Editorial by John Ziegler

What the Mike Leach Story Says About America

12/29/2009

You have probably heard about Texas Tech firing its head football coach Mike Leach on the eve of playing (ironically) in the Alamo Bowl, but it is doubtful that you have been given any indication that this event may be a seminal moment in the history of educational discipline in this country, and maybe even more significant than that.  
 
While the exact details of what really transpired to facilitate this series of events are still a little murky, the essence of what happened here seems pretty clear. The extremely successful coach convinced his other coaches to give Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James, a lightly recruited wide receiver, his only scholarship offer. The kid turned out to be a decent player but was lazy, soft and spoiled. A couple of weeks ago Leach had James stand alone in a large equipment shed for two or three hours as some sort of punishment. Then, after James suffered a mild concussion in a later practice, he came to a workout in sunglasses and unable to play. Leach sent him to another dark room, apparently with supervision. James then complained to his dad and the ESPN analyst reported the incident to the school administration. They apparently asked Leach to apologize and he refused, saying he did not do anything wrong. He was then suspended and when he went to court to fight that, he was fired.
 
Was what Leach did sound a little strange? Sure. Is he being disingenuous when he claims that he sent James to a dark room because it was in the player’s best interest? Probably. It seems to me pretty obvious that Leach had reason to be suspicious that James was exaggerating an injury and that he was sending James a message. That being said, the doctor who treated James has stated that Leach did nothing that endangered the player in any way.   
 
What makes this case so dramatic is that in many ways it is the perfect test case for where we are in this country with regard to student discipline issues.
 
First, Leach has been incredibly successful on the field at Texas Tech and has never had a major incident off of it. Second, this is football, not girl’s volleyball. Third, this is Texas, not California, Wisconsin, Illinois or some other bastion of liberalism. Finally, this is Texas Tech, who earlier this decade hired Bob Knight as its basketball coach after he had been fired at Indiana in part because there was a videotape of him choking a player.
 
On the other side, you have a player who has been described by his coaches and fellow players as being “entitled” and a “diva,” whose father is a powerful member of the college football media who was known as someone who went way beyond the normal bounds of a player’s father when it comes to inserting himself in the coaching process (if anyone should be fired here, it seems to me that Craig James is by far the most worthy candidate, having clearly used his position at ESPN to try and get his son more playing time and when that did not work out, facilitating the firing of a coach he covers). Then this player claims to have a concussion, an aliment that has been ignored for far too long in football but which is now suddenly being treated with the politically correct kid gloves of AIDS in the early 90s.  
 
Had Adam James not been the son of Craig James would Mike Leach still have his job? I believe so. If James had claimed an ankle injury instead of a concussion would we be discussing any of this? I doubt it.  
 
So why is this so much more important than who is the head football coach at Texas Tech? Because if EVEN  a successful, clean football coach in Texas can be fired for making a player with a minor injury feel a little uncomfortable for a couple of hours, then our entire system of educational authority in this country has clearly completely broken down.  
 
This episode follows right behind the allegations of inappropriate discipline instituted by now former Kansas coach Frank Mangino and those against South Florida coach Jim Leavitt, which are similar but, at this point, not yet fatal to his job. Consequently, I can already hear the chorus of voices warming up to condemn our culture’s distorted value system which creates these football coaching monsters that are engaging in Abu Ghraib-type torture tactics.
 
However, I see this situation very differently from what I am quite certain will be the conventional wisdom created by the lemmings in the pathetically politically correct sports media (especially Craig James’ buddies at ESPN). To me, this episode seems far more like evidence that we have become a nation of wussified wimps then any indication that our college football coaches are out of control.
 
Let’s get a few things straight. While what he did sure sounds pretty childish, Leach did not strike James. He did not even yell nasty words at him. He basically put him in an extended “time out. Leach did not have James prove he was really injured by forcing him to engage in tackling drills without a helmet. He simply had him spend some time alone; not even long enough for him to even get hungry or have to go to the bathroom.
 
Regardless of what you think the lines of coach/player (or teacher/student) discipline ought to be, there is absolutely no doubt that these markers have moved dramatically and rapidly in the direction of anarchy. It is an indisputable fact that just a few years ago the notion of a thriving coach being fired for such silly “transgressions” would have been literally laughable.
 
I have coached high school football in New Jersey and written a book about spending a year with a powerhouse team in Ohio. I have interviewed dozens of people who have dealt with coaches who would consider what Leach is accused of doing as petty grade school stuff. I have never come across anyone who ever expressed any regrets about how hard their football coaches were on them. Conversely, many have said that having survived the sometimes hellish conditions of football practice made them better people and even real men. Now that military service is voluntary and rare, football is often the closest many boys get to a “man-making” experience. With even football coaches in Texas now basically castrated, it seems even that vehicle has been dismantled.

 

There was a time not long ago that when a student/player got in trouble with a teacher/coach, that it was presumed that the person in authority was in the right. Now, it seems that throughout society the tables on this equation have been turned completely around and our country is clearly the worse for it.  Mike Leach may be a bit weird and maybe even a jerk, but based on the current facts, we have all lost something important with his firing.

 

 

Editors note: If you would like to call ESPN and have your voice heard regrading the behavior of Craig James here, call 860-766-2000 and ask to register a complaint.

 

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