January 09, 2010
In the span of a little over a month, three of the most successful head coaches in their respective schools' histories -- Kansas' Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach and South Florida's Jim Leavitt -- have been suddenly bounced amid high-profile accusations that they mistreated players in one fashion or another. That sort of bottom-up regime change is unprecedented in college football since Arizona players mutinied against John Mackovic , which may or may not signal the beginning of a revolution in the traditional top-down coach-player relationship.
At the very least, it signals what promises to be an intriguing round of legal battles to keep an eye on over the next eight months:
(That would be a lot funnier if Jack "The Hammer" Justice's spots didn't make him seem more reputable than the ads for Leach's actual lawyer.)
The cases against Leach and Leavitt have a distinctly different flavor than the accusations against Mangino, which were clearly unacceptable if true, widespread over an extended period of time, convincingly one-sided and ultimately not worth challenging in court to the coach, who took a $3 million settlement instead. Leach and Leavitt, on the other hand, both fell because of one-time incidents that didn't exactly recall Abu Ghraib, and were quickly backed by a wave of support from within and outside their programs -- including, in Leavitt's case, from the walk-on he's supposed to have slapped during halftime of USF's Nov. 21 win over Louisville, and the player's family. Both made enemies of the wrong parents and the wrong people in the administration building before providing them with fodder to act on. Higher-ups at Texas Tech had been angling for a reason to get rid of Leach for almost a year after contentious contract negotiations last winter.
Leavitt said after getting the ax Friday morning that he would "respond in time," but Leach's pending lawsuit against Texas Tech is full-speed ahead, and can give us some sense of where this burgeoning trend may be headed in the future -- or if it has a future. If Leach successfully argues that he was slandered, libeled or denied due process clauses in his contract, and his subsequently owed some significant amount of money from the university, the precedent to power brokers at other schools who might be growing impatient with their own coach should be clear: If you're going to try to get around a buyout clause, you'd better have the goods to hold up under serious legal scrutiny before you pull the trigger.
If the schools' verdicts against Leach and Leavitt hold up, though -- both were fired with cause, voiding any money that may have come their way if they were just fired to be rid of them -- it's a good bet that some other school somewhere will suddenly launch an investigation into a similar allegation against its own, slightly outside-the-box coach next fall if the courts indicate it might be worth their while. That may sound more conspiratorial than I'm usually willing to be, but the fallout from a sudden, nearly unprecedented outbreak of player discontent (some race-based protests across the nation in the late sixties may be the only moment of revolt that surpasses the last month) deserves to remain squarely on the radar.