Firing Mike Leach would be program suicide for Texas Tech
Mike Leach failed to accept Texas Tech's five-year, $12.7 million extension offer
Four clauses stand in the way, and Tech could fire Leach with 2 years left on deal
If Tech fires the coach who made it nationally relevant, it'll be program suicide
Texas Tech has spent millions this decade to make its football program one of the nation's best. The Red Raiders have expanded their stadium, entered into lucrative licensing agreements and enjoyed the bounty that comes from being a competitive member of the Big 12. So why, when they are so close to reaching their goal of making the team nationally relevant on an annual basis, have athletic director Gerald Myers and school administrators decided now is the time to torpedo the program?
After a year of hemming and hawing, Myers and company offered coach Mike Leach a contract extension that featured Big 12 money but a set of Ohio Valley Conference clauses Leach and his agents wisely declined. Now, after Leach missed a school-imposed deadline Tuesday afternoon to accept the extension, the man who made Texas Tech's program relevant could very well be fired.
Texas Tech and Leach never should have reached this point in the first place. After Leach, in his ninth season at the school, led the Red Raiders to an 11-2 record and a place in the national discussion, school officials should have asked Leach one question: "How much would you like?" Instead, they offered Leach more money ($12.7 million over five years), but that fortune comes larded with a set of conditions no elite coach in the country would accept.
Apparently, Myers and company think the program can continue on its current path without Leach. They're wrong. It's hard enough to find a coach who can recruit players to Lubbock, Texas. It's impossible to find another coach who will have SI, 60 Minutes and The New York Times scouring Southwest flight schedules for the least inconvenient path to Lubbock so they can bring the world the story of a well-read, pirate-obsessed former attorney who never played college football but who still managed to devise a mind-bending offense that has befuddled some of college football's brightest defensive minds.
This spitting match began after Leach felt slighted because Texas Tech didn't offer a new contract after the 2007 season. After the 2008 season, Myers and the Texas Tech administration felt disrespected because, in an attempt to force their hand, Leach interviewed at Washington in December without telling them. Now, after more than a month of haggling over four clauses inserted into Texas Tech's Jan. 9 offer to Leach, the situation in Lubbock has reached DEFCON 1.
Nine minutes after the Myers-imposed deadline for Leach to accept Texas Tech's five-year offer expired early Tuesday evening, Myers released the following statement: "Coach Leach has declined our $12.7 million contract. We will enter the decision-making process and should have some announcements by next week. Our decisions will be based on the best interest of Texas Tech and all of its supporters." Even before the deadline passed, The Dallas Morning News reported the school's board of regents announced a "special called teleconference meeting" from 3-4 p.m. ET on Friday for a discussion "including but not limited to the position of the football head coach."
Sure sounds like guns down for Leach.
The regents could vote to allow Leach to serve the final two years of his current contract, but that seems unlikely. The regents could choose to grant Leach the $12.7 million contract extension he and his International Marketing Group agents want, or they could choose to fire Leach for his failure to accept the $12.7 million Texas Tech offered. Yes, you read that correctly. The sides are exactly zero cents apart on a salary that would make Leach the third-highest paid coach in the Big 12.
The four grenades Myers and company inserted into the extension offer could wind up chasing away the coach who took the program Spike Dykes built and made it one of the most interesting in the country. Think of it this way. Myers, who entered into his relationship with Leach without a pre-nup, suddenly asked his coach of nine years to sign one before they renewed their vows.
At issue are the following four provisions present in the extension:
Leach's current contract calls for him to receive about 40 percent of the money remaining on his contract if he is fired without cause. Most coaches have a liquidated damages clause in their contract that would pay them a percentage of their salary if they are fired. Alabama's Nick Saban would get 100 percent of the remaining dollars on his contract. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops would receive $2.1 million a year (about 67 percent). Leach's agent, Matt Baldwin, told the Morning News the Big 12 average is about 50 percent. Texas Tech's extension would have guaranteed Leach at most $1.5 million, even if he were fired with four years remaining on his contract.
If Leach took another job, his buyout would rise to $1.5 million from $500,000. Though Leach's agents took issue with this provision, it seems fair given the significant sum Leach would be paid and the likelihood he would only accept a job at a program that could certainly afford him.
Texas Tech's offer would authorize an immediate firing and a $1.5 million penalty if Leach interviewed for another job without first receiving permission from Myers. This provision was a response to Leach's December interview with Washington, which Myers didn't learn about until after the fact. Leach removed his name from consideration, but the damage was done. Though some schools use these penalty clauses -- Florida State will charge $5 million if head-coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher interviews for another job before December 2010 -- most ask only that the coach give the AD a heads-up. Leach countered by offering to inform Myers of any future interview plans. In the process of duking it out in the press, Baldwin released an e-mail saying he and Leach would "swear under oath" that Leach turned down overtures from UCLA in '07 and from Tennessee and Washington during the '08 regular season.
The final and seemingly most insulting sticking point is a clause that would force Leach to cede his personal property rights to Texas Tech, meaning he would have no control over speaking engagements, endorsements, book deals or other outside income opportunities. The money would go to Texas Tech, not Leach. At other elite schools, coaches must seek the approval of the athletic director before accepting any deals, but the coach keeps the money.