Reading Mr. Howard’s heartfelt post a few nights ago about leaving Texas Tech and the “House that Leach Built” convinced me to write this. This post isn’t about the Admin, or Adam, or egos, or lawsuits. It’s not about rebuttals or recruiting. This post is about a coach whose cap never seemed to fit, his football teams, and how they were weaved into the fabric of my life over the last ten years. Everybody has a reason for their opinion. This is mine.
Good things happening all over West Texas
In July of ’99 I married a fellow Tech grad in Midland. That November I was hired by a big company and we bought a little house in Amarillo. We were 100 miles away (and broke) but attended most games that season, including Spike’s last victory against OU and Mike Leach’s offense. Somehow we scrounged up the money for season tickets during Leach’s first three years and made the drive down I-27 every Friday night. Our seats were close enough to hear his “vitriolic” tirades when he’d call a timeout and have the entire team gather ‘round. In August of ’01 we had a baby girl. She didn’t see any games that season but we took her to a handful in ‘02. The Texas game that year was my first inkling that something really good was happening in Lubbock. The crowd was great and the game was even better.
Early in ‘03 I was promoted and moved my young family to San Angelo. One of my early concerns after realizing this was a good move was how much longer will the drive be for home games? It turned out to only add about an hour to the commute so we held onto our seats. I began noticing that every year I got a little more addicted to what Leach was doing with his teams in Lubbock. After the ’04 season and the Holiday Bowl win, my buddies and I agreed that we might be getting into uncharted territory and my pride began to swell. Can you imagine Texas Tech as a top 15 program? With Mike Leach, it actually seemed possible. Along with increasing our expectations, we also began to notice the visual improvements every time we came into town. I took some Aggie friends to a game in ’99 and had to hear all about “Jones High School Stadium." The renovations that began under Leach were impressive.
Bigger city, bigger expectations
In January ’05 I was promoted again and we relocated to San Antonio. This was also the year I fully bought into what Leach was building. Unfortunately though, we had to give up our season tickets because the drive was too much. I was thrilled to see us climb to #8 and became “the Tech guy” to everyone in my company. In my new role I began travelling and always had the obligatory Coach Leach conversation over a few beers with my employees. If they weren’t familiar with Tech and its coach when I got into town, you can bet they were fans when I left. From our very cramped Cotton Bowl seats we watched the ’05 season end with the ugliest field goal ever. Even so, I was totally in. I started digging for Tech news beyond Don Williams’ articles.
In ’06 we learned that sometimes a pirate can beat a soldier and sometimes he has to feed his team ice cream to prevent a mutiny. My personal goal in ’06 was to make Tech fans out of my neighbors. Not an easy thing to do in Longhorn country, but they loved the stream of quotes I fed them coming out of West Texas.
In ’07 the Crabtree era began. This is what everyone had been waiting for. Plug an incredible receiver into this system and let him go. I only attended one game that year (Oklahoma, fortunately) and enjoyed a great comeback win in a bowl. I got another promotion and spent a ton of time on the road. What amazed me was that I began to meet more and more people familiar with the program before I opened my mouth.
2008 brought one more promotion for me at work and a helluva good football team. We decided not to go to the UT game since Halloween is a pretty big deal for a seven year old. Of course, it was difficult to concentrate on the candy and costumes. We watched the game from a bar and were amazed at the Tech fans coming out of the woodwork. The sea of orange was suddenly peppered with red & black. After the game a buddy from Lubbock called me from the field, almost in tears (he’s an emotional guy but he was also pretty drunk). “After all those years watching from the grass seats, did you ever think we would see this?” he asked. Some sports guy on the radio said the center of the football universe was now located in West Texas. I couldn’t believe how this had evolved.
The wheels begin to come off, for all of us
So they lose big to OU, squeak by Baylor, and we watch them get hammered in the Cotton Bowl. Our daughter blamed herself. “Daddy, they lost because I was there.” Of course, I reassured her it wasn’t her fault. However, I wore the wrong shirt and I’m certain it cost them at least 10 points. Sorry about that.
In the real world the economy was in shambles and I was forced to lay-off several employees (and friends) in late 2008. And that was only the beginning.
2009 was a year of milestones, miracles and challenges. We celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary in July. I would have ten years with my company in November and enjoyed watching my beautiful daughter teach the Tech fight song to all her friends. And, most importantly, after six years of prayers and procedures we finally welcomed a son in late August. He is truly a miracle.
Two weeks after our son was born I was called to a meeting at our company headquarters. All of my team’s jobs were being eliminated, including mine. Ten years of giving all you had to a place and delivering top-notch results. Ten years of believing in a system and staying loyal to the brand. Of course, there were flirtations with other companies and new positions, but my loyalty remained and I stayed through all the tough times. And this is how I’m rewarded? It felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I’m envious of Leach for going down with his sword swinging. I certainly felt like cussing a few people out. And in some small way I felt I could relate to his situation the day he was fired.
Fortunately, I was given a great severance package and have been able to spend much more time with my wife and kids. I’ve also had some time to reflect on the highs and lows of the last ten years. It’s been a great ride! Pictures on our walls narrate the fun times we’ve had. Pride in my work was mirrored by the pride I felt for my football team and coach. We moved to new cities, made new friends, and always had new challenges at work. Every Fall Tech football would kick-off with new faces. But, through all the changes, I could count on three things to remain constant: (1.My family would be with me. (2. My wife would always want me to take out the trash. (3.The guy that looked like he just woke up would be coaching my favorite team.
If the next decade is as rewarding as the last I’ll consider myself a lucky man. Over the past ten years I’ve tried my best to blaze a trail, provide for my family and make a name for myself. While doing so I always kept one eye on what was going on in my hometown. It was a privilege to watch Leach take the program to new heights.
Now, a new decade is here and the possibilities are endless. My wife and I will continue to try to be good parents and be good to each other. I’ll start a new career and hope to have the opportunity to once again lead great people. Leaving San Antonio and another set of friends behind is a possibility. Mike Leach is gone and Tommy Tuberville is now coaching the Red Raiders. I hope he wins multiple championships and I’ll be cheering my ass off for Texas Tech every Saturday, wherever we are. But, I’m afraid it’ll never be quite the same. Not for me.
I reserve the label “hero” for our soldiers, police officers, fire fighters and my dad. Mike Leach is not a hero or a saint. Far from it. But he and his teams weaved their way into our lives during the last ten years. Thanks, Coach.