Mike Leach: My biggest regret was not cutting Adam James
Staffs debate their players' merits all the time. When Adam James was a receiver prospect from Celina, Texas, most of the Tech staff was against recruiting him. They didn't think he could play. I thought Adam could develop into a contributor.
Adam's daddy, Craig, came around and campaigned for his son. He talked about how good Adam was. It all started when we beat Cal in the Holiday Bowl. Craig, who was there to announce the game, came up to our hospitality room. He started talking about how great his kid was and how great the bloodlines of the James family were. I later found out that he tried giving the same sales pitch to the Nevada staff after calling their bowl game too.
Our staff thoroughly researched whether Adam James had any other scholarship offers. We didn't find any. We offered him a grayshirt, which meant that his scholarship wouldn't go into effect until January. He needed as much time as he could to develop. He was the last guy we signed in that recruiting class.
The thing about it is, Adam was big enough and moved decently. He was not fast, but he had pretty good hands. He could've fit into the role of tight end for us, but because he didn't work hard he was only marginally effective. We could never get him to move out from behind his father's coattails. Together, they believed that playing time was determined by politics and influence rather than hard work.
My biggest regret was not cutting Adam James. I kept hoping he'd develop a work ethic. He had two position coaches, first Dana Holgorsen, then Lincoln Riley. He didn't get along with either one.
As a coach, you want it to work out. We invested a lot of time in coaching Adam James. We worked hard to try to rehabilitate him to make him a working part of the team. We thought he may have simply been the victim of his dad's little-league father tendencies, and that he'd eventually find a way to be his own, independent person. But that didn't turn out to be the case. I should've cut my losses, but I was really hoping that he'd improve and stuck with him.
On December 14, 2009, as we began to prepare for the Alamo Bowl, I noticed Adam James nonchalantly going through our first period of practice. I told him if he didn't improve his effort, I was going to send him to "Muscle Beach," which is the area designated for injured players and for lifting weights that Bennie Wylie, our strength coach, oversees. Adam ignored the warning, so we sent him along with two other players over to Muscle Beach. Bennie told the three players they had to run laps and stairs. According to Bennie, Adam gave him attitude. Adam was the last one to finish each exercise and he danced through the discipline like he was mocking it. After the session at Muscle Beach, the other two players admitted their effort on the field had been unacceptable. They said they would work harder. Adam told Bennie that his effort had been fine and that the Tech coaches didn't know what they were doing.
Three days later, on December 17, Adam James again displayed his contempt for team rules and the coaching staff. He arrived at practice twenty minutes late, in street clothes, wearing sunglasses. He said he had a concussion. The team physician acknowledged that James had a mild concussion and limited him from physical activity until he was symptom free. The team policy dictated that all players, including injured players, attend practice in practice attire and participate in the manner permissible given the nature of their injury.
According to Steve Pincock, the team trainer, James was "walking the field" in an indifferent way. James was wearing street clothes and had a baseball cap on backwards, which, injured or not, he knew was against team rules. I asked Pincock why Adam wasn't dressed appropriately for practice. Pincock said he didn't know. This was the first he'd seen him because Adam was late. I asked him why Adam was wearing sunglasses. Pincock said Adam's eyes were sensitive to light because he had a concussion. I told Pincock to remove James from the field since he wasn't dressed properly, was late, and had a bad attitude while the rest of the team was practicing hard. I told Pincock to put him somewhere dark and have him do something.
At no point did I say to lock him in a room. I never told Pincock what he should do with Adam beyond getting him off the field and putting him somewhere dark since his eyes were sensitive to light.
Months later, when Adam James was deposed under oath, he said he found the incident "funny" and that he did not believe that I should have been fired. In fact, he texted his father about the incident while in the equipment garage because he thought he would "like" it, since they both have the same sense of humor.
On December 19 we held practice on our game field inside Jones Stadium. Before practice, Pincock gave me a rundown of the injured players. He asked me what I wanted him to do with Adam James. I told him do whatever he did last practice. Then, as I went down the tunnel to start practice, another one of our trainers told me Adam was in the media room.
