Mike Leach Sues ESPN, PR Firm

Nearly one year after he was fired from his job as head football coach at Texas Tech University, Mike Leach is suing ESPN and Dallas-based Spaeth Communications for slander and libel, according to an Associated Press report.  Now, it appears the predictions I made Dec. 31 are coming true.

In my first post about Leach’s job situation, I reported the firing and predicted it would be followed by a heated public relations battle involving YouTube videos — like the one below — and aggressive personal injury lawyers.

The 16-second video, I explained, purports to show the electrical closet where receiver Adam James, son of ESPN sportscaster and former NFL running back Craig James, was confined for hours after suffering a concussion during practice.

In addition to confirming that the video had been uploaded to YouTube by family friend and public relations consultant Rebecca Shaw of Dallas-based Spaeth Communications at about the same time as a news release touting the video was issued via PRNewswire, I shared an excerpt of a phone conversation I had had with Shaw earlier in the day:

When I contacted Shaw by phone this morning to confirm her relationship with the James family and ask if they expect litigation to follow.

“They don’t have any idea what to expect,” Shaw said, careful not to rule anything out amidst a circus of media attention given to the case.

In a follow-up post Jan. 6, 2010, I reported that rumors were swirling around what had quickly become known as the Texas Tech coaching scandal:

Perhaps the most-volatile rumor floating about is that Leach was ousted in a fashion similar to the one that cost John Kerry the presidency in 2004. Albeit in a much-abbreviated fashion, they believe he was “swift-boated”.

In 2004, Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth hired Spaeth Communications to help them communicate to the American people their immense disdain for and distrust of the senator from Massachusetts. As we all know, the effort succeeded — thankfully, I might add.

As reported here Dec. 31, the Dallas-based firm had recently taken on a new client, Craig James. Today, I decided to find out why James, the father of Texas Tech freshman wide receiver Adam James, needed to hire a public relations firm in the first place.

I went on to address six of the most-prevalent Leach-related rumors.  Then, one day later, I shared Shaw’s responses to two questions I had asked her regarding Craig’s hiring of Spaeth:

BMW Question – “Why did Craig hire your firm?”

SHAW: The family correctly anticipated that there would be significant media and public interest in the story.  One of Craig’s associates suggested that the family would need support and recommended our firm.  Spaeth is considered one of the premiere communication consulting firms in the country, and we’ve worked with a number of universities and their athletic departments.

BMW Question – Did (Craig) know that Mike Leach was about to be fired?

SHAW: No.

It’s going to be interesting to follow this case and see how this case turns out and whether or not they cite any of my coverage as they litigate the case.  Stay tuned!

Rumors Swirl Around Texas Tech Coaching Scandal (Update)

Rumors are spreading fast and furiously among supporters of recently-fired Texas Tech University football coach Mike Leach.  But are they true?  I investigate.

Perhaps the most-volatile rumor floating about is that Leach was ousted in a fashion similar to the one that cost John Kerry the presidency in 2004. Albeit in a much-abbreviated fashion, they believe he was “swift-boated”.

In 2004, Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth hired Spaeth Communications to help them communicate to the American people their immense disdain for and distrust of the senator from Massachusetts. As we all know, the effort succeeded — thankfully, I might add.

As reported here Dec. 31, the Dallas-based firm had recently taken on a new client, Craig James. Today, I decided to find out why James, the father of Texas Tech freshman wide receiver Adam James, needed to hire a public relations firm in the first place.

CRAIG JAMES

In case you’re not familiar with Craig James, let me offer a brief bio sketch.

At 49, he is perhaps best known to most Americans as an ESPN sportscaster who joined the all-sports network after a successful NFL career with the New England Patriots.

Many Texans, however, remember him both as the Stratford High School football star who set a 4A rushing record in 1978 and, during the next four years, paired up with Eric Dickerson as a record-setting backfield tandem at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Most recently, James became well known for his role as the father whom Leach said meddled “more than any parent I’ve dealt with” in an effort to get his son more playing time.

SPAETH COMMUNICATIONS

On the morning of Dec. 31, only hours after Leach was fired by Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance, Spaeth’s Rebecca Shaw confirmed for me during a brief phone call that her firm had posted a video on YouTube the previous evening. The video, allegedly filmed by Adam James, was posted at about the same time as the PR firm issued a news release and was accompanied by this description:

This video was taken by Adam James, a player on the Texas Tech Red Raider football team on Saturday, December 19th, after being confined by Coach Mike Leach in an electrical closet off the Press Room at Jones AT&T Stadium. James was suffering from a concussion received during an earlier scrimmage game. James was ordered to stand in the darkness until released several hours later. James momentarily turned on a light to record his surroundings with his cell phone.

