CFB: Alamo Bowl arrives after week of turmoil
PAUL J. WEBER
Associated Press Writer
SAN ANTONIO — When Michigan State arrived for the Alamo Bowl, the Spartans were the ones in upheaval, embarrassed by a dormitory brawl that left 14 players suspended or dismissed.
Then Texas Tech got to town.
"It's been a tough week for everyone," Texas Tech interim head coach Ruffin McNeill said Friday.
For the Red Raiders, the week can't end soon enough.
Not that the abrupt and unseemly firing of Mike Leach will fade away Saturday when Texas Tech (8-4) plays Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. But caught all week in a swirl of commotion over Leach's dismissal, the Red Raiders are craving a distraction.
"All the controversy has taken away from the players," McNeill said. "I'm ready for the game to get here."
The Spartans (6-6) could use one, too, eager to get rid of the cloud hanging over their own program. Nine Michigan State players face charges of misdemeanor assault of conspiracy stemming from the Nov. 22 brawl, which began shortly after the school's annual football awards banquet.
"I just really want to get this last win because there have been some negatives this year," Michigan State wide receiver Blair White said. "We're excited to get out there Saturday and bring some positives back."
Texas Tech fired Leach on Wednesday following his alleged mistreatment of wide receiver Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James. ESPN removed Craig James from working the Alamo Bowl broadcast earlier this week as the Leach fallout unfolded.
The James family said Leach twice confined Adam to a small, dark space earlier this month after his concussion diagnosis. Leach arrived with the Red Raiