Mike Leach fired “for cause”

Mike_Leach_surrounded_by_microphonesMike Leach, the quirky head coach of Texas Tech, has been fired following a wild few days of accusations, suspension, and a lawsuit over his alleged mistreatment of Craig James’s son, Adam James. Others closer to the program will have to chime in, but my sense is that Adam James was a problem player (see these emails on CBS’s website from former players and various coaches), and that as a result a frustrated Leach set out to embarrass Adam James (who showed up to practice wearing sunglasses) by telling him to stand in the dark during practice rather than skip out completely. It clearly was an error in judgment on Leach’s part: Players may act up, but as long as you’re the head coach, you have to take the higher road. Although I honestly doubt whether this would have happened were it not for the volatile mixture of Leach, Adam and his father Craig James, and the acrimonious state of Leach’s and the athletic director’s relationship, Leach opened the door by making an example of the player.

So that’s how we got to the point where Leach is no longer the head coach. The lingering question is whether Tech had grounds to fire him “for cause,” as is being reported. If Tech fired him without cause, it would be required to pay him $1.6 million ($400,000 for the four remaining years on his contract) as a lump sum. (Leach’s camp claims that he will be entitled to the $800k owed to him if he were still the coach on December 31, citing the language in the contract about 10 days. I’m not so sure: that language allows the coach to “cure” violations that can be cured within 10 days, before firing him. Instead, he has already been fired. But that’s a negotiating point, which I’ll address in a moment.)

Leach’s contract is interesting on a number of levels — it is heavily incentive oriented, and has a variety of non-traditional terms — but it works like most college head coaching contracts in that there are separate outcomes if the coach is fired “for cause” or “without cause.”

“Cause” is defined as “Coach’s violation of any material provision of this Agreement (with specific reference to Article IV.” “Article IV” lays out most of the duties and restrictions put on the coach, and is worded very broadly and vaguely. It directs Leach to “conduct himself at all times in a manner consistent with his position as an instructor of students” (the Mike Price provision), to “follow all applicable University policies and procedures,” and to “devote his entire time, labor, effort and attention, in good faith, to conduct and perform the duties commensurate with the position of Head Football Coach.”

I don’t think the University will focus on those. Instead I anticipate them to focus on this clause: “Coach shall assure the fair and responsible treatment of student-athletes in relation to their health, welfare and discipline.” Did he not give Adam James fair treatment? That’s unclear. Adam James claimed to suffer from a concussion, and, contrary to Craig James’s assertions, there is nothing detrimental to a player’s health about being isolated in a dark equipment shed or media room. Yet it does sound something akin to punishing an injured player, and I expect the University to take the position that Leach was trying to deter injured players from coming forward or not participating. That might have some weight.

The other side of the coin is obviously that Leach seemed not to really believe Adam James; that he was reputed to be lazy; and that Leach’s policy was that if you are injured you must still participate in practice and cannot simply go back to your dorm room. Interestingly (or tellingly, for both sides) I’ve yet to see an official report from a trainer or anyone besides the James family that said James was not cleared to play, and I’ve heard mixed things coming from Texas Tech — both that he was cleared to play and Leach was just playing along, or that he wasn’t and so Leach didn’t make him practice but did make him stand in the shed and media room.

The contract also states that violations of these provisions must be either “willful or through negligence,” which means two things: Leach did not have to intentionally try to harm or damage James, but they must show that his conduct was actually detrimental to him in some way. I take it that their argument will be that Leach, even if he didn’t think what he was doing was wrong, sent the wrong message to James and the rest of the team that injuries and concussions won’t be taken seriously and that they should rush back to practice. Leach will dispute that and say he did nothing wrong to James at all, and in any event under the circumstances (James’s history and reputation especially), he acted reasonably.

In the end, you assert that you’re firing someone “for cause” because why wouldn’t you? If you say without cause at the outset, you automatically have to pay. (Note too that it sounds like the University tried to get Leach to sign an “apology” letter that quoted from the contract, which would have been used against him as an admission as having violated it and thus giving them permission to fire him for cause.) But that doesn’t mean you always fight it out to the end. My guess is that the University will pay Leach something but it will be less than the $1.6 million they initially said they owed him. This is not a Mark Mangino case where a lot of people came out in favor of firing the coach, nor is it a situation where the coach did something disreputable in his personal life or committed NCAA infractions. If Tech wants Leach gone — and many in the athletic department clearly do — they have a right to, but I’d be surprised if Leach got nothing. He’ll just get a lot less than he was set to make a week ago.

