realtalk: Why Is Mike Leach Really Suing ESPN?

Today Mike Leach filed a libel lawsuit against ESPN and Spaeth Communications. The premise of the legal action, filed in Lubbock District Court today, is essentially to allow Leach to clear his name.

Mike Leach accused Craig James of making inappropriate calls to his coaching staff

But if you’ve followed the Leach vs. Texas Tech saga like I have, you know the real reason Leach is going after ESPN and Spaeth in this instance.

Last night, before Leach made his claim against ESPN and Spaeth, he executed another legal manuever that has gone largely unreported. That manuever though went a long way to revealing the real motivation behind today’s lawsuit.

From KCBD in Lubbock yesterday:

“Officials say former Texas Tech head football coach Mike Leach has dropped all legal action against the individuals named in his suit against the University.

“That included Chancellor Kent Hance, President Guy Bailey and Athletic Director Gerald Myers, plus two members of the Board of Regents Larry Anders and Jerry Turner.

“This does not mean he dropped his case against the university, just the individuals named in the lawsuit. ”This is not a new development,” says Leach’s Attorney Ted Liggett.  “The parties entered into a ‘Rule 11′ agreement finalizing the judge’s decision of several months ago that no action will be taken against the individuals. 

“However, Texas Tech and Craig James are still defendants.” 

So Leach has dropped legal action against all persons in the Texas Tech lawsuit except James, while continuing to press his multi-million dollar claim against the school in the same case.

Think that might have something to do with the fact that it was Craig James who first set Leach’s professional life ablaze by going public with charges of abuse by Leach against James’ son?

The same Craig James who …

  • browbeat Leach - against the wishes of his assistants - into giving his son Adam a scholarship when no other prominent football school was offering a full ride
  • secretly hired Spaeth Communications, the company best-known for discrediting John Kerry’s military career with its “swift boat” campaign in 2004
  • called his dispute with Leach “a spiritual war” - implying you-know-what about the coach

In Texas Tech administrators, James did have accomplices in Leach’s firing. Though more James puppeteers than equal participants to the demise of the winningest coach - any sport - in school history. (A coach who, in his final year at the helm of the Red Raiders, led his team to the highest graduation rate for football players of any public institution in the country.)

No, this new Leach lawsuit isn’t about ESPN. Or Spaeth.

It’s about Craig James.

Payback.

If trained lawyer Leach is correct, his latest legal action may soon devastate Craig James’ professional life the way Leach’s coaching career was effectively crashed by the ESPN announcer.

As for that ESPN job security, James continues to solely rely on the unwavering support of a company that derives no ratings or revenue from him. While the only asset that James brings to Bristol, his credibility, has been forever damaged by his active and sometimes secretive (Spaeth) role in the Texas Tech mess.

If you were ESPN, knowing that you couldn’t confirm that James contributes to your company in any measurable way, how long would you continue to endure the negative public relations James has brought to your company?

How long would you continue to endure watching ESPN SportsCenter report on a famous college football coach’s defamation lawsuit against your company that’s solely derived from an already-marginalized announcer who many viewers may soon only associate with the Leach ouster?

Then again, maybe Leach’s lawsuit is without merit.

One way to get a general idea of just how much of a claim Leach has against ESPN and Spaeth might be to check on the status of Leach’s lawsuit against Texas Tech.

That legal action has been bogged down for nearly a year as the school fights desperately to keep Leach’s claim from ever going to trial. But if Texas Tech was as confident as it claims to be in its public rhetoric, why is the school doing everything in its power to keep the details of Leach’s termination secret?

From talking to legal experts in and outside of Texas the past nine months, it’s become clear to me what’s really happening with Leach v. Tech.

The school’s appeal is, in fact, the trial. If the school loses, it will settle with Leach immediately - on the coach’s terms - to avoid a public airing of the behavior of school officials and James as it pertained to Leach’s ouster. If the school wins its appeal, Leach goes away.

There will be no trial.

Attorney-trained Leach undoubtedly understands his decided advantage in his case against Texas Tech. He knows that Tech wouldn’t be scratching tooth and nail to stay out of court if it didn’t think Leach had the goods on the school.

And James, as has been verified and documented, was right in the middle of it all.

In its coverage of the Leach firing, ESPN, by all accounts, was somewhat, but not overly sympathetic to the plight of James. In some ways, ESPN did the admirable thing in supporting a longtime employee.

But now that we know many of the details of James’ behavior before, during and after Leach’s ouster - via Freedom of Information act documents, emails and voicemails - it appears that ESPN may have erred in placing any of its faith in James.

Right now though, ESPN isn’t contemplating where James stands with the company.

All that matters presently is if a Lubbock judge finds merit in Leach’s charges against the network. If the coach’s claim is found to have legitimacy, what ESPN does in response to the pending lawsuit - especially as it pertains to James’ employ - will tell you all you need to know about where the network really stands on its longtime college football analyst.

In other words, the fate of James’ job at ESPN, much like the resolution of the Texas Tech case, likely relies only on if a judge finds reason to try either case.

Follow Brooks on Twitter for real-time updates.