Texas Tech chose quick action over hand-wringing, firing Mike Leach today only days after beginning an investigation into allegations of player mistreatment. To the "concerned parents" of the world, it may appear that finally, the big business of college football is paying attention to health concerns and the well-being of players. In record speed, the concern showed for student-athletes trumped even sterling football records.
Of course, saving $800,000 on the deal didn't hurt either.
As many have pointed out, it is too soon to decide whether what Mike Leach did was wrong or not. Most of this is due to the fact that we are not completely sure what he actually did. Much like Kansas University firing their successful coach, Mark Mangino, the back and forth between support and accusation are hard to parse out.
What is easy to see, however, are the commonalities between both coaches getting the boot.
Sure, the accusations center on hot button issues of the day: concussions in the case of Leach, race in the case of Mangino. Both coaches have been charged with "insensitivity" toward their players, and no matter how strange that accusation might seem toward college cootball coaches, it is a hard label to shake.
However, the biggest commonality is something completely different. Both men have had incredibly rocky relationships with their athletic directors. Both men have had public tangles with them before. It is not too hard to imagine that both men where in precarious situations before any accusations came to the fore.
Mike Leach's wrangling over the offseason that finally ended in a five-year, $12.7 million contract with Texas Tech was not a walk in the park. Leach, known for his off-kilter behavior, made no friends in the administration during those negotiations.
With his comments about fat girlfriends this year, the precarious hold he had on his team demonstrated by his ban on social network sites for players, and the general craziness involved in the world of Mike Leach, it would come as no surprise if Tech AD Gerald Myers was fed up with his successful coach.
Mark Mangino and Lew Perkins had no love lost between them either. An underlying source for water cooler talk in Jayhawk land for a while, the tensions between Perkins and Mangino came to an obvious head as this season went along.
Not many ADs would plan a (semi) secret meeting with the players of a team who had two games left to play, especially if it centered on discussing the pros and cons of their current head coach. Few would let secret information about said meeting and subsequent investigation leak to the press. Again, it isn't hard to imagine based on Perkins' behavior that he too was fed up with his successful coach.
So a few questions must be asked. In the case of both Leach and Mangino, were the investigations into their coaching behavior just a convenient excuse? Is there any way on earth that these two men are somehow especially mean or rough to their players compared to the rest of head coaches in college football? Were their other motivations involved in making these accusations public?
The way the investigations were conducted seem to point in that direction.
In Mangino's case, the slow-burning nature of the investigation worked against him. If they had just done something in a quick and decisive manner, the distractions to the already faltering team could have been minimized. Firing a coach who has lost seven games in a row is easier than firing one whose season has any glimpse of hope.
In Leach's case, the break neck speed in which this all came to head works against him. Everyone knows that Leach is sort of crazy; with the season done except for the bowl game, why give chances for former players, or even fans to back up the man that has created a cult following out in the Texas Panhandle? And again, it sure must be nice to save 800,000 bucks in the process of getting rid of a perceived nuisance.
All of this leads to another, perhaps more fundamental question. Have ADs seized power in the Big XII? Are the days of untouchable coaches done for, at least in Big XII country?
Without running throughout the entire history of the Big XII, two other AD's come to mind as relevant to this discussion.
First, ask any Nebraska fan what they thought of Steve Pederson, and you should set aside time to listen for a while. Firing Frank Solich divided Husker nation, and the Callahan years where anything but peaceful.
Beyond the decisions Pederson made, a common refrain among a particular section of Husker nation was that Pederson didn't understand Nebraska culture, and the hiring of Callahan was solid proof that this was the case. Without speaking for all Husker fans, certainly a notable group of them see the Pederson seasons as lost years.
Finally, one can look at an AD like Oklahoma State's Mike Holder and see similar issues arise. Holder has been seen as an overall success, in the state and by outsiders. Boone Pickens stadium is a thing of beauty, the Cowboys are competing in both football and basketball, and donations have never been better.
However, Holder's "iron grip," as some locals put it, has caused many an uproar in each of his specific moves.
Raising ticket prices, fixing the OU and Georgia games as "season-ticket holder only" games, and other assorted pricing issues have caused many a belly ache. Coaching hirings and firings have not been any easier: While some were critical of the Gundy hire, firing Sean Sutton caused a massive amount of heartache in Poke nation. Though he may be a success at his job, Holder's "controlling" nature makes some fans leery.
It's true that ADs have always fired coaches and have been instrumental to their school's success or failure at sports. However, when two of the most successful coaches at their respective colleges get fired in one year, things seem odd.
While it might be merely conjecture at this point, if rocky relationships with their ADs seem to be the culprit behind the firings of Leach and Mangino, something else is going on. If one AD can alter the culture of a tradition rich school like Nebraska, perhaps something else is afoot. If fans remain cool to an AD even after he has quantifiably improved things at his school, perhaps something else is making the fans weary.
Is this the new era of Big XII sports, the era of the AD? Is this what the Leach and Mangino firings are actually showing us, a view of things to come?