Are recruiting hoaxes the new new thing?

Recruiting Hoax FootballNo doubt we all remember the ridiculous Kevin Hart hoax, where he invented a recruiting race for his services between Cal and Oregon, before “choosing” Cal at a press conference, despite having never spoken to or been contacted by either school.

Well, it appears there’s been another one, this one equally odd as well as student driven. From the Carolina Coast News-Times:

A young man posing as a football recruiter from East Carolina University visited the school offering to help Croatan [High School] players earn preferred walk-on status with the Pirate football team.

Preferred walk-ons are recruited athletes who are invited to join college teams with a guarantee of a roster spot but not a scholarship. Should a player prove himself worthy, he may be offered a scholarship in the future.

“As a school, we are trying to do everything possible to give our kids a chance to attend college,” said Croatan principal Matt Bottoms. “So he was able to play on that over eagerness. Because of this episode, we are now instituting policies to protect against this overzealousness. We called ECU and the NCAA and they didn’t know anything about the guy. It’s the most bizarre thing we’ve ever experienced.”

Kodey Kroger, 18, visited Croatan on Wednesday, Dec. 9, posing as a student-recruiter for the ECU football team. He met with coaches, two student-athletes and their parents over a period of two days, offering the hope that the two could continue their playing days in the purple and gold of the Pirates.

Kroger said he was a student at ECU and played on the football team. He told those in the Croatan athletic department that numerous colleges are beginning to use their student-athletes to recruit high school student-athletes.

“He said he was a student-recruiter,” said Bottoms. “He had the credentials. He had signed papers from coach Skip Holtz, and he looked very official. He talked to our coaches and two of our students about possibly walking on the football team. He was here for a few days, but after some time, things just weren’t adding up.”

[ . . .]

“The father of one of our players is a friend of coach (John) Lancaster (West Carteret football coach), and coach Lancaster told him he was sure the guy wasn’t legit,” said Croatan athletic director and head football coach David Perry. “So I called my friend Harold Robinson (director of high school relations) at ECU, and he said the guy had no association with the school.”

Lancaster also did some investigating when Kroger visited West Carteret.

“I know all the position coaches at ECU, and I know Vernon Hargreaves (defensive ends coach/special teams coordinator) recruits this area,” he said. “So I had one of my coaches call ECU the next day, and they said they didn’t know anything about him. He came back the next day, and our secretary asked for a card and told him that we had called ECU and they didn’t know anything about him. He left and didn’t come back.”

[. . .]

The local high school football coaches wouldn’t normally check the credentials of a recruiter, because it isn’t unusual for recruiters to be walking the halls of high schools this time of year.

“Coaches are here a lot,” said Lancaster. “Jerrick Hall (Campbell assistant coach) was just here yesterday. He said he knew the kid when I asked him about it. He said he had been ruled ineligible. This time of year, recruiters are out and about because their seasons are over and the signing period is in February. A lot of Division II schools, especially, are recruiting now. They are trying to find players who were hoping to go Division I, but it just didn’t work out.”

[. . .]

“It was all very believable,” said McBride. “He was dressed in all purple and had a purple notebook and such. He was offering walk-on vouchers, and they looked legitimate. He was able to defend his authority, and he gave us a lot of credentials. (more…)

Year of the Bull: Documentary about Miami Northwestern high school football

Well worth watching . . .

Thoughts on Brian Kelly as Notre Dame’s next coach

briankellyPeople somewhat rightly criticize Notre Dame and its fans for what they perceive as an outsized view of the team’s importance: In the cable TV/internet age, the NBC contract isn’t anything that special; the so-called “echoes” have slumbered in an ancient sleep for decades; and the Notre Dame head coaching job — now taken on by Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly — is so fraught with pratfalls and these oversized expectations that it’s foolish to even take the job.

