McNeill regroups Texas Tech in wake of firing

Dec 31, 2009 - 5:37 AM By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press Writer

SAN ANTONIO(AP) -- Hours after Texas Tech fired coach Mike Leach on Wednesday, the Red Raiders tried projecting a message of family, solidarity and optimism.

No pirate talk. No bizarre tangents. No remarks about "fat little girlfriends."

"When I heard it was a little bit of shock, but at the same time in the business, you learn that anything can happen," Texas Tech interim coach Ruffin McNeill said.

McNeill's first public words following Leach's firing were mostly serious and by-the-book - the antithesis of Leach's usual quirkiness that he exhibited over the past 10 years while becoming the winningest football coach in school history.

McNeill sought to begin a new era in the wake of the turmoil wrought by allegations Leach mistreated wide receiver Adam James after the sophomore was diagnosed with a concussion this month. James alleges he was twice confined to a small, dark place while the rest of the team practiced.

McNeill declined to answer whether he felt Leach deserved to be fired, and instead tried to turn the focus back to Saturday's game against Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.

McNeill said players handled the news of the dismissal mostly well.

"I broke it to them, and I felt it best that a family member broke it to the next family member," McNeill said. "It was tough, but at the same time, I know that in that situation that I showed the professionalism that was needed. I keep going back to that word."

Professionalism is not how Texas Tech described Leach's tumultuous end with the Red Raiders.

Leach, who earlier this season chastised his players for listening to their "fat little girlfriends," was called defiant and insubordinate by Texas Tech for his handling of James' complaint.

Leach left his hotel Wednesday in San Antonio while McNeill held his news conference several blocks away. Approached by a reporter, Leach said no comment before being asked a question. Asked how he felt Texas Tech treated him throughout the last two weeks, Leach responded, "I think that's apparent."

Texas Tech did not formally make players available to the media, but wide receiver Tramain Swindall said he supported the dismissal.

"I do agree and I'm supporting Adam and what he's doing because it's the right thing to do," Swindall told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

McNeill wasted no time expressing his desire for the permanent job. He'll get his first audition Saturday against the Spartans, in a bowl game that can't possibly match the drama and suspense of what's happened in the few days since Texas Tech got to town.

"With family, you have some things that happen," McNeill said. "The stronger your bond and the stronger your fist in that family, the tougher you're hanging through tough times."


Associated Press Writer Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas, and AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo in New York contributed to this report.

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