Last winter Mike Leach was the toast of college football, taking the Red Raiders to an 11-1 record. Only a late season loss to eventual national title game loser Oklahoma, kept Tech out of the national title game.
The administration at Tech appeared somewhat eager to resign Leach despite past transgressions, offering an extension valued at five years at over $12 million.
It wasn't always that way. Reportedly negotiations with Leach opened on a quite a rocky note in the spring.
Leach's agent made contact with AD Gerald Myers in April of 2008 and had tried to negotiate a raise. Myers flatly told Leach and his agent via email that "We have reached the limits of what we can pay our coach and still maintain the rest of the department." and that "If better opportunities occur for him somewhere else we will fully understand."
According to Leach's people, Myers put little effort into communicating with Leach and his agent and cancelled a meeting to discuss a contract renegotiation without giving any date for it to be rescheduled.
Frustrated by Myer's unwillingness to apparently negotiate with Leach in good faith, Leach's agent went over Myer's head sending a letter directly to Chancellor Kent Hance in July of 2008, asking for Hance's intervention.
Still, no deal was reached. Myers advised the media that a deal would not be negotiated until after the season.
The regular season came and went elevating Leach to one of the hottest names available for top BCS programs.
Word leaked that Leach was a front runner to be the next Washington head coach.
Auburn also looked to Leach to see if there was interest in case they fired their coach, Tommy Tuberville. Leach's camp reportedly suggested to Auburn that Leach would be interested in being a candidate if they fired Tuberville .
When word of Washington's interest came out, Myers advised the local media that Tech was negotiating to retain Leach. Leach removed himself from consideration for the Washington job, but his agent denied there were any negotitations with Tech .
Leach had apparently interviewed for the Washington position without asking permission from Myers, his boss. It seems likely Myers may have felt Leach did not tell him specifically to keep the Tech AD in the dark about what the Tech Head Coach was doing to embarrass Myers. The bad blood between the two seems to have in part been due to Leach's constant flirtations with other schools.
Still, Myers was under fire from the fans and alumni. Myers advised Tech would be offering Leach a raise and an extention.
By December 6th 2008, circumstances had apparently changed between Tech and Leach since the Spring or even the Fall - although Myers and the administration at Tech may have just wanted it to appear that way to the fans and alumni. Still they offered a sizeable raise. They offered Leach an extension worth 12.1 million over five years.
Leach publically appeared very willing to test the waters for a better offer. The powers that be at Tech twisted in the wind as Leach considered other options.
Eventually the administration got tired of it and put a January 20th deadline on their offer; January 20th came and went.
Leach and his agent made counter proposals which further enfuriated the administration at Tech. Per Myers, the contract Leach's agent proposed would have made it effectively impossible to fire Leach. If Tech decided to fire Leach in year one of that contract, they would need to pay him a $4.4 million buyout.
Leach and his agaent tried to go over the heads of the AD and the Chancellor and appeal directly to the Board of Directors. The Regents saw it for what it was --- a ploy to set them against each other to get a better deal. Chairman F. Scott Dueser sent a scathing rebuke to Leach's agents IMG.
Myers and the university made another offer; five years at $12.7 million. The offer would require Leach to pay a $1.5 million penalty if he interviewed for another position without getting permission from Myers.
Myers had stated he had no intent of ever preventing Leach from interviewing from a position and that the clause was simply there to ensure Leach kept him in the loop.
There were four clauses that Leach objected to that seemed curious for a school that purported to want to retain their coach.
Per the Dallas Morning News : "The four clauses involved the guaranteed termination compensation Leach would receive if fired, the buyout amount he would pay if he left early, a penalty for interviewing for another job without permission, and who controlled Leach's personal property rights." The last clause seemed particularly harsh.
By mid-February, Leach had declined to accept the second offer by a second deadline and had clearly angered Myers and many within the adminstration.
Leach stated he was willing to coach out his current deal. Tech administrators leaked word they were considering firing Leach if he didn't accept the offer .
