Texas 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.