Mike Leach is still angry at certain people from Texas Tech. He says they cheated him and stole his money.
And he’s not letting this go. After his controversial firing by Tech in 2009, the former Red Raiders football coach still wants the school to pay him what he says he’s owed for that year, when Tech had one of its best seasons ever at 9-4.
By his calculations, he’s owed about $2.5 million, including $1.6 million in guaranteed income from his television and radio shows and other marketing deals.
“This thing won’t really go away,” Leach told USA TODAY Sports. “And it’ll never go away until this thing is settled. And it should be settled, because why should the future generation bear the black eye and the cloud that their university cheated their most successful coach in history? And why should I bear that, some of the 10 most productive years of my career? I was cheated out of my salary, and all the great memories that I, fans, players and coaches had, are diminished.”
Leach, now entering his sixth season as the head coach at Washington State, previously sued Tech for monetary damages but lost when the Texas Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 2012. He lost on the basis that Tech, as a state institution in Texas, had sovereign immunity that protected it from being successfully sued for damages.
And that’s what really gets him steamed, even now, years after that and other related grievances were dismissed in state court. So why not just let it go?
Leach has a few reasons.
Leach says he never got his day in court to air out the details of his firing, denying him justice in his view because of Tech’s immunity to his lawsuit. And because there’s been a change in leadership at Tech, he’s gained hope that current school administrators would reconsider out of fairness.
He’s also proud of what he accomplished in Lubbock, with a legacy that includes one of his former Red Raiders quarterbacks — Kliff Kingsbury — now leading the program as head coach. Leach won more games (84) than any other coach in Tech history and wants the school, his former players and himself to be able to celebrate that legacy instead of having this dispute tarnishing it and making it awkward.
Next year, for example, will be the 10th anniversary of Tech’s 11-2 season of 2008. If the school wanted to take advantage of that anniversary to boost fan pride, would it honor the players, but avoid mentioning Leach? When Leach retires someday, will Tech ever want to bring Leach back to Lubbock to honor that era and rekindle all the good feelings that came with it?
Tech hasn’t won more than eight games in a season since he left, and his popularity has strong staying power among Red Raiders fans.
“I had a great time at Texas Tech,” said Leach, who coached at Tech for 10 seasons. “Texas Tech is a fantastic place with fantastic people, with a few notable exceptions. Texas Tech should be allowed to celebrate their legacy, and so should I. Any way you slice it, it was the winningest period in the history of Tech. We went to more bowl games than any other time in history … And then for 2009, to not pay me? Think about how egregious that is.”
Tech has disputed Leach’s assertions and has said it paid Leach what he was owed according to his contract.
“The courts have ruled on this matter," the school said in a statement Thursday. "We have resolved this issue and have moved forward.”
`There hasn’t been justice’
After beating him in court, the school doesn’t have to pay him another dime unless it can be persuaded otherwise.
The controversy stems from events in December 2009, when Tech fired Leach for legal cause over his alleged mistreatment of a player suffering from a concussion. That player was Adam James, son of former ESPN broadcaster Craig James. Craig James told then-Tech chancellor Kent Hance in an e-mail that his son was punished by Leach for having a concussion and was locked in an electrical closet for hours — a story that Leach denies and was contradicted by witness statements.
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“I didn’t lock Adam James anywhere. I didn’t tell Adam James to go anywhere,” Leach said. “I told the trainer to get him off the field.”
Leach’s 2009 contract with Tech says that if he were fired “for cause,” then the university’s “sole obligation” is to pay him his base pay of $300,000 and other performance incentives. Tech officials say he was fired for cause, but Leach says that cause wasn’t proven in court and was false.
Leach says he got the $300,000 in base pay but not the $1.6 million in “guaranteed” income, or the $800,000 retention bonus that was due to him if he was the school’s coach on Dec. 31, 2009.
Tech fired him a day earlier, avoiding that expense, but Leach says that bonus was “six years in the making” and due that year.
In addition to the concussion issue, Hance also indicated Leach cursed at him at one point, which Leach says is a lie.
USA TODAY Sports reached out to Hance and got a response from Dicky Grigg, an attorney who represented Tech in the Leach litigation.
"Before Coach Leach was terminated, Texas Tech officials worked with him to try to resolve an extremely volatile situation," Grigg said in a statement Friday. "Coach Leach’s response: Cuss out his boss, sue his employer, and demanding millions and millions of dollars.
"Ultimately, Leach’s mistreatment of a student-athlete with a brain concussion, coupled with his subsequent insubordinate behavior, left the university with no choice but to fire him. Coach Leach was justifiably terminated for cause in conformity with his contract."
Grigg said Tech should not pay Leach.
"Even after Coach Leach sued Texas Tech, we actively participated in trying to settle the case, but the Leach team was totally unreasonable," Grigg said. "The courts determined Texas Tech does not owe Leach any money. Although I do not speak for the University, in my opinion, given the courts’ rulings, it would be improper for Texas Tech to pay Coach Leach. This matter is over."
Griggs' statement is totally false. He is lying on behalf of Kent Hance. What do you expect, he is Hance's attorney.— Mike Leach (@Coach_Leach) June 30, 2017
The worst thing about this is my case has never been heard. The TTU administrators responsible for this hid behind sovereign immunity.— Mike Leach (@Coach_Leach) June 30, 2017
Hance retired as Tech chancellor in 2014. Leach still has particular ire for him and the sovereign immunity protection that Tech used to shield itself from his lawsuit — a concept he says undermines the credibility of contracts with public entities in Texas. “You’d be hard-pressed to name any first-world country that does business that way,” Leach said of the Texas law.
And he’s not ready to bury the issue. To him, it’s about principle and pride, not just money. In 2014, an anonymous party of “alumni and fans of Texas Tech” took out a full-page advertisement in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, asking Tech to “do the right thing,” pay Leach and not hide behind sovereign immunity. It didn’t work. After this story was published, Leach further criticized Tech on Twitter.
“There hasn’t been justice on this,” Leach said. “I think that there needs to be. How is this justified? I mean, it’s not justified any way you slice it. If they think it’s justified, let’s go to court. You prove your case in court. They don’t want to go near a court room because they know what will happen, because they flat-out cheated me. And they lied, and they stole. And they know that’s what they did, and they wouldn’t be so resistant to go to trial if they were confident in their case. And they haven’t refuted any of the facts because they can’t.”
If you sign a contract with a Texas state institution, it is worthless unless you are dealing with honorable people. Sadly, I was not.— Mike Leach (@Coach_Leach) June 30, 2017
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