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Did Texas Tech Set Trap for Mike Leach in Latest Contract?

Dec 30, 2009 – 6:39 PM
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Clay Travis

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Mike LeachTexas Tech fired head football coach Mike Leach today. For the past two days we've all discussed the Adam James situation and whether or not Leach mistreated James as he recovered from a concussion. Since the firing, talk has focused on whether or not Leach's alleged treatment of James justified that firing. But examining the contract in consultation with the last contract provides an interesting subtext: When Texas Tech signed Mike Leach to a new contract on Feb.19th, 2009, the school modified the Article IV language of an otherwise form contract to expressly include the following language: "[Leach] shall assure the fair and responsible treatment of student-athletes in relation to their health, welfare and discipline. Breach of such standards, whether willful or through negligence, may be subject to disciplinary action and penalties ranging from termination ..."

You can read the full 2009 contract here.

In other words, when Leach signed his new contract in February, he walked right into the contractual trap laid out by the university. Suddenly Leach, a trained lawyer, opened up a new avenue that permitted him to be fired if an issue arose that was exactly like the current Adam James situation. In addition to being fired for a breach under Article V of his contract, which deals primarily with NCAA violations and criminal acts, Leach opened himself up to specific termination relating to his treatment of athletes.

What's more and, this is key, to be fired under this prong of the contract only requires that Leach was negligent in his treatment of players, not that he was willfully wrong.
Who makes the determination of whether or not Leach was willful or negligent in his treatment of student-athletes? Per the contract, "the President following consultation and review with the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics."

The proverbial ball was, it would seem, entirely in the Texas Tech administration's court.

Does this qualify as a blockbuster legal trap?

I think so.

Particularly if you consider that Texas Tech's president and athletic director may have had prior knowledge of Leach's questionable treatment of student athletes and wanted to protect themselves in the event future instances arose. Could this even be one of the reasons the two sides took so long to come to a contractual agreement?

Perhaps.

It seems particularly possible if you review how similar the two contracts are otherwise. Much of the language remains virtually identical with the exception of the addition of Section IV in the 2009 contract. The case seems even stronger when you add in the fact that Texas Tech is pointing specifically to this language in their notice of termination provided to Leach. In the letter, the University president says that Leach is fired "for breach of the provisions of Article IV of that contract."

So the university is citing language that didn't exist in his prior contract to fire Leach. Whether or not they intentionally set this legal trap for him remains a question, but there's no doubting that this language drastically strengthened the hand of the university. If you're a glutton for legal punishment, or a law student home for the holidays, you can review both versions of the contract here.

First is the older contract and here is the newer one.

Do you suddenly have more respect for why it takes a while for coaches to sign their contracts these days?

You should.

With tens of millions of dollars at stake, each side is jockeying for the utmost protection. While most of us are focusing on how much money the coaches are going to get, the real devil is in the details. Ask Billy Gillispie or Rich Rodriguez.

And at least in this case, it appears Texas Tech knew exactly what they were doing when they signed their coach to a contract extension ten months ago with brand new language.
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