January 15, 2010
By far the most bizarre moment of the Mike Leach saga at Texas Tech came on Dec. 30, just a few hours after the coach was handed a letter of termination, when an improbable cell phone video shot from inside Adam James' infamous electrical closet began making the rounds:
The clip was leaked by a PR firm hired by the James family to a Dallas television station, and was apparently meant to counter another clip that had been making the rounds the same day, of Leach's attorney giving a Lubbock television station a tour of the two relatively spacious, air-conditioned locations where he claims James was sequestered during a pair of Alamo Bowl practices the sophomore receiver had been barred from participating in because of a mild concussion. The closet was described by the Dallas station as "an electrical closet off the Press Room at Jones AT&T Stadium." According to Leach's attorney, James had only been confined to the press room itself, with a pair of trainers and an exercise bike. So how did James get in the closet?
According to Leach's wrongful termination lawsuit against the university, James took upon himself to stage his own version of "The Blair Leach Project" -- or, as the lawsuit puts it in a section excerpted this morning by ESPN, he "voluntarily placed himself into the electrical closet and apparently took pictures with his phone camera." Among the many "lies" that Leach claims led to his ouster, the persistence of the "electrical closet" that figured prominently in initial reports of his suspension would be the biggest if his version of events turned out to be true.
Still, it wouldn't exonerate Leach for the strange decision to isolate an injured player in any enclosed area, including a shed/garage or a press room, especially as more emerges about his strained relationship with James' dad, ex-SMU star/ESPN analyst/aspiring senator Craig James. Leach is on record calling James "a Little League" dad, and the coach's lawsuit (perhaps unnecessarily) adds a few interesting details of James' alleged meddling to the mix:
• In September, Craig James called assistant coach Tommy McVay "to tell him, in effect, that you coaches are crazy and you're screwing my kid."
• The same day that he made the call to McVay, Craig James left a message for Riley "stating, in effect, 'You don't know what you're doing. Adam James is the best player at the wide receiver position. ... If you've got the [blank] to call me back, and I don't think you do, call me back.' "
• Texas Tech President Guy Bailey advised Leach that he thought Chancellor Kent Hance was going to try to "railroad" Leach, because of a business relationship between James and Hance.
Leach's suit also alleges that, before he suffered the concussion, Adam James "stormed out of the athletic offices yelling an expletive and slammed the outer door to the coaches' office so hard that it split and came off its hinges," causing more than $1,000 in damage after being informed of a demotion to the third string, and later "told Coach [Bennie] Wylie that Wylie didn't know what he was doing and [that] James' effort was just fine." All of which combines to paint the picture that Leach wants, of an overbearing, well-connected father applying pressure to advance his entitled, lazy son, and who might conspire to get rid of the coach on flimsy grounds. But it also paints the picture Leach doesn't want, of a coach who nursed a grudge and picked both the wrong time and method to retaliate. No amount of petty villainy from Craig James can get the Cap'n off the hook for arbitrarily segregating a concussed player from the rest of the team, to which he's fully admitted from the beginning. (Or for adamantly refuse to cooperate with the higher-ups in his corner.) When the basic facts aren't in dispute, proving a conspiracy is a rough sea to sail.
Meanwhile, back in Lubbock, "about 500 people" rallied in support of Leach on Thursday (many of them dressed as pirates), out of more than 61,000 who have signed on to the "Team Leach" Facebook group. But the team has its new coach, Adam James apparently has no intentions to transfer and his teammates seem to be more or less unified in their support for him. The remnants of the Leach regime on the coaching staff were summarily purged this week in one fell swoop. As far as the Raiders are concerned, by spring practice Mike Leach will be just another guy trying to keep his torch lit through the labyrinths of the courts.