Outside of getting an individual statue, the next highest honor any former coach or player of any college football program can receive is to be inducted into the school’s Hall of Honor. On Wednesday, Texas Tech announced the Texas Tech Hall of Honor 2023 class. It will be an eight-member class that represents six different sports. Former quarterback and head coach Kliff Kingsbury and former head coach Mike Leach headline the football class. The induction of Leach posthumously undoubtedly brings a mixed bag of emotions for the Red Raider fan base. No one can question his inclusion in the Texas Tech Hall of Honor. But there is a nearly three million pound awkward elephant with the last name of James that makes it awkward for all.
Why Leach Belongs In The Texas Tech Hall Of Honor
Leach is the winningest coach the program has ever had. He was the lead pirate/Red Raiders coach from 2000 to 2009. During that time, he amassed an 84-43 record. Texas Tech appeared in a bowl game in each of his 10 seasons. The Red Raiders end their seasons ranked in the AP top 25 five times in a six-year span. No coach has ever achieved that at Texas Tech. The program also reached its highest-ever ranking in the AP (#2) during the 2008 season.
That 2008 season includes a thrilling home win over No. 1 Texas, capped by the memorable Graham Harrell-to-Michael Crabtree touchdown in the final seconds. That ’08 game remains one of the most memorable games in college football history. Another college football historical moment credited to Leach happened in the 2006 Insight Bowl. Minnesota dominated for two-and-a-half quarters, but the Red Raiders orchestrated a 31-point comeback. The overtime, come-from-behind victory remains tied for the biggest in bowl history.
This man was truly an individual among so many carbon copies in college football. His best on-the-field contribution is his offensive revolution. He developed the Air Raid offense in his earlier years at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, and Kentucky with Hal Mumme. This offense allowed his teams to compete with teams with a clear size and talent advantage. After all, the Air Raid thrives in utilizing every inch of a football field. The Air Raid sparked a schematic revolution in the sport that permeated all the way down to Texas high school football. From there, it spread across the Big 12, and other conferences. It even found its way into the NFL. He also grew a coaching tree that included Kingsbury, TCU’s Sonny Dykes, USC’s Lincoln Riley, Houston’s Dana Holgorsen, and Baylor’s Dave Aranda to name a few.
Leach’s passing in December of 2022 was a horrible tragedy for the college football world. That said, it’s perfectly fair to ask if Leach would have accepted this induction if they approached him after he finished coaching. His relationship with Texas Tech was just about as complex as the man himself. While he galvanized a fan base and established a unique identity for not being the Texas Longhorns or the Texas A&M Aggies, he did not win enough to become “unfireable”.
Leach was forced out in 20009 as a result of him being entwined in a battle with Craig James and the school’s chancellor at the time. James was one of the two running backs from the famed 1982 Pony Express SMU team and an ESPN analyst. He is the father of Adam James, who played football for Leach. Craig alleged the coach mistreated his son after “locking him in a closet“.
The legal case filed by Leach never made it to trial because the state claimed sovereign immunity. As a result, Leach felt (and maintained for the rest of his life) he was still owed nearly three million dollars by Texas Tech. Ask the Red Raider fan base and the majority believe that the program had been “cursed” ever since.
Leach’s Induction Was Overdue
The former coach likely would have been inducted years ago if not for the icy relationship between Leach and Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are finally trending up as a football program thanks to their most recent hire Joey McGuire. There is a palpable buzz McGuire has begun to generate around the program. It is eerily similar to what Leach was able to do (even if he would say he wasn’t trying to do so). College football can bring out the cynics in all fans. There is a story annually that can create a jaded fan from even the most forgiving. So while Leach deserves this honor, it is hard to ignore the timing of this selection.
Would it be “the right thing” to do and pay Leach’s family the few millions of dollars he believed he was entitled to? This is a question the current Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt will face for the next few months. We do “know” a few things about pirate curses. Often times the curses can only be broken by returning every stolen coin/item. It also sometimes requires a blood offering by each cursed individual. It’s fair to say Texas Tech’s blood offering came in the way of Tommy Tubervile. But will the Red Raiders return all of those coins back to their most famous pirate’s treasure chest protected by his surviving family?