Former Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach Suing ESPN, PR Firm for Libel, Slander

LUBBOCK, Texas — Former coach Mike Leach sued ESPN Inc. and a public relations firm on Wednesday, accusing them of libel and slander after he was fired by Texas Tech amid accusations that he mistreated a player suffering from a concussion.

The suit filed in Texas district court claims the network's coverage of Leach's firing last year was "willful and negligent defamation" and that it failed to "retract false and damaging statements" it made from "misinformation" provided to ESPN by Craig James, the father of the Texas Tech player.

Josh Krulewitz, spokesman for the network based in Bristol, Conn., said officials had not seen the lawsuit and declined comment.

Leach attorney Ted Liggett said the former coach wants "to set the record" straight.

"Mike Leach is adamant," Liggett said. "Mike Leach wants his name cleared. His reputation has taken a severe hit and been tarnished."

The university fired Leach last Dec. 30, two days after suspending him amid allegations he mistreated Adam James. Leach has denied the claim.

Adam James has said his coach twice ordered him to stand for hours while confined in a dark place during practice. On Wednesday, Liggett claimed that Adam James under oath said he thought it was "humorous" what Leach told him to do and that he didn't think Leach should have been fired.

The suit, which seeks undisclosed damages and retractions from ESPN and the PR firm, was filed now because the statute of limitations on slander and libel is one year.

"On a daily basis we're still seeing stories across the country" with accounts Leach claims are counter to the truth, Liggett said. "Mike Leach is looking forward to getting back into coaching – he's said that on several occasions."

Leach was fired a few days before Texas Tech beat Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. Craig James was slated to be a broadcaster but was replaced by Mike Patrick, according to the suit.

Patrick described Adam James to "an audience of millions," saying, "There is Adam James, who is the young man who was actually punished for having a concussion," the lawsuit claims. Patrick's comments left the impression that "Leach punished a player for having a concussion."

Craig James is also a defendant in the lawsuit Leach filed against Texas Tech when he was fired. The university has appealed a ruling that Texas Tech waived its sovereign immunity protection by its conduct in Leach's firing. A ruling is pending from the 7th Court of Appeals in Amarillo.

In June, State District Judge William C. Sowder dismissed three top administrators — university system Chancellor Kent Hance, school president Guy Bailey, athletic director Gerald Myers — from that suit. The two sides earlier this week agreed that the three would not face future lawsuits over Leach's firing.

The libel suit also names Spaeth Communications as a defendant, claiming James hired the firm for "purposes of creating public opinion hostile to Leach."

Liggett said Spaeth was behind the Internet posting of a video Adam James shot while he stood in one of the dark places.

"Because his effort to sue Texas Tech University individuals failed, it now appears that coach Leach is looking for someone else to blame, and has shifted his focus to the Craig James family, ESPN and Spaeth Communications," firm executive vice president Rebecca Shaw said in an e-mail. "This lawsuit is the predictable strategy of a man who is desperate to avoid accountability for his own behavior."

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