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It is fitting that Mississippi State’s Mike Leach will be coaching in the Liberty Bowl against a former team, Texas Tech, Tuesday night (6:45 p.m. eastern, ESPN) in Memphis.
Basically, it’s give him his money, Texas Tech, or give him death.
“Mike will go to his death demanding the truth and demanding they pay him what they owe him,” Wayne Dolcefino, Leach’s investigator into his firing with cause by Texas Tech after the 2009 season, told USA TODAY last year.
“I’ve got no indication that Coach Leach isn’t prepared to fight the war until he dies,” Dolcefino said.
“Forever,” Leach, 60, said when asked Monday how long he plans to fight Texas Tech over the $2.6 million he feels it owes him.
“Why not? I mean, what do I got to lose,” he said at a Liberty Bowl press conference that bowl officials were hoping would delve more into the matchup between Mississippi State (7-5) and Texas Tech (6-6).
Just before that second-to-last question of a near 30-minute press conference with the bowl’s Liberty Bell logo behind Leach, the press conference moderator tried to politely end things by saying, “Thank you, coach.”
“They cheated me out of $2.6 million, plus four years remaining on my contract,” he said. “I think settling for $2.6 million is very generous on my part. Then hiding documents becomes even more disgusting because that shows a level of corruption. I wouldn’t even rule out some criminal prosecutions on the thing. We’ll see how it unfolds.”
In Leach’s mind here in Memphis, he is Elvis with Texas Tech as Colonel Tom Parker, who was Presley’s swindling and corrupt “manager.” And Leach does have some valid points.
Leach is considered by many to be the most successful coach in Texas Tech history at 84-43 from 2000-2009 with 10 straight winning seasons and 10 straight bowls behind a state of the art aerial offense. He was fired after an 8-4 season in 2009 that followed the Red Raiders’ greatest season since 1973 as Leach went 11-2 and tied for the Big 12 South title at 7-1 with Oklahoma and Texas in 2008.
Before 2008, Texas Tech had not finished first in a conference since coach Steve Sloan’s 1976 team won the school’s first and last Southwest Conference title at 7-1, sharing it with Houston, and finishing 10-2.
Leach was fired with cause and without any buyout after a controversy began boiling in December of 2009 involving wide receiver Adam James, whose father is former ESPN announcer and former SMU star tailback Craig James. Leach allegedly had Adam James stay in a dark, outdoor electrical closet during practices to help him overcome a concussion. Leach has insisted that is false and has been contradicted by witnesses.
James’ dad wanted Leach fired. Then-Texas Tech president Guy Bailey at first refused and asked Leach to write a letter of apology to James and his family that could have ended everything. But Leach, a pirate-loving rebel throughout his career, refused. Bailey suspended Leach on Dec. 28, 2009. Leach filed a temporary restraining order against Texas Tech. And Bailey and then-athletic director Gerald Myers then decided there were now irreconcilable differences and fired Leach two days later.
Leach’s subsequent lawsuit and appeals for wrongful termination have been dismissed over the years. Dolcefino has since been trying to get documents from Texas Tech concerning the case through public information laws.
“It is time for this circus to end,” Texas Tech’s attorneys said recently regarding Leach’s battles. “The time for sideshows and distractions is over. The university rightfully fired Coach Leach when he punished an athlete for having a concussion and rightfully withheld documents from disclosure under various exceptions.”
Leach does not see it that way. Mississippi State is a nine-point favorite by FanDuel, and one gets the feeling Leach may be calling passes until the end with such a lead.
After waxing on about Texas Tech and its environs in Lubbock, including giving restaurant tips, Leach transformed into a Texas tornado.
“Well, I guess in Lubbock, there were four bad apples that were determined to cheat me out of my salary and the other four years on my contract and then continue to hid the documents illegally,” Leach said. “But short of that, I mean, I thought everybody was great, you know.”
He has no problem with the current Texas Tech team or its interim coach/offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who was Leach’s starting quarterback at Texas Tech in 2004 after walking on in 2000. Cumbie has agreed to coach Texas Tech in the bowl even though he is Louisiana Tech’s new coach.
Texas Tech recently hired Baylor assistant Joey McGuire as its new coach, but McGuire will not be coaching the bowl. He replaces Matt Wells, who was fired after a 5-3 start this season. He was 8-14 in his first two seasons. McGuire is Texas Tech’s fourth full-time coach since Leach in just 12 years. Seeing how much Tech has struggled without Leach proves that Tech at least owes him $2.6 million, particularly with LSU paying Ed Orgeron $17 million amid his involvement in multiple off-field investigations still going on at LSU.
Leach may have acted poorly concerning one player in a decade. Pay him, Texas Tech. You’re embarrassing yourself.
“I don’t have anything against Texas Tech, per se,” Leach said. “I have the utmost respect for their team, and their fans, and their players and coaches,” he said.
He also really likes Cagle Steaks and Barbecue on 4th Street in Lubbock.
“I had a great experience in Lubbock,” he said. “Anything you build, it’s exciting to build. Yeah it was an exciting time.”
Then he moved on to the demolition of a few at Tech.
“I’ve been wanting to settle this thing for a long time, but they don’t seem to be willing to,” he said. “I think that’s unfortunate. So, I think all the people there are great, but some of the leadership, at least when I was there, was very sleazy and slimy and dirty. I enjoyed naming names on it, too, which I might as well. But they all know who they are. The Tech people know who they are, too. 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.”
Leach particularly does not like former Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance.
“They talk about they had some investigation (of his treatment of James’ son) or something,” Leach said. “They never had an investigation. They lied about having an investigation, and then they won’t produce the documents to prove they had an investigation. Well, that just goes to show you how Kent Hance and some of his little cronies, how sleazy those guys are.”
Leach says Texas Tech does not want certain documents made public because they will damage Tech.
“It’s going to illustrate they lied to the fans and everybody else,” he said. “They hide documents on everything. The leadership of anywhere that categorically hides the documents that the public has a right to see, well think about that. And it’s really a shame because the good people in Lubbock, Texas, and West Texas deserve quite a lot better.”
Leach tells all about it in his book, “Swing Your Sword,” a New York Times bestseller published in 2011.
“It’s all in there,” he said. “Every bit of it’s true – 100 percent true. And nothing has changed in either direction on it. How about that?”