LUBBOCK, Texas — The fight between Mike Leach and Texas Tech isn’t over yet.
Leach’s attorney vowed to keep fighting after the Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected the former football coach’s appeal in his wrongful termination lawsuit against Texas Tech. The court issued its decision without comment more than two years after he was fired by the university amid allegations that he mistreated a player with a concussion.
The player, Adam James, is the son of Craig James, a former SMU star and ESPN broadcaster who is currently a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas. Leach denied the allegation and later sued the school, saying he suspects an $800,000 bonus he was due the day after his 2009 firing was behind his dismissal. He was recently hired as the head coach at Washington State.
Leach’s attorneys had challenged an appellate ruling that threw out Leach’s breach of contract claim against Texas Tech based on sovereign immunity for the university. The ruling allowed Leach to try to show Tech’s reasons for firing him were wrong — without monetary relief — and the university appealed that decision to the state’s high court.
The high court denied the appeals on both sides, meaning Leach can seek a ruling that Tech erred in firing him by denying him due process. Leach attorney Ted Liggett said he would seek such a ruling.
Liggett also said sovereign immunity has been wrongly applied to Texas Tech. He said state entities should not enjoy blanket protection from civil suits because there are circumstances under which state entities don’t deserve it.
Liggett said he believes Leach’s case is one of those and pledged to take the case as high as the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We believe the doctrine of sovereign immunity has to be overturned,” he said. “We think it denies due process, right to trial. It’s fundamental constitutional issues at work here. The people are sovereign, not the state.”
Texas Tech spokesman Dicky Grigg said he hoped the latest decision was “the end of the road.”
“As we’ve said from the beginning, we were right on the law and the facts, and the (Texas) Supreme Court has just held that we were correct on the law,” Grigg said.
Leach did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The decision is the latest twist in an ugly case. Leach was accused of twice ordering Adam James to stand for hours confined in a dark place after he got a concussion.
Attorneys on both sides have swapped accusations and court filings since the firing, with the highly successful coach claiming among other things that school leaders were persuaded in part to fire him by the older James. Leach’s attorney claimed Leach couldn’t get a job for months because of the firing.
A trial court’s ruling on sovereign immunity went against the school, but the decision from the 7th Court of Appeals upheld Texas Tech’s assertion that it is a state entity and can only be sued with permission from the state Legislature or a waiver based on a defendant’s conduct.
Grigg said he didn’t know what Leach could gain moving forward.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what that is,” he said. “Whatever the claim is, it’s not monetary.”
Liggett hinted at an answer.
“The facts will come out and finally the truth will be known,” he said. “While we’re disappointed that the supreme court has ruled that Mike can’t be compensated monetarily for the work he’s done, we are encouraged that we finally get to take Texas Tech to trial.”
Leach wrote to Texas Tech regents in November, two days before he was hired as the WSU’s coach, seeking to settle the lawsuit. The regents rejected the offer, which did not specify an amount Leach believed he was owed for his final season.
In a separate case, Leach also sued ESPN Inc. and a public relations firm accusing them of libel and slander after he was fired. The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages and retractions from ESPN and the PR firm.
“The suit is without merit and we will defend against it vigorously,” ESPN spokesman Josh Kruelwitz said in an email.