Senior Writer

Wielding a pen, a pirate named Leach looks to clear his name


There are few things in life more annoying than a stage parent. If you've ever endured the sick spectacle that is a beauty pageant for six-year olds, you know. Adults who know better tend to hover, advise, bitch, moan, complain, maybe even intimidate. Stage parents are a pain in the tutu.

Craig James comes off as the ultimate "helicopter dad" in Mike Leach's new book Swing Your Sword. If that was the worst thing said about the former SMU running back and current ESPN analyst there would be less of a hook for the book. But this is so much bigger. Leach is suing James' employer, along with the high-powered PR firm James hired to shape public opinion when the coach allegedly mistreated his son Adam.

There are still plenty of people in Leach's corner in Lubbock. (US Presswire)  
There are still plenty of people in Leach's corner in Lubbock. (US Presswire)  
Besides being portrayed as a cloying nuisance, James is made out to be a conniving tactician in helping run Leach out of town at Texas Tech in late 2009. Daddy didn't play around when he was crossed. That PR firm just happens to be run by the former head of White House media relations under Ronald Reagan.

If nothing else, James is an opportunist armed with frat boy looks, a killer smirk and his own network from which to launch all of it. Read Leach and James is equipped with less manhood than he accused a Texas Tech assistant of having in a 2009 phone message.

"If you have the balls, and I don't think you do, call me back," James is quoted as telling the assistant.

James might be that guy, but this story is only half over. Leach is awaiting word on whether the Texas Supreme Court will review an appellate court's ruling on his wrongful termination suit. The coach himself is yet to be deposed by James' attorney.

"I don't get paid enough for all the fun I'm going to have," James' spokesman Scott McLaughlin told me on Tuesday.

Worse-case scenario: The legal wrangling stretches into the next hiring season (late 2011/early 2012) and Leach is still considered radioactive by ADs looking to hire an innovative, proven, free-agent coach. That would make it three years out of the profession for "The Pirate" who considered that prospect by phone Tuesday while fishing near Key West.

"I worry about it," he said. "[But] ESPN has damaged me, [and] I don't see an alternative but to clear my name and get the truth out."

Current-case scenario: Leach has a lot of time off, a home in Key West and his book, an advance copy of which has been obtained by James still has his job and that smirk. Scoreboard, frat boy?

Perhaps, and that's what bothers me. Before any of this even started, I'm pretty sure the world wanted to see more of Mike Leach and less of Craig James. They still do. They always will. But until further notice, circumstances dictate that it's the other way around.

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"The family sees no need to respond to this," McLaughlin told when asked about the book. "They have moved on and feel no need to address the mistakes Mike Leach made while head coach at Texas Tech."

Predictably, this has become a case of who can dump the most poo on the other. One email to James from his PR firm seems to speculate whether information should be forwarded to ESPN "exclusively."

If that was happening, shame on James and shame on Merrie Spaeth, president of Spaeth Communications, for playing dirty. Leach called the approach "malicious." He says Spaeth was used by Tech to "smear" him.

A Spaeth statement to Tuesday said Leach's claims have "absolutely no merit."

McLaughlin said James and his son received death threats as the story went national. Celina (Texas) High School coach Butch Ford has had to field calls recently about a comment attributed to him on a message board.

"When Adam went to high school here, there were two coaches, me and Craig James. Craig James coached Adam and i coached the rest of the team. I was NEVER so happy to see one boy graduate!"

Definitely another brick in the wall for Craig James' haters except that Ford never said it.

"Adam was a fine player," Ford told me. "We never had anything like that with Craig."

It's understood that Leach is writing from his point of view. Tech's POV is that their coach never should have been looking around for a new job. That's how this whole thing started. Apparently, some person or persons failed to realize Texas Tech was ... Texas Tech, not Alabama.

Leach traveled to a West Texas outpost that had never done much of anything in football and turned it into a national story. Who knew how long he was going to be able to cobble together a top-25 program out of that high desert scrub? Tech was lucky to have him for 10 years.

For the record, Leach says now, "I wasn't in a hurry to leave. It would have had to be a great opportunity."

But when they want you out, you're out. It could be office politics, age, attitude or salary. Texas Tech wanted Mike Leach out. Within days after signing a new contract in February 2009, Leach claims his departure became inevitable. It seems he made too much money or wasn't grateful or was too eccentric or all of it. Powerful people were looking for a scalp.

There are also a lot of people in his corner at Tech. That's why next week's book signing in Lubbock should be a triumphant return "home." The locals have to know the football program might never rise to the consistency it had under Leach. They also know no matter how this ends up, their school has been embarrassed.

The coach will endure. He could make a fine living out of his current situation. Leach consults, speaks, does his satellite radio show. But it's not his passion. That becomes evident in the first chapter of the book. Leach recounts how at Pepperdine Law School 25 years ago he reached out to famous attorney Gerry Spence. Spence wrote back:

"If you are consumed by the law, go be an attorney. If you are not, find something else."

Convinced of his future, Leach then loaded up his wife, his small child and $45,000 in student-loan debt to pursue his real passion. His first job at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo as a part-time assistant paid $3,000 a year.

Three-grand won't even get you a decent attorney these days. That's why Mike Leach remains consumed. If you read the book, you'll see he desperately wants back into coaching, but only after he takes out an annoying stage parent.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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