Monday, January 4, 2010

Where is Shakespeare when you need him?

In years of watching the sports world both on and off the field, I don't think I've seen anything more tragic than last week's Mike Leach debacle.

Why so tragic? Let me count the ways.

Leach forgot who is boss: From all accounts, the administration at Texas Tech, from the athletic director to the chancellor, made some attempt to resolve the dispute between the James family and Leach.

And Leach is now trying to burn everyone who has ever crossed him.

But Leach made the fatal mistake of too many coaches. He thought that because he was winner on the field, he could do whatever he wanted to off the field.

When I was editor of the newspaper in Athens, Ga., home of the University of Georgia, I'll never forget a conversation I had with University President Michael Adams about then-UGA football coach Jim Donnan.

While a winner on the field, Donnan couldn't handle the public relations aspect of his job off the field. He'd snap at critical callers on his weekly radio show. He wouldn't do enough with alumni on the rubber chicken circuit. And he was always cross ways with the media (Ironically, he later went to work with ESPN).

During the conversation with President Adams, he said: "What Coach Donnan has to remember is that what you do off the field is just as important - if not more important - than what you do on the field."

Jim Donnan was fired at the end of that season, despite a winning record.

Don't cross college presidents and chancellors. They will win every time.

James family fallout: What's so tragic about the James family is they underestimated the fallout over this whole thing.

Daddy James was on ESPN several days after all this went public stating that their family didn't want all this (i.e. the attention) to happen.

For someone who is so immersed in college football, it's pretty naive to think this was just going to blow over.

Texas Tech fans: What's perhaps most tragic of all is the "win-at-all-cost" mentality displayed by many Tech fans, especially in the new online world of anonymous commenting.

Posting of the home addresses of the James family members was tasteless.

And blind allegiance toward anyone is never healthy.

Tech administration: I support the final decision of the Tech administration to fire Leach. They had no choice. Not because of what Leach did to James, but because of his response to it.

But they should have done a better job of getting ahead of the story. Their silence left fans and pundits too much time to make up stories about what was going on and reasons for the discipline and firing.

And when they did talk, they needed to make more clear that the real reason for the firing was not the "shed" incident, but because Leach would not cooperate with the university to resolve the situation.

Rece Davis: The interview by the ESPN personality was perhaps the most "softball" interview I've ever seen. "Why do you think they fired you, Mike?" "What is your description of Adam James as a player?" In the online interview, Davis let Leach going on uninterrupted for minutes at a time, like many lawyers and coaches like to do.

The 30-plus minute online interview is slightly better and more aggressive than what was shown on the network, but it was still "light."

I would have hoped Rece Davis would have been smarter than this.

ESPN: For those of you who watch ESPN's College Gameday, you'll notice that they never let Kirk Herbstriet, one of three people on the show, pick a game he is going to be the announcer on for ABC. Makes sense because you don't want viewers thinking an announcer is "biased."

But they were going to have Craig James call the Alamo Bowl when his son was going to be playing? Doesn't make sense to me.

The winners out of all this: More viewers on television and online traffic at websites like and at our sister newspaper in Lubbock: At the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the home page of their website had to be redesigned to allow for quicker loading to handle the additional traffic.

All around, this is a very sad situation and the quicker everyone puts it behind them, the better off everyone will be.

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