Monday, January 04, 2010

LTG 01/04/10 - Cap'n Pirate walks the plank

Am I cheap enough to break out a “forced to walk the plank” reference for a lead? You bet I am.

Last week, Texas Tech fired head football coach Mike Leach. Leach, an attorney, is an unconventional and at times controversial figure who earned the “Captain Pirate” nickname for his “Air Raid” style of offense. He’s even been featured on a magazine cover wearing an eye patch.

But it wasn’t the theatrics that got him into trouble. Instead, Leach was accused of forcing one of his players to stand in a darkened closet for hours at a time without being able to sit down after he was injured. Leach claimed that he was simply following his trainer’s advice after the player suffered a concussion.

The player claims that Leach was punishing him for disagreements they had in the past. And when the player is Adam James, son of ESPN’s college football analyst Craig James, you understand why the story gets momentum quickly.

But there’s more to the story than just the celebrity’s kid. As the story unfolded, the Texas Tech administration claimed they went to Leach in an attempt to investigate the matter further. According to the administration, Leach refused to cooperate in the investigation, resulting in Leach’s firing.

Now, you’ll notice that I said “according to” a number of times in the previous paragraph. Remember, Cap’n Pirate is an attorney as well as a football coach, and it appears he’s going to have quite a bit of time on his hands in the next few months. Rest assured there will be a number of lawsuits coming out of this escapade, and I would prefer to avoid being named in one.

But, back to the story. The Law-Talking Guy angle deals with how Texas Tech fired Leach. The school is claiming that Leach’s insubordination in refusing to comply with the investigation meant that the school could fire Leach “for cause.” The phrase “for cause” is lawyer for “and we don’t have to pay him any more money.”

Leach and Texas Tech had a contract, a binding agreement between the parties. Leach agreed to coach the Texas Tech football team for a number of years, and the university agreed to pay him. That contract would mean that if Texas Tech got tired of Cap’n Pirate’s act and wanted him to walk the plank early, the university would still have to shell out all the doubloons they promised him in the contract.

But, if they can prove that Leach broke some of the contract’s rules (the lawyer’s term would be “materially breached” the contract), then it’s likely there is a provision in the contract meaning the university can end the agreement without having to fork over one more penny to Leach.

So, there’s quite a bit of money involved in the university’s decision to claim Leach’s firing was “for cause.” And a lot of money, combined with an angry and vindictive Cap’n Pirate, means that the courts in Lubbock should be busy for quite a while.

While it’s not part of the allegations that gave rise to the immediate issue, it’s important to know a little history of the situation to understand how we got here. Last year, thanks to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech had a phenomenal season. They went 11-1, and were only a conference tiebreaker rule away from playing for a national championship.

Naturally, Leach got a lot of notoriety from his team’s success, and openly flirted with a number of other schools in an attempt to parlay his success into more money. Ultimately, he was successful, getting a long-term extension and a pay hike before this season started.

But the contract negotiations were pretty bare-knuckled, and left a lot of Texas Tech’s top brass feeling pretty used by their flamboyant football coach. Those kinds of feelings in the hearts of the west Texas powerful linger, and it’s likely that they were looking for a way to repay Cap’n Pirate for his antics. And so, when James’ allegations came forth, and Leach allegedly told the administration to pound sand when they tried to investigate, the administration had the perfect opportunity to bring out the knives and save the university some money in the process.

As a Nebraska fan, I can’t say I’m sorry to see Leach go. Under Cap’n Pirate, Texas Tech was 4-0 against NU, including an ugly 70-10 drubbing in Bill Callahan’s first year. Leach’s departure may very well make Nebraska’s life in the Big XII a little easier.

What it will definitely do is make for entertaining theater as Leach fires his legal broadsides into James and Texas Tech.

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