But, if the job comes for you, there’s really no way you can turn it down unless you have something pretty special lined up, i.e. Urban Meyer at Florida. Indeed, even if success there, under present circumstances, is elusive, the reward remains among the highest that football can offer: immortality. Even Notre Dame’s failed coaches remain part of the public psyche; I don’t remember many of the names who coached Oklahoma during the lean years, but nearly every football fan can recall Gerry Faust. But, rightly or wrongly, winning a national title at Notre Dame ensures your legend.

So I think Kelly was right to accept the job. The more interesting question is whether Kelly was the right ma

n for it. Given the choices this year, I’d say yes. I liked the “fit” of a Gary Patterson more than Brian Kelly in South Bend, but I think he’ll succeed. A few unconnected thoughts:

  • In terms of recruiting, Kelly has done an excellent job getting talent into Cincy, and will continue to recruit many of the same areas.
  • This might be heresy, but schematically I don’t find Kelly that interesting. Now he’s a spread guy (which plays to my preferences), and he’s been doing it a long time (so he has a pedigree), but I think much of the talk about Kelly as an “offensive genius” is misplaced. He runs a very simple, and even at times simplistic, spread offense. That’s the bad news.
  • The good news is that really doesn’t matter. The Irish just got done with a guy who was pretty convinced of his schematic brilliance, and likely the sooner ND can get beyond just winning the scheme battle and win some actual ones on the field, the better. And with this is the fact that Kelly is an excellent teacher, which is what really matters.
  • And don’t get me wrong here, his scheme isn’t bad. His staff gameplans very well and they put their kids in position to succeed, which is really all that matters. You’ll see some fun stuff from quads — or with four receivers to the same side — but otherwise everything is pretty basic. Yet I liken it to when Holtz arrived at Notre Dame. No one perceived him as an offensive guru, but for what they did at the time, relative to everyone else in college football (and with some very good players), it was sophisticated enough. I think it will be similar for Kelly: If he gets good players in he’ll do a great job of teaching them, and as a result the offense will succeed.
  • Which brings us to probably the scariest similarity with Weis: Kelly needs to find a good defensive coordinator, and I’m not sure who that will be. This need to find an offensive guy to whom that entire side of the ball can be dumped on sort of the Sword of Damocles that hangs over all the offensive obsessed gurus. Charlie Weis never figured it out; Steve Spurrier never won a national title until he got Bob Stoops in as defensive coordinator; Urban Meyer’s first championship at Florida, the championship game last year, and much of his success this year was driven by the great defenses of Charlie Strong (who is now at Louisville); and in the NFL the New Orleans Saints have gone from bubble playoff team to undefeated with the introduction of some new faces on defense and a new defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams.

    So more than any single recruit, I’d want to know who Kelly is going to hire as his DC. Had Weis’s defense been better this year it’s likely that he’d still be in South Bend. (And once you go to the revolving door, it becomes hard to get settled, as it takes awhile to get the program up to speed. It’s hard to transform a defense with a few weeks of spring and fall practice.)

  • All this, however, obscures the bottom line: Brian Kelly has won everywhere he has been. He turned Grand Valley State into a title winning team; he resurrected Central Michigan, where Butch Jones has continued much of that success; and in Cincinnati he has led the team to three of the best seasons in school history — maybe the best — in back-to-back-to-back years. I agree with the commentary that Notre Dame is best off hiring a guy who has succeeded at the college level. With Weis I think the goal was to sort of emulate Pete Carroll’s success at USC, but it didn’t work. And the Notre Dame job is fraught with all the issues that plague all college head coaches, but, often enough, on steroids. A little time in the meat grinder can only help.

Hopefully no one takes my criticisms too harshly. As I said, the bottom line is that Kelly is a winner, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to do that at Notre Dame. I’ll definitely watch more Irish games next fall.

USC’s late touchdown vs. UCLA: fair or foul?

From ESPN:

When Matt Barkley kneeled down to end Southern California’s (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) victory in the final minute, UCLA defiantly stopped the clock with a timeout.

So the Trojans let ‘er rip, throwing a long touchdown pass and then celebrating it with a taunting ferocity that brought the Bruins onto the field on the verge of a brawl.

