Mike Leach became Mississippi State's football coach on Jan. 9, 2020. His team plays Tuesday in the "Mike Leach Bowl." Credit: HailState.com

There are so many of these bowl games this holiday season it’s hard to keep up. They are played nearly every day and at all times of the day. They have names so esoteric and ever-changing, it borders on comedy.

Rick Cleveland

For instance, we have the Radiance Technology Independence Bowl – once the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl – which some of us used to call the Poulan Weed-Eater Mississippi Bowl, because either Ole Miss, Mississippi State or Southern Miss – one of them – seemed to play in it every year. I mentioned this to my son on our podcast the other day, and he replied, “Well, Dad, somebody has to finish six and six.”

We also have the roofclaim.com Boca Raton Bowl, the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl, the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, just to name a few.

Almost makes you yearn for the good old days when you had the Rose, the Orange, the Sugar and the Cotton Bowls – all on New Year’s Day, and that was pretty much that.

Let’s be honest, precious few of these pre-New Year’s bowls have much to offer in the way of compelling football. That’s because there are few compelling storylines, other than whether or not the games will be played because of Covid outbreaks.

There is one huge exception. It is Tuesday’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl, which ought to just cut to the chase and call itself the Mike Leach Bowl this year. 

And I’ve got just the drinking game for those watching at home. Every time the ESPN cameras pan to Leach on the Mississippi State sidelines, you down a shot of whiskey. Go ahead and try it. You’ll be stumbling drunk midway through the first quarter.

The Mike Leach Bowl features:

  • The Texas Tech Red Raiders, once coached by Leach, who remains the school’s all-time winning-est coach. Leach coached Texas Tech to 10 bowl games in 10 seasons. His Tech teams won 84 games and lost only 43. They were 47-33 in the Big 12 Conference. In 2008, Tech finished 11-2 after rising to No. 2 in the nation. That’s heady stuff in Lubbock, Texas, where many fans fondly remember the Leach days. This year’s Red Raiders are 6-6.
  • The Mississippi State Bulldogs, the team Leach coaches now. Leach’s second State team has smashed school offensive records and takes a 7-5 record to Memphis. State is an 8.5-point favorite, which is not surprising since the Bulldogs are one of four teams in the country with three victories against teams ranked in Top 25. The Bulldogs are the only college football team that faced six Top 25 teams this season.

Leach was fired for cause at Texas Tech on Dec. 30, 2009. If he had remained the Red Raiders coach for one more day he would have received a bonus of $800,000. Leach still feels he is owed that money – and then some. He has a lawsuit against the school for $2.5 million, which he and his lawyer are still pursuing.

When the bowl matchup was announced, Leach quipped: “They still owe me for 2009, the last time they won nine games, so maybe they’ll deliver the check … we’ll see what happens there.”

Believe this: Leach is not holding his breath.

Leach was fired over a well-publicized-and-then-some incident involving a tight end named Adam James, son of then-ESPN announcer Craig James. It’s all complicated but Leach was fired for refusing to apologize for the alleged mistreatment of Adam James. If don’t know or don’t remember it, just google “Mike Leach and Adam James.” You’ll learn that Craig James played a prominent role in Leach’s firing.

Regardless of what happens, if anything, to the lawsuit, we can all surmise that Leach has won by a knockout in the long run. After all, Craig James’ lucrative TV career has ended. His short-lived political career – he ran for the U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz and got 4% of the vote – crashed and burned. He reportedly has entered the ministry. Adam James played out his Tech career, catching three touchdowns over four seasons.

Meanwhile, Mike Leach makes $5 million a year to coach football at Mississippi State. That’s whether or not he wins the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.