After confirming with Shaw her firm’s relationship with the James family, I asked if she expected litigation to follow.

“They don’t have any idea what to expect,” Shaw said, careful not to rule anything out amidst a circus of media attention given to the case.

That could qualify as the understatement of the year among football fans in the Lone Star State.

THE ‘LIGHT’ WENT ON IN MY HEAD

During my initial research, I failed to make the connection between Spaeth and the company’s colorful background in waging public relations campaigns like the one that ruined Senator Kerry, aimed at achieving specific results for their clients.

It was only after a member of the fast-growing Facebook group known as “TEAM LEACH” (56,000+ members in one week) contacted me this week that the “light” went on in my head about the connection between Spaeth, its Swift Boat-style campaign expertise and some of the conspiracy theories related to the plethora of rumors now percolating in cyberspace related to the Texas Tech coaching scandal.

INVESTIGATION

This morning, I decided to investigate a half-dozen cyberspace-based rumors in an attempt to prove or disprove them.

#1

The first rumor has it that Leach was fired because he had told one of his team’s athletic trainers to lock Adam James in “a dark cool place” on more than one occasion as a form of punishment after the wide receiver had allegedly suffered a concussion and was unable to practice.

In a Jan. 1 affidavit, team physician Dr. Michael Phy confirmed that, in his medical opinion, Adam James had had “at least a mild concussion” and said that he “did not instruct anyone with Texas Tech to place James in an enclosed and dark space.”

In a similar affidavit signed the same day, head athletic trainer Steve Pincock recounted what reads like an accurate, exact summary of what likely transpired during practices Dec. 18 and 19.

Both affidavits, provided me by Shaw, convey messages that appear to be crafted so as to ensure both the physician and trainer remain employable at Texas Tech in the midst of an environment that is definitely hostile toward Leach and anyone who sides with the school’s most successful coach ever.

FYI: Attempts to contact Ted Liggett, the attorney reported in SBNation’s Dec. 30 post to be representing Leach, were unsuccessful. When I contacted Smith & Liggett, P.C., this morning, I was told Liggett had left the firm “about a month earlier.” The receptionist was kind enough, however, to provide me with Liggett’s cell phone number at which I left a message requesting a return phone call.

#2

Leach was fired after Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance, Athletic Director Gerald Myles and big-time athletic booster Jim Sowell decided Leach, among other things, didn’t deserve the amount of money the university was obligated to pay him per the contract the school had recently negotiated.

E-mails exchanged between Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance, Athletic Director Gerald Myers and prominent booster and former board of regents member Jim Sowell of Dallas were published by the Dallas Morning News Jan. 2. They reveal what the newspaper described as a “rocky relationship” between the coach and the authors of said communications.  In my opinion, “rocky” is too friendly a term for the tone of these messages.

#3

Leach was fired after he refused to sign papers that would have allowed Adam James to transfer to any other school within the Big 12 or within the state of Texas, including his father’s alma mater, SMU. After the coach’s firing, the young wide receiver would be able to transfer immediately without a coach’s signature.

I have no means of proving or disproving this rumor without input from Leach or his attorney, but I wouldn’t blame Leach for being reluctant to allow Adam James to transfer to SMU or any other school within the described “restricted area.” After all, if the freshman is as good as so many of his detractors say he thinks he is, the coach couldn’t afford to equip opponents or schools with whom he wages annual recruiting battles with such a blue-chip stud, right?

#4

Leach’s firing came as a result of a well-orchestrated swift boat-style campaign, conceived by the folks at Spaeth, that involved scripting the aforementioned “lock up” story as a premise for Chancellor Hance to fire the coach for cause, thereby relieving the university of its obligation to continue paying Leach the remaining $10 million remaining on his contract.

Again, I have no way to confirm this one, but I do know that, according to Spaeth’s Shaw who confirmed it for me via e-mail this morning, Craig James hired the PR firm Dec. 23 — a full five days after the alleged shed incident and seven days before Leach’s firing. Factor in the aforementioned e-mails and affidavits, and one can fully understand how this rumor got “legs” under it. Proving it, however, is a whole ‘nother matter.

#5

Another rumor involves the possibility that (1) Craig James, Chancellor Hance and unnamed others are involved as investors in a plan to construct a wind farm somewhere in West Texas and (2) that relationship might have played a role in Hance’s decision-making regarding Leach.

If true, this might explain Hance’s willingness to play such an integral role in the scheme. Though Hance has not replied to an e-mail I sent to him this morning, booster Sowell did reply to three questions I sent his way via e-mail.

