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Why Mike Leach is angry about Texas Tech and sovereign immunity

Leach can’t have a legal dispute with Texas Tech, so he’s having a Twitter dispute instead.

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Washington State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Washington State coach Mike Leach has long been one of college football’s most candid speakers. Just in the last two years, Leach has appeared onstage with Donald Trump, let loose on Chicago Cubs fans, and drawn a Pac-12 fine for publicly accusing an opposing coach of cheating by stealing his signs.

Leach’s Twitter account, @Coach_Leach, is mostly a collection of retweets on everything from WSU players to inspirational quotes to climate change denials. But of late, Leach has shared a lot about sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that protects governments from being sued. That’s prevented Leach from litigating in court a years-long dispute with his former employer, Texas Tech. Now Leach is litigating it by tweet.

This goes back to 2009, when Texas Tech unceremoniously fired Leach.

The Red Raiders cut ties with Leach at the end of the ‘09 season. He’d been accused of mistreating a concussed player. His departure kicked off a legal battle that lasted until a suit by Leach against the player’s father was dismissed in 2013.

Texas Tech used the allegations of player mistreatment to fire Leach for cause. In turn, the school didn’t pay him much of his ‘09 salary. To this day, Leach thinks Texas Tech owes him $2.5 million from that year.

He told USA Today:

“This thing won’t really go away. And it’ll never go away until this thing is settled. And it should be settled, because why should the future generation bear the black eye and the cloud that their university cheated their most successful coach in history? And why should I bear that, some of the 10 most productive years of my career? I was cheated out of my salary, and all the great memories that I, fans, players and coaches had, are diminished.”

Leach’s win-loss record in Lubbock was 84-43 over 10 seasons. He’s the winningest coach in school history. That probably doesn’t mean much legally.

After his firing, Leach sued Texas Tech to get paid, but he ran into a legal wall.

Texas Tech is a state school, so it gets the same legal protections the rest of the Texas government gets. Texas has a strict sovereign immunity law, which says Leach can only sue the school in the state if he gets the Texas legislature’s permission.

The New York Times summed up Leach’s problem in 2012:

Mr. Leach, who is now coaching at Washington State, can sue Texas and Texas Tech only if he can get permission from the Legislature. He tried and failed to do that in 2011, but he could try again during next year’s legislative session. He challenged Tech’s immunity in the Texas Supreme Court, which denied his appeal, agreeing with a lower court that sided with the university. The courts didn’t rule on the facts of the case — whether the firing was righteous or the contract was breached — but on whether Mr. Leach could sue the state without its permission.

Leach hasn’t gotten that permission. Not shockingly, a bunch of Texan lawmakers haven’t granted it to an ex-Tech head coach. Leach’s suit was dismissed. The Times excerpted a 2009 appellate court decision that went against Leach:

“So, while [the state of Texas] must perform and, like any other party to a contract, is responsible for its failure to do so, it cannot be sued for damages without its permission if it opts to forgo performance. In other situations, the converse is also true; the State may grant someone permission to sue it but retain its insulation from being forced to pay. The logic behind that circumstance is not ours to debate for that is the law as declared by our Supreme Court.”

Leach can’t sue Texas Tech, because Texas won’t let him.

Maybe Leach has a great case. Maybe he doesn’t. But barring a dramatic change of course on Texas’ part, he’ll never get the chance to clear it up in a courtroom.

But there’s one right Texas can never take from leach: the right to tweet through it.

Leach’s favorite thing about Twitter, he says, is promoting WSU’s football program.

“My second favorite thing is getting word out on basically how Texas Tech cheated me out of my 2009 salary,” Leach says, “and exposing sovereign immunity for what it is. I mean, if that was such a great idea, every state would do it, and somebody other than just third-world countries with dictators would do it. And so, I like that.”