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Q&A with football coach Mike Leach

The former Texas Tech coach, fired in 2009, is battling the school over back pay and has sued ESPN and college football analyst Craig James. Leach also has a book out.

October 02, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Mike Leach during his coaching days at Texas Tech.
Mike Leach during his coaching days at Texas Tech. (Mike Fuentes / Associated…)

Mike Leach coached Texas Tech to college football prominence, directing the nation's top passing game and soundly defeating Nebraska and Oklahoma two seasons ago. Before the Red Raiders played in a bowl game that year, he was fired.

The sport has continued to peak in popularity and sink in scandal since, with Leach's tale producing his book "Swing Your Sword," which advances his contention that university friction toward paying a free-spirit football coach more than $1 million combined with accusations aired by ESPN college football analyst Craig James to force his ouster.

Possessing a law degree from Pepperdine, Leach did not shrink. His legal team secured emails revealing university leaders discussing the possibility of dismissing him a year earlier, and poked numerous holes in the account of James' son, Adam, who originally claimed he was banished to a closet with a concussion.


FOR THE RECORD:
This article, which appeared in Monday's Sports section, incorrectly says Leach will sign copies of his book at the Manhattan Beach Borders bookstore. He will be at the Manhattan Beach Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Leach is suing ESPN, James and James' publicity firm for libel, and he has a case before the Texas Supreme Court seeking more than $2 million in deprived salary and a lucrative bonus. Monday night at 7, at the Manhattan Beach Borders bookstore, Leach will sign copies of his book. He plans to coach again.

Is the honesty about a sport so loaded with deceit driving your book sales?

"There's been some sensational stuff, but I believe what sustained it is that everyone is passionate about something. The story of taking that passion on a path, experiencing the things that shape us, that's fascinating. I did always plan to speak the truth here. If you're not truthful, no one can learn things from each other, and we'd just be wasting each other's time."

Why are you suing ESPN and Craig James?

"For their national smear campaign and false information they perpetuated from coast to coast. We have the words of the perpetrators in our hands. We will win that case. Adam James has admitted he was never forced in that closet, was never injured or frightened. He thought it was funny, and put himself in that closet to make me look bad. I was fired 24 hours before I was due an $800,000 bonus. The incident was entirely manufactured."

Your book portrays Craig James as an ultimate "Daddy Ball" figure, and ESPN forced out one of its reporters, Bruce Feldman, who helped you with the book. What do you take from this?

"[James] was disgusted with his son's playing time. I dealt with him more than all of the other parents combined. The thing with Bruce is disturbing. I know a lot of reporters there and while I have no respect for two [James and ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad], most take extreme pride in their work and follow the rules of journalism school: Let the facts fall where they may. Imagine what a chilling effect this story has had on them. They have to think, 'What will the front office think of this story?' It's insane. ESPN wants to scrutinize everyone, but if they're scrutinized, they run and hide. It's like they don't want to confirm they were wrong on this story, or Craig James will spread rumors about them."

You're fighting something called "sovereign immunity" that is keeping you from collecting your 2009 pay and damages from the state school. Why?

"People in California can't fathom this. A trial court ruled in our favor that egregious conduct outweighs sovereign immunity, but an appellate court ruled I still can't collect damages, so we have briefs before the Texas Supreme Court. Tech has a history of chiseling people with sovereign immunity. The chancellor [Kent Hance] told all his friends he was going to low-ball me on a contract, and when he couldn't, he lost face and wanted me out. He was jealous of the attention I got over him. Football's the center of attention. He didn't like that."

Money dominates your scandal, and it has prompted NCAA probes and conference realignment. How does a coach view the windfall?

"You can do great things with the money football brings in — build libraries, fund other sports — but too many decisions are made exclusively about money, and that's not good for the sport or the school."

I see New Mexico might want you. Will you coach again?

"I want to go to a place that's undervalued, where the potential is great, a place that wants to win, not just participate, in football. When I was at Tech, no public school was ahead of us in graduation rates. We got our guys to compete in the classroom, and if they're competing in class and in football, that's an attitude they take into life."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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