When asked whether he or any of his companies had ever had a business relationship with Spaeth Communications, Sowell replied, “No.”

When asked whether he or any of his companies had ever had a business relationship with Craig James, Sowell replied, “No.”

Finally, when asked to describe his role in the decision-making process that lead to the university’s decision to fire Leach, Sowell used a single word to deny such a role: “None.”

Additionally, Shaw replied to my inquiry about a business relationship, saying Craig James is not involved in any business relationship with Chancellor Hance.  It’s worth noting, however, that Shaw never answered two other important questions I asked:  1) “Why did Craig James hire your firm?” and 2) “Did (Craig James) know that Mike Leach was about to be fired?” [NOTE: See UPDATE #1 at end of post].

Senator Hutchison (left) with friends at a football game.

#6

The final rumor floating around Texas political circles is that Craig James is being groomed by Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to replace her in the U.S. Senate. If the senator wins the Texas governorship in 2010, Craig James will reportedly seek to replace her this year. If she loses her run for the statehouse, the political wannabe will run for her Senate seat when she retires in 2012.

While Shaw could not — or, perhaps, would not — confirm Craig James’ interest in a Senate run, she did confirm that Merrie Spaeth, founder of Spaeth Communications, is a close friend of Senator Hutchison. If, indeed, Craig James has political ambitions and is being groomed by the senator, it would make sense for the senator to connect him with Spaeth’s firm.

UPDATE #1 1/07/10 at 11:04 a.m. Central: This morning, almost 24 hours after being asked, Rebecca Shaw of Spaeth Communications replied to the two questions begging for answers:

BMW Question – “Why did Craig hire your firm?” SHAW: The family correctly anticipated that there would be significant media and public interest in the story.  One of Craig’s associates suggested that the family would need support and recommended our firm.  Spaeth is considered one of the premiere communication consulting firms in the country, and we’ve worked with a number of universities and their athletic departments.

BMW Question – Did he know that Mike Leach was about to be fired?  SHAW: No.

UPDATE #2 1/07/10 at 9:25 p.m. Central: They denied it yesterday, but confirm it today:  Craig James IS Interested in U.S. Senate Seat (1/07/10)

SEE ALSO: Mike Leach Profile Remains on Texas Tech Web Site (1/07/10)

Developing…


Texas Tech Fires Mike Leach, PR Battle Ensues (Update 4)

Texas Tech University’s firing of head football coach Mike Leach has launched what I predict will be a heated public relations battle involving YouTube videos and aggressive personal injury lawyers.

Within hours of news breaking about Leach’s firing, a 16-second video (below) which purports to show the electrical closet where receiver Adam James, son of ESPN sportscaster and former NFL running back Craig James, was confined for hours after suffering a concussion during practice was uploaded to YouTube.

The video was posted by family friend and public relations consultant Rebecca Shaw of Dallas-based Spaeth Communications at about the same time as a news release touting the video was issued via PRNewswire.  The release included the statement below:

This video was taken by Adam James, a player on the Texas Tech Red Raider football team on Saturday, December 19th, after being confined by Coach Mike Leach in an electrical closet off the Press Room at Jones AT&T Stadium. James was suffering from a concussion received during an earlier scrimmage game. James was ordered to stand in the darkness until released several hours later. James momentarily turned on a light to record his surroundings with his cell phone.

I contacted Shaw by phone this morning to confirm her relationship with the James family and ask if they expect litigation to follow.

“They don’t have any idea what to expect,” Shaw said, careful not to rule anything out amidst a circus of media attention given to the case.

Shaw is wise for not ruling anything out.  If the advertisement at right is any indication, Leach’s attorney Ted Liggett appears to be the aggressive type.

According to a post published last night at SBNation, a sports-focused fan site, Mike Leach’s Attorney Has An AGGRESSIVE Personal Injury Advertisement.

UPDATE 1/01/10 at 9:13 a.m. Central: Lubbock television station KCBD is reporting this morning that Texas Tech athletic trainer Steve Pincock supports Leach’s side of the story concerning allegations that he mistreated James.

UPDATE #2 1/03/10 at 7:19 p.m. Central: The folks at NCAA Football Fanhouse posted a new video which, according to the subtitles, shows Mike Leach cursing at wide receiver Adam James during practice.  For those not familiar with the situation, Leach would not be the first coach ever to curse at a player.  I’m surprised, however, that he allowed a camera to videotape his practice.

UPDATE #3 1/06/10 at 9:45 a.m. Central: This morning, I called the law office listed above that, according to SBNation, employed Leach attorney Ted Liggett.  I was told that Liggett had left the firm about a month ago.  When I asked if his departure had anything to do with the Leach case, I was told it did not.