The last 90 seconds of Los Angeles’ 79th crosstown showdown had more action than the first 58 1/2 minutes, even if it was just a few extra fireworks at the close of USC’s workmanlike 28-7 victory Saturday night.

See for yourself the setting:

So the question is: Was that cool for Pete Carroll to do? Was it cool for Neuheisel to call the timeouts? What is the proper response?

Charlie Weis as great recruiter? Not all agree

charlie-weisOne of the memes reiterated in the recent John Walters piece on Charlie Weis is that Weis is a great, tireless recruiter. For example:

No one will likely be congratulating Weis if his tenure comes to an end in the next ten days. A thank you would be warranted, though. He has graduated 96 percent of his players, tied for tops in the FBS, and returned Notre Dame to the front lines of the five-star recruiting battles. . . .

I’ve heard differently. Sure, Notre Dame gets some big-time recruits and its name alone will always put it in the running for such guys. And, surely, there are many top-flight recruits Charlie has met with personally. But consider this odd example:

Notre Dame has officially offered one of my linebackers, but no one from Notre Dame has ever spoken to the kid nor has anyone from Notre Dame ever returned any of my calls. To put it context: Will Muschamp [of Texas] returned my call, Brent Venables [of Oklahoma] returned my call, Bud Foster [of Virginia Tech] returned my call, [Michael] Barrow [of Miami] returned my call, Nick Saban returned my call, and yet no one from Notre Dame has ever returned my call. Geewhiz Charlie, that’s not exactly the way to get a kid to choose ND over other BCS schools — and then you offer him blind without so much as making contact with any coach? No. That’s not the way to go about the business.

. . . Notre Dame has zero chance at this player. I started trying to call them about him when he was a freshman. Not pushing the kid, just trying to make a contact, as I do not send film to schools without making a contact (especially on a kid that I know has 100% BCS level talent). No point in his film disc just sitting on a desk with a thousand others. And not a single coach from Notre Dame has ever returned a call in three years. Now that same kid is a Junior and he’s blue chip, [top ten] in Ohio in the 2011 class, ESPN Top 50, etc. And all of a sudden Notre Dame is interested? If he’s good enough to play at Notre Dame he’s good enough to play at other schools.

Compare that with the approach of a few other programs, including one of the names on Notre Dame’s shortlist:

Then you take programs like Cincinnati with Brian Kelly and the guy who recruits our area, Jeff Quinn [Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator]. They are completely different. They pursue a personal relationship. He sends me a text telling us good luck this Friday, he knows who we play (and he might just be reading it online but still he made the effort), he calls asking how things are going, how the kid is doing, he knows the kid’s mother, grand parent’s, sister’s name, etc. He even calls me every few weeks. Now, I know he isn’t really interested in talking to me and that it’s all about my player but still it makes a difference. Ohio State, Alabama, Virginia Tech, and others all recruit about the same way as Cincinnati. Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Michigan . . . they recruit like Notre Dame.

Obviously that’s just one account, but it’s certainly an interesting one.

Exactly how they drew it up

It’s already been dubbed the “bouquet pass”:

The circumstances: Tiny Bethel (Kan.) College surprisingly led nearby Sterling College 20-0 late in the third quarter of coach Mike Moore’s final game.

(H/t Dr Saturday.)

Thinking about thoughts, fourth downs, and the nature of evidence

belichickWhen it happened, I knew the Belichick story would be big, but I think few could have anticipated the shape or dimension of the conversation. Some of this I credit to the rise of new media: The immediate reaction to the call on NBC and ESPN was: Bad, awful, stupid call. But there was an undercurrent chorus of, “Hey, wait a minute. It actually kind of made sense.” I’d like to count myself as part of that chorus, but clearly the guy who quite nearly turned the entire debate on its head was my friend and New York Times co-blogger Brian Burke, whose post on Belichick’s call was cited everywhere from ESPN apparatchik Adam Shefter’s twitter feed to a piece by the excellent (and decidedly mainstream) Joe Posnanski on SI.com. (I’d like to think I helped, as I linked to Brian’s bit within about a half hour after the game, and my tweet of his piece was one of the most retweeted things I’ve ever sent.)