According to Pincock's statement, he specifically told James not to go into the electrical closet by the media room. James admitted under oath that he ignored Pincock's instructions. He admitted that he let himself into that closet and that he shot a video -- a video that would start a firestorm of allegations -- because he thought it was funny.
Craig James told Tech chancellor Kent Hance that Adam had spent three hours in that electrical closet based on instructions from Pincock. That night, Craig called Larry Anders (chairman of the Tech board of regents) and complained that Adam had been forced to practice with a concussion and had been locked in an electrical closet. We'd already held out the starting quarterback for a month that season because he had a concussion -- the starting quarterback. Adam was forbidden to practice because he had a concussion. We wanted him away from the field.
According to both his and Anders's depositions, Craig demanded that I be fired. Hance called me and said that Craig had phoned Anders to complain about his son being forced to play before his concussion was healed, which was simply not true. I explained the situation to Hance, and also told him how often Craig called up the Tech coaches to lobby for more playing time for his son. I told him that Adam had been a constant discipline problem and that I planned on cutting him from the team. Hance told me not to cut Adam.
During the conversation Hance said he was going to give the Jameses three options: Adam could stay at Tech, and that we, as coaches, would help him become the best that he could be; he could transfer and we'd release him to any school he wanted; or he could stay at Tech, be a regular student and we'd continue to pay his scholarship, even though we didn't do this for any other student.
After speaking with Anders and Jerry Turner (vice chairman of the board of regents) Hance ordered an investigation into the Adam James matter, to be conducted by university attorney Charlotte Bingham. Interestingly, Bingham worked for Hance, not the president's office. Later that night she interviewed Craig James, who told her that Adam was required to stand in an electrical closet for hours.
She interviewed Adam, who told her that he had been forced to stand in the closet for five minutes. Neither of these statements were true.
Turner contacted Bingham on December 21, before she'd interviewed a single witness outside the James family. Turner instructed Bingham, Tech president Bailey, and AD Myers that the investigation should be used to terminate me. Neither Turner, Hance, nor any of the regents should've been involved or interfered with any of this. It is strictly prohibited by university policies and procedures. The entire matter should've been handled exclusively by the president and the athletic director.
Despite that, Bailey advised me that same day that while the investigation was no big deal, he was concerned that Hance was going to "railroad" me because of his business connections to Craig James. Bailey was so concerned that he had his assistant attend and keep a record of the investigation interviews.
When Bingham interviewed me, I told her about Adam James's poor work habits, that he showed up late for practice, that he did not have workout gear on, and that I did not want him loafing while his teammates were working hard. I also told her that I wanted the trainers to take him away from the field and put him in a dark place because he was sensitive to light, and that the trainers had handled him from there.
Bingham reported her findings to Anders, Bailey, Myers, Turner, and Hance, and did not recommend that I be fired. Hance called me to say that some members of the board of regents wanted me fired because of Craig James' complaints. Hance said they were going to take some sort of disciplinary action against me even though he couldn't explain what I'd done wrong.
The day after Christmas, two days after Hance told Anders and Turner he was going to fire me, I met with Myers and Bailey.
I told them I was happy to cooperate with the investigation. They handed me a letter dated December 23, signed by Bailey, acknowledging "the allegations by the James family had not been substantiated" despite, or perhaps as a result of, Ms. Bingham's investigation. They then told me I needed to sign a letter admitting wrongdoing on my part in the "mistreatment" of a student athlete. I told them I was innocent and I would not sign that letter.
We went back and forth for over an hour. They kept trying to get me to sign the letter and admit that I did something wrong, when they knew that I didn't.
Bailey and Myers assured me that they wanted me to be their coach, that this was not about getting rid of me, that they were not trying to fire me, that this incident was only a little thing, and that if I would just sign this letter it would all go away. This obviously turned out not to be the case.