‘They still owe me’: Mike Leach ready to face Texas Tech for first time since firing

  • Senior college football writer
  • Author of seven books on college football
  • Graduate of the University of Georgia

College football bowl games sometimes create uncomfortable dance partners, whether it’s a coach facing his former team, schools playing for a second time in a single season, or one-time rivals finally meeting again after tradition was shoved aside for conference realignment.

But perhaps no bowl matchup has been as uncomfortable as Mississippi State playing Texas Tech in Tuesday’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App).

It will be the first time Bulldogs coach Mike Leach faces the Red Raiders after Texas Tech officials fired him in December 2009 for his alleged mistreatment of a player suffering a concussion. At the time, Texas Tech officials claimed they fired Leach with cause and owed him nothing. Leach and his lawyers still contend that Tech owes him millions of dollars for what he was due under the terms of his contract.

“They still owe me for 2009, the last time they won nine games, so maybe they’ll deliver the check,” Leach said earlier this month. “So we’ll see what happens [at the Liberty Bowl].”

Leach, who has a law degree from Pepperdine, is still fighting that legal battle a dozen years later — and he doesn’t seem ready to quit anytime soon. He has offered to settle with Texas Tech for $2.4 million, which would include an $800,000 longevity bonus he was set to receive the day after he was fired, plus about $1.6 million in other incentives he said he was owed.

Leach, 60, was the winningest coach in Texas Tech history with 84 victories from 2000 to 2009 when he was fired.

“It’s indisputable they owe me the money, no one can dispute that,” Leach told ESPN on Monday. “When it comes to the money, they don’t just owe me the $2.4 million. They actually owe me for four more years, but I’ve always said that I’d settle for the $2.4 million and an acknowledgement that I didn’t do anything wrong.”

In January 2011, a Texas appeals court ruled Leach couldn’t sue for monetary damages because Texas Tech is a state entity with sovereign immunity. The next year, the Texas Supreme Court rejected Leach’s appeal without comment.

Leach filed a separate lawsuit against ESPN, then-ESPN broadcaster Craig James and a public relations firm that James had hired, alleging libel and slander. Leach was accused of twice ordering James’ son, Adam, to stand for hours confined in a dark place after he got a concussion. In 2013, a Texas judge granted summary judgment in favor of ESPN, James and the public relations firm. The Texas Supreme Court also denied Leach’s appeal in that case.

As far as Texas Tech officials are concerned, the matter with Leach ended with the court rulings.

“The courts ruled on the Mike Leach matter in 2014,” a Texas Tech spokesperson said in a statement. “We have resolved this issue and have moved forward. We are excited about the upcoming bowl game and the future of Texas Tech football.”

Still, Leach hasn’t let the monetary dispute go. Just last week, his lawyers filed a new lawsuit against Texas Tech in state district court in Lubbock. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a consulting firm that is investigating Tech on Leach’s behalf, accused the university of failing to fulfill its obligations under Texas open records laws.

“I think at this point he wants the records to know why he was actually terminated,” said Julie Pettit, one of Leach’s lawyers. “The circumstances regarding everything were suspicious to begin with and the more we dig the more suspicious everything seems. I think all he really wants is for the truth to come out about what happened 12 years ago when he was terminated.”

In 2017, Leach hired Wayne Dolcefino, a former investigative reporter with the ABC affiliate in Houston, to examine Texas Tech officials’ conduct before his firing. Dolcefino has sought telephone records, emails and other materials from the school. Dolcefino has allegedly been denied records about sexual assault allegations at Texas Tech as well.

“The reality, from our perspective, is that obviously they’re still hiding documents,” Dolcefino said. “It’s like where they buried Jimmy Hoffa, it’s ridiculous. But that’s what they do. We’ve got enough documents and emails now to prove that they lied about him, that there were never any other complaints, and that this investigation was never done, really. They, of course, now blame him for that and their story now is that because he sued them, they didn’t finish the investigation, which is exactly the opposite of what you would do. If you were getting sued, you’d want to finish the investigation to prove that you didn’t screw the guy over.”

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While Leach has been unable to beat Texas Tech in court, he’ll finally get a chance to defeat the Red Raiders on the field in the Liberty Bowl.

“I love Texas Tech,” Leach said. “Being at Texas Tech were some of the best years of my life. The Texas Tech fans are utterly fantastic and are on my side. The Tech fans would like to see this thing reconciled and I have no problem with them. The best football years at Tech were our 10 years there and we need to celebrate that together. The crooks at the top were the problem.”

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