With termination appearing eminent, Leach took his case to the media. The fan base and alumni brought pressure on the administration.
Hance stepped in and personally negotiated with Leach . Myers and the others were banished from the negotiations.
Hance and Leach negotiated a contract with many of the clauses to which Leach objected being modified.
Seeds of Leach's dismissal are planted
I remember telling my friend, a fellow Texas Panhandle native, to not be suprised if Myers and the Board of Regents ran out Leach as soon as a compelling reason presented itself.
Mike Leach thought he won, but really he just made some powerful enemies.
Leach told the administration and all of college football, through his actions that he thought he was bigger than Tech. Myers and and a lot of others in the administration who really love Tech (possibly even including former coach Spike Dykes), were infuriated that Leach appeared to get away with it.
It is no secret that the head coaching position at Tech can be stepping stone for a head coaching job at a higher profile university with a more affulent athletic program like OU, UT, or A&M. Years ago David McWilliams used the Tech position to land the UT job. With every rumor involving Bob Stoops, Leach has been mentioned as a possible replacement at OU.
Tech is a school with low enough expectations that a good coach can weather an average season every once in a while. It is a school that lands enough talent that .500 is always within reach, and with a good recruiter more is possible. It is a school where a good coach can ride a very good season into a much better job.
It is the kind of university that a lot of coaches will consider for a few year stay to launch then into an elite job in the region. It isn't a UT, OU, LSU, or A&M. It isn't even a Washington, Arkansas, or Auburn.
The administration and fans may acknowledge that they will be outbid by those schools if push comes to shove, but this amounted to Leach rudely not even paying lip service to even liking the university.
This was the Tech coach stating he looked at Tech as strictly a stepping stone. This rubbed the university's second or third rate status in those administrator's faces.
All the administrators needed was a compelling reason and Leach could be gone.
Adam James becomes the reason
Lets be clear; there is enough out there - statements from former Leach players - that paint Adam James as a spoiled child who didn't work hard enough and expected things to be given to him.
Whether that is true or not seems almost irrelevant.
Lubbock TV stations have already run clips that bring the credibility of Adam James into question, but that too seems irrelevant in the big scheme of things.
It is really only relevant in determining whether the powers that be at Tech got away with firing a disgruntled employee with questionable loyalties they had grown to despise without a major financial hit or whether they have to pay the man. (There is an excellent article on bleacherreport that covers the financial implications of the Leach dismissal per the coach's contract and may give a big clue as to why Leach was fired WHEN he was.)
ESPN personality Craig James, being Adam James's dad, only impacts the story in that it puts Craig James's finger prints on the murder weapon and not the Board of Regent's or Meyers's.
It seems pretty clear that Leach hacked off his boss and then proceeded to earn the ire of a number of people above his boss.
Where Tech stands today
Briles paid his dues in the Texas High school ranks, emassing a 172-42-4 record at that level. That can open some recruiting doors and appears to have really helped Briles. He jumped from the High school ranks to join mike Leach's staff at Tech for a few years before becoming the head coach at Houston.
Briles turned around a Houston program that had gone 8-26 in the previous 3 seasons and took the Cougers to 4 bowl games in 5 years.
Briles then took on one of the worst jobs in college football in taking the Baylor head coaching job. In his first year, Briles landed QB Robert Griffin and Briles and the Freshman Griffin made Baylor dangerous for the first time in decades.
Last year Baylor had a winning record when Griffin went down with an injury.
Briles knows the Leach offense well. He seems to be an emerging star in college football and as any Tech fan will tell you, Tech may very well have an in with Briles.
(There are rumours that like most coaches Briles has an exit clause in his Baylor contract to go to one school of his choice with no exit fee. Tech is rumoured to be his exemption destination.)
Tuberville is a curious case.
He owns a 110-60 record, all of it earned in the SEC. He wons a 6-3 record in bowl games and a 5-2 record vs. top 5 teams.
