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Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Mike Leach Saga: It Takes Years to Build a Brand, Only A Season to Tarnish It

There have been many articles on the issues going on behind the dismissal of Texas Tech's football coach, Mike Leach, and this one gives a different side to the story (which at first looked like a battle between an AD, a player with a strong-willed and well-known father, and a head coach). It's a good read, as it's not every day that a school fires a coach before the end of the first season after they had given him a new (and lucrative) five-year contract.

Leach's firing marked the second firing in the Big 12 this year of a successful coach who either had gotten too big for his program, too abusive or too unaccountable. Whatever the case, the terminations of Leach and now-former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino are evidence that the coaches don't control their schools or hold them hostage precisely because they're winning. What these terminations also can point to is the tremendous stress and responsibility placed upon these head coaches, so much so that their jobs are as consuming as any in the country -- and that type of burden can damage a person, physically (see the case of Urban Meyer) and emotionally.

I recall a quote from Bill Belichick's father, Steve, himself a revered assistant coach, when asked if his son was a genius. "Genius?" The elder Belichick responded. "All he does is run up and down the sidelines coaching football for a living."

Perhaps it's time, again, to look at the perspective the big-time schools have about football (seemingly above almost everything else) and what the purpose is of having a big-time college football program. Two successful coaches were fired this year because of what can only be described as behavioral irregularities -- coaches who only a short while ago had been hailed for turning their programs around and building winners. Now these men are out on the coaching scrap heap, damaged, partially because of their own bad decisions, partially because of a system around them that encouraged tough (and sometimes) mean decisions, and partially because of a culture that stresses winning football games more than anything else.

These men are human. They are not geniuses. Football is a game, like basketball, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, field hockey, softball, that should be for kids. For fun.

What has happened at Texas Tech and Kansas demonstrates that it is -- and has been for a while -- a ruthless big business that, for every winner there is, creates collateral damage in terms of ruined coaches, damaged or uneducated players, and college kids who perhaps spend too much time following games and partying around them than learning better skills to get more out of life. Okay, so the latter point might be a bit of a stretch, but when you write sometimes you shock to provoke a response. Still, people should ask themselves why college football has become so important in some places to create situations like these.

General Patton was a hero for what he did during World War II. My guess is that he wouldn't have survived media scrutiny and political pressure today. Neither would have Bear Bryant (a quick read of "Junction Boys" would tell you that).

College football will continue to chug along, untransparent and unchecked to a great degree. But cases like those of Mike Leach and Mark Mangino deserve scrutiny and should be studied, so that we all can remember that this is just a game.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen! It's football for goodness sake. If one more person writes that Leach was the "winningest coach" I'll vomit! Bottomline, he isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer - anyone in a position of authority who uses the opportunity of an injury to teach a lesson to another person ought to be relinquisted of their position. Last time I checked Leach had a law degree, not a medical one and thus was not in a position to judge the existance or severity of the concussion. There is a time and a place for most things, but sadly both the timing for a punishment and the locations James was sent to were inappropriate. We've now heard Leach trash the character of both father and son James. I suspect very soon that he'll be razing the character of the Tech trainer who was quoted as disagreeing with his directives to isolate Adam James. The folks supporting Leach are placing too high of a priority on their Saturday entertainment and clearly have missed the point entirely.

11:20 PM  

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