Credit where it is due, the interesting thing is what happened after that: A mess. Some people ossified in their views: Trent Dilfer tried to back up his bombastic criticism of Belichick, though he had more passion than arguments. Peter King said the call “smacked of I’m-smarter-than-they-are hubris,” and compared Belichick to Grady Little. In the process, King messed up his math, but that was really besides the point for him. The call just didn’t feel right.

Although some stats junkies went the other way and proclaimed that it would have been affirmatively stupid for Belichick to have punted, most people, when faced with the compelling statistical evidence that the odds were roughly in Belichick’s favor (or at least so close as to be even with all the late game variables at play), were left in a fit of consternation. And this is why I think the decision has struck a national chord. It gets to the core of how people see themselves versus how they actually make decisions.

Most people fancy themselves as being driven by the evidence such that they will always follow it, but that’s not really true. As amazing and wonderful as the human brain is, it is full of inherent biases, and information, even compelling information, that does not comport with those biases is often devalued, even on a subconcious level. (One famous experiment confronts people with radios where the speaker is discussing views contrary to or similar to those already held by the listener, but the volume is set too low to be heard well. The listeners frequently turn up the volume when the speaker is saying things they already believe; they rarely turn the volume up if the speaker is discussing the contrary views.)

And so it was with the Belichick debate. It’s not that you must agree with the decision, but any reasonable person has to say, as Posnanski did, “Well, hmm, it seemed nuts at the time but I get it now, based on the evidence.” As Keyes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?” Yet many people still refuse to reconsider their view on the subject. It was wrong and no degree of evidence can change my view or even make me reconsider. Consider Colin Cowherd’s admonition on SportsNation that “stats are overrated.” (Though I agree that many stats are.) The upshot is that, despite our best views of ourselves, it is very difficult to actually say that we are rational creatures in practice. As Jonah Lehrer wrote:

The reason I bring up this analysis is to demonstrate that even defensible decisions can have wrenching emotional consequences. Belichick’s call might have been statistically correct, but it felt horribly wrong.

. . . The point is that there’s often an indefatigable gap between the rigors of cost-benefit analyses and the emotional hunches that drive our decisions. We say we want to follow the evidence, but then the evidence rubs against a bias like loss aversion, and so we make an exception. We’ll follow the evidence next time.

It’s not really fair to pick on Tony Dungy, who was an excellent football coach, because his excellence had nothing to do with any training in statistics or probability. But his comment that “you have to play the percentages and punt” is symptomatic of a wider issue, which is that when something “feels horribly wrong” we inherently want the evidence to comport with that feeling and we convince ourselves that it does. Dungy is a conservative guy, he likely would say that punting gives him plenty of chances to win, he’s a defensive coach so he has no qualms about showing faith in his defense, and, bottom line, the idea of putting that much significance on one play just didn’t sit well with him. That’s all fine, but it has nothing to do with the percentages. Yet his brain and experience had told him that somehow the percentages supported it too, and thus Belichick’s move was the “risky gamble.”

The fourth down debate is significant (though I risk inflating its significance), because it forces you to consider how you actually tackle problems. Indeed, the entire point of probability, statistics, and science generally is to make progress in spite of, not because of or consistent with, our preconceived biases:

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SportsNation site of the day: Me

That was us, yesterday:

You can check out SportsNation on ESPN2 or online. They picked up on my Belichick bit from yesterday. The show is supposed to just be fun, though I note that my point was more that Belichick had a legitimate case that the odds were very close, if not actually in his favor. It’s fine if you want to disagree, but that disagreement is going to be based off your gut, in which case I think it’s difficult to say he clearly made the wrong choice. But overlaying it all is that few people are able to think about possible outcomes, rather than purely with hindsight.

And (I know the show is just supposed to be entertaining), Colin’s criticism that “stats can be overrated” reminds me of the words of wisdom of another great scholar:

arrested-development-segway

“I hear the jury’s still out on . . . science.”

Me on Cincinnati and Brian Kelly

Available over at Dr Saturday, so check it out. Thanks, as always, to the Doc.