into Tuesday night’s Liberty Bowl, many thought that Leach would be extremely motivated to get some revenge on his former school. The Bulldogs were nearly double-digit favorites to beat the Red Raiders, but things didn't go as anticipated. Despite having an interim coaching staff, Texas Tech bludgeoned Leach’s squad to the tune of a 34-7 blowout. While Mississippi State had a few of their prominent players opt-out to prepare for the NFL Draft, it was still an embarrassing result for them as they finished the season at 7-6.
Now that the opportunity to beat Texas Tech on field is now off the table, Mike Leach will continue to try to get a more favorable outcome off of it. While he receives a healthy salary from Mississippi State, anyone who has any familiarity with Leach knows it’s well within his personality to focus on things many coaches don’t have the time of day for. The Jacksonville/Urban Meyer for cause/not for cause dilemma isn’t the only one ongoing in football currently. We’ll see if Leach can finally get what he believes he deserves.