(CN) – Former Texas Tech University football coach Mike Leach sued the college on Friday, claiming it defamed him, and suspended and fired him without cause. Leach has denied the school’s accusation that he abused an injured player by locking him in a shed because he suspected the student was faking a concussion.
In his complaint in Lubbock County Court, Leach claims the school’s statements were intended to injure his reputation and hurt him financially.
Leach was suspended on Dec. 28, 2008, after it was alleged that he twice confined sophomore wide receiver Adam James in a dark shed for several hours during practice, due to suspicion that James was faking a concussion.
Leach was fired three days before the team appeared in the Alamo Bowl. He seeks damages for breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, defamation, deprivation of due process and seeks waiver of the school’s sovereign immunity.
Before filing the amended complaint, Leach filed a motion for expedited discovery on Thursday, seeking permission to question several school administrators and James.
The school contends that Leach was fired with cause and as a result is owed no additional salary or other compensation, including the $800,000 bonus he was to receive on Dec. 31, 2009. The bonus was part of a 5-year, $12.7 million contract extension Leach signed in February 2009.
In a statement announcing Leach’s firing on Dec. 30, 2009, the school stated, “The coach’s termination was precipitated by his treatment of a player after the player was diagnosed with a concussion. The player was put at risk for additional injury. After the university was apprised of the treatment, Coach Leach was contacted by the administration of the university in an attempt to resolve the problem. In a defiant act of insubordination, Coach Leach continually refused to cooperate in a meaningful way to help resolve the complaint. He also refused to obey a suspension order and instead sued Texas Tech University. Further, his contemporaneous statements make it clear that the coach’s actions against the player were meant to demean, humiliate and punish the player rather than to serve the team’s best interest. This action, along with his continuous acts of insubordination, resulted in irreconcilable differences that make it impossible for coach Leach to remain at Texas Tech.”
Leach’s complaint disputes this. Leach claims he was fired without cause, that school officials have given conflicting statements about the basis of the firing, casting doubt on the reasons why he was fired. The complaint cites Texas Tech University Chancellor Kent Hance telling ESPN on the day of his firing that the bonuses he was due “were never a consideration.”
“However, the Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 1, 2010, that ‘three prominent current and former members of the school’s board of regents said the firing was largely the result of ill will left over from heated contract negotiations early last year,'” the complaint states.
“That report is supported by emails obtained by the Dallas Morning News in 2009 which illustrate hostility on the part of the University in the contract negotiations with Leach and demonstrating that bonuses and contract buyout issues were at the very heart of the hostility by the University.”
Leach also disputes the university’s assertion that he was fired after his treatment of an injured player put the player at risk of additional injury.
“Defendant has produced no evidence of any ‘risk of injury’ and later said in the statement that Leach ‘refused to obey a suspension order and instead sued Texas Tech,'” the complaint states. “This statement suggests Defendant terminated Leach because he sought to apprise himself of legal protections and to enforce his legal rights under his contract.”
Leach’s complaint accuses the school of intentionally trying to harm his reputation and expose him to financial harm by saying he was insubordinate and put a player at risk of additional injury, among other things.
“In reasonable probability, Leach will not be able to obtain another head coaching position in the near term due to the very public, wrongful acts and statements of Texas Tech University, its agents and representatives,” the complaint states. “The mere allegation that a head football coach would mistreat a student athlete threatens that coach’s reputation and prospects for future employment and exposes him to ridicule and contempt.”
James is the son of former Southern Methodist University and New England Patriots football player Craig James, now a college football analyst with ESPN.
In an interview with ESPN on New Years Day, Leach characterized James as lazy and entitled, “a guy that we could never get to work hard and wanted to fall back on his father anytime he wasn’t playing … you had Craig meddling and Adam not wanting to listen to his coaches.”
Texas Tech administrators moved quickly to find a new head coach. Defensive Coordinator Ruffin McNeill was immediately named interim head coach and led the team to a 41-31 victory against Michigan State University in the Alamo Bowl.
On Saturday, the school announced the hiring of former Auburn University head coach Tommy Tuberville as Leach’s permanent replacement.