UPDATED: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 8:53am
Six days before the team closes its season in the Alamo Bowl, the game has become the least of Texas Tech's worries, which began this afternoon with a mysterious report from the university that coach Mike Leach wouldn't be on the sideline due to an investigation into alleged mistreatment of a player:
LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has been suspended while the school investigates complaints from a player and his family about treatment after an injury.
The school said in a release Monday defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill will be the interim coach and lead the team in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 against Michigan State.
McNeill will remain in charge of the team until the investigation is complete.
The official release from the university doesn't shed much light. ESPN reporter Joe Schad, however, gets more specific on his Twitter feed: "Mike Leach is alleged to have isolated a player in a dark closet for not practicing with a concussion." That player, we soon learned, is wide receiver Adam James, son of ex-SMU star and current ESPN analyst Craig James, who reported to Texas Tech "with great regret and after consideration" that "[his] son had been subjected to actions and treatment not consistent with common sense rules for safety and health," according to a release by the family. Specific allegations include confining Adam James to an equipment room for three hours when he was unable to practice and instructing a trainer to "place James in an electrical closet." An attorney for Leach (who also has his own law degree) admitted James was secluded on two occasions, but "the circumstances were not as portrayed by the James family."
Oh: By the way, Craig James was scheduled to call the Alamo Bowl for ESPN on Jan. 2, where his and his son's beef with Leach will be the hottest story throughout the broadcast; predictably, that assignment has been scuttled.
From Leach's perspective, the important word is alleged; an accusation by a disgruntled player can fall apart in a hurry when people start digging into the facts. It doesn't help Leach, though, that the quirky, freewheeling persona that's made him such a crowd (and blogger) favorite over the years also makes him a logical candidate to step over the line. We already know he's no stranger to creative punishment, and with the recent deluge of information about the debilitating long-term effects of concussions, anything in the vicinity of "isolating a player in a closet" for refusing to put himself at risk could qualify as a firing offense. And a complaint by a well-connected football lifer like Craig James is unlikely to come up empty.
Not that anyone is particularly looking to kick Leach to the curb the way so many people in Kansas seemed anxious to be rid of the infamously sour and temperamental coach Mark Mangino earlier this year, when a complaint by a current player in the midst of a losing streak sparked an investigation that opened the floodgates for a parade of ex-players and parents to air their grievances and force Mangino's ouster. Aside from some contentious contract negotiations, Leach is a generally beloved figure around Lubbock, one of the game's few genuinely unique characters and the most successful coach in Tech history to boot; the Raiders' first obvious regression on the field in his tenure this fall — from a breakout 11-2 finish in 2008 to a relatively mediocre 8-4 in '09 — isn't going to change that. If James' charge has legs, though, all the wins, passing records, primetime cameos and fawning national profiles may not be enough to save the Cap'n this time.