It is a dynamite resume which should be persued by a number of major programs, but Tuberville is on radio stations everywhere expanding on his resume and his reasons for resigning at Auburn while openly campaigning to be a candidate for the Tech job. He has launched a media blitz in an effort to get an interview. (He even name drops, talking about how much he respects Tech royalty like Spike Dykes.)
He served on a Miami Hurricanes staff that won 3 national titles. He ended his career at Miami as the defensive coordinator.
He was hired by Texas A&M to replace Bob Davies as the new defensive coordinator on RC Slocum's staff. The Aggies went 10-0-1 that year.
He became the head coach at Ole Miss and in 3 of his four years there had winning seasons, finishing 5-6 in his second year.
Then Auburn brought him in. Tuberville had a rough first year going 5-6 in 1999, but then proceeded to go 75-27 in the next 8 seasons (an average record of 9-3), including a perfect 13-0 record in 2004.
On December 12, 2007, Tuberville brought in the hottest offensive coordinator in the Sun Belt, Troy's Tony Franklin, to be his offensive coordinator. Tuberville had come to believe that the spread offense was the future of college football and hired the best coach available.
Franklin served as Hal Mumme's OC at Kentucky. He was a former head coach of the National Indoor Football League's Lexington Horsemen who he had lead to a 53.1 ppg scoring average. He took a Troy team with the worst defense in the Sun Belt and transformed it into the 16th best offense in the nation. He even copyrighted his offensive system which was implimented in a number of schools accross the nation.
(In a curious sidenote, Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes consults with Franklin about his offense.)
For whatever reason the Tigers did not adapt to the new offense on a timely basis. After 6 weeks the team was ranked 104th in the nation in offense. Tuberville pulled the plug on Franklin and the team collapsed winning only one of the last 6 games down the stretch to finish 5-7 in his final season.
(Franklin returned to the Sun Belt, turning around Middle Tennessee's offense last year.)
With the Vultures circling, Tuberville decided to resign rather than risk being fired.
Like Terry Bowden, Tuberville excelled at Auburn before being effectively run off. Like with Bowden, Auburn began negotiations with potential replacements before ending their relationship with Tuberville.
Unlike Bowden, who inspite of a perfect season at Auburn and a 47-17-1 record at that university could only manage to land a job at a Division II school - North Alabama - 11 years after his ugly divorce with Auburn, Tuberville seems to be taking a much more active role in scaring up his next job. Maybe that is what it takes to get your resume considered after Auburn forces a coach out.
(It is curious to note that Leach expressed an interest in taking Tuberville's job prior to Tuberville resigning. Tuberville on the flipside only publically expressed an interest in the tech job after Leach was fired. It does suggest two different kinds of people.)
In an interview yesterday with Galloway and Company on ESPN 103.3 in Dallas, Tuberville sold his ability to recruit in Texas, implying heavy involvement in recruiting Texas when he was with Miami as well as at Auburn. He also explained that over the last year since he resigned he has been traveling around the country studying different approaches and elements to become a better coach.
"I have family there. I have a lot of ties there. I've recruited Dallas and Houston and I think it would be a pretty good fit. Mike [Leach] did a good job and I think I could make the situation even better." he said during the interview.
Upon hearing an interview with Tuberville, one cannot help but take from it that Tuberville has put together a better plan than he had at Auburn (probably involving the spread) and sees Tech as a university that has the components to execute his plan on a timely basis.
There was also a none too subtle inference that part of why Tuberville is persuing the Tech job is that he sees the adminstrators there as refreshingly honest and straightforward after his unpleasant stay at Auburn.
I found myself wondering if Tuberville might actually go as far as to approach Tech with an offer that included hiring Sonny Dykes to be his offensive coordinator and heir apparrent if it might get him the job.
Like Leach, I have a suspicion Tuberville may have designs on a higher paying future job (Texas A&M) down the road, but unlike Leach, Tuberville is respectfully saying all the right things to Tech faithful today.
It is very possible that either will prove capable of matching the level Mike Leach hit at Tech. Either can prove what Leach refused to accept and what ultimately cost him his job - that a university is actually bigger than any college football coach.