UPDATE #4 11/30/11 at 6:47 p.m. Central:  CBS Sports is reporting that Mike Leach has been hired by Washington State University.

Developing…

Tiger Woods Seriously Injured in Car Wreck – NOT!

UPDATE 11/27/09 at 4:13 p.m. Central: Incredibly, it appears members of the mainstream media either jumped to conclusions or just plain got it wrong.  Tiger is, according to the latest report from his publicist via ESPN, in good condition and has been released from the hospital:

Breaking News: Golfer Tiger Woods was seriously injured in an automobile accident near his home early this morning and has been taken to an Orlando-area hospital, according to this Orlando Sentinel news report breaking now.

Woods is said to have hit a fire hydrant, then a neighbor’s tree.  Further, the newspaper is reporting that the crash occurred at about 2:25 a.m., is still under investigation by Florida Highway Patrol and that charges are pending.  That leads me — and others, I’m sure — to wonder whether the golf superstar was driving under the influence or otherwise impaired.

This news comes only days after rumors of Woods being involved in an extramarital affair hit the internet.

* * *

UPDATE 11/27/09 at 1:59 p.m. Central: Accident is reportedly NOT alcohol related.

Stephen A. Smith Strikes Again – This Time on CNN

Twenty-four days ago, I was pleased with what I learned during Mark Levin’s interview of ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.  Today, the sportswriter and commentator solidified his place in my heart when he appeared with host Christine Romans and author Joe Queenan during the “Ticker” segment of the CNN program, Your $$$$$, yesterday.

The topic of the day? Whether or not black players in the National Football League were being truthful when they said they would not play for Rush Limbaugh if he became an owner of the St. Louis Rams.  Watch the video below and, if you’re like me, you’ll find it so beautiful that you might even want to cry.

‘WOW!’ Mark Levin’s Interview of Stephen A. Smith

If you’re a fan of ESPN, you know the sports network’s personalities largely abstain from sharing their political views on the air.  Thanks to radio talk show host and best-selling author Mark Levin (a.k.a., “The Great One”), I had the opportunity to hear Stephen A. Smith shares his thoughts on what’s happening in America in 2009. Now, you have the same opportunity.  Watch the video below, and you’ll probably find yourself saying, “WOW!”

Paulson Among Buyers of Failed IndyMac Bank

The FDIC issued a news release Friday to let the world know the agency’s board had approved a letter of intent to sell IndyMac Bank to a thrift holding company controlled by IMB Management Holdings LP.  Though one of the men involved in purchasing the bank shares the same last name as Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, members of the mainstream news media have failed to acknowledge that fact.

A Los Angeles Times report Saturday listed John Paulson as one of two hedge-fund operators (the other being billionaire George Soros) among a small group of owner-investors, while an article published Friday in the San Jose Business Journal noted that the limited partnership includes John Alfred Paulson, the same man.  Neither article, however, deemed it worthwhile to report that the man involved in purchasing a large failed bank shared the same last name as the man who oversees the nation’s banking system, Secretary Paulson.

Noticing that, I decided to see if any other news outlets had seen fit to address the nagging question, “Is John Alfred Paulson related to Henry M. Paulson?” After all, even the pseudo-journalists behind the desk at ESPN Sports Center know enough to toss in an occasional “No relation” upon noticing that two unrelated players who share the same last name.

Surprising me again, none of the articles I found — neither the above-mentioned articles nor others published in the Wall Street Journal Jan. 5, at Bloomberg.com Jan. 3 and via Associated Press Jan. 3 — addressed the question.  That’s when I decided to ask people who should know.

I called IMB’s corporate offices early this afternoon and was told to send an e-mail inquiry to Armel Leslie at Walek & Associates, IMB’s Madison Avenue public relations counsel.  Twice given the opportunity to respond to the question, “Is John Alfred Paulson related in any way to Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson?” the PR specialist responded by e-mail as follows:  “No relation” and “Yes, no relation.”

Though I had an answer, I was not yet convinced; therefore, I called the Treasury Department Public Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., and asked them to field a nearly-identical question, “Does Secretary Paulson have any immediate relatives by the name of John Alfred Paulson?”

With true bureaucratic efficiency, the buck was passed at least twice during my phone call before I was dispatched with a promise that someone would call me back with the answer.  Unfortunately, that was almost five hours ago.

Is John Alfred Paulson related to Henry M. Paulson? Perhaps not, but that’s not what motivated me to write this article.  Instead, my chief concern was the news media’s seemingly-collective decision to ignore any possible connection between the men.  That kind of collusion, I fear, might portend a much greater problem for our nation’s future than banking failures.