This time last year, Mike Leach was finishing another winning season at Texas Tech, his tenth straight, as one of the most respected offensive minds in college football. Then, a few days after Christmas, the most bizarre headline of the 2009 season, or almost any other: Leach was suspended for allegedly isolating a player in a dark, enclosed space for not practicing with a concussion. The player: Wide receiver Adam James, son of former SMU and New England Patriots star turned ESPN talking head Craig James. A few days later, Leach was fired. Almost immediately, he filed suit against the university, alleging an administration conspiracy to deny him a bonus he was set to receive at the beginning of the year.
Craig James, rumored leader of the anti-Leach faction, was not fired: ESPN had the good sense to pull him off booth duty for the Red Raiders' Alamo Bowl date with Michigan State a few days after Leach was given the boot, but even there, his case was essentially made in absentia by regular partner Mike Patrick and James' replacement, Bob Davie. James also appeared regularly on the network to air his side of the story in interviews. For that, it's going to taste Leach's briefcase:
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP)—Former coach Mike Leach sued ESPN Inc. and a public relations firm on Wednesday, accusing them of libel and slander after he was fired by Texas Tech amid accusations that he mistreated a player suffering from a concussion.
The suit filed in Texas district court claims the network's coverage of Leach’s firing last year was "willful and negligent defamation" and that it failed to "retract false and damaging statements" it made from "misinformation" provided to ESPN by Craig James, the father of the Texas Tech player.
Leach attorney Ted Liggett said the former coach wants "to set the record" straight. "Mike Leach is adamant," Liggett said. "Mike Leach wants his name cleared. His reputation has taken a severe hit and been tarnished."
The suit specifically calls out Mike Patrick for telling a national audience during the Alamo Bowl, "There is Adam James, who is the young man who was actually punished for having a concussion." The PR firm, Dallas-based Spaeth Communications, is accused of "creating a public opinion hostile to Leach," specifically by leaking a creepy cell phone video of Adam James in a maintenance closet, ostensibly against his will. An ESPN spokesman said he hadn't seen the suit and declined comment.
Considering the timing, it seems like a good bet that either Leach's phone in Key West isn't being lit up by interested suitors in the early stages of the annual coaching carousel, or he's been specifically told by the likes of Minnesota and Colorado that he's still considered damaged goods. He does have a job this season, calling games as a color analyst for CBS College Sports. He also has a book on the way, written with ESPN's Bruce Feldman. James is already personally named in the pending suit against Texas Tech – in fact, he's the primary defendant as of today, when Leach's lawyers formalized an agreement to exempt key Tech officials from the suit. A Spaeth spokesman called the new suit "the predictable strategy of a man who is desperate to avoid accountability for his own behavior."
Maybe. Or maybe he's just desperate for a new outlet to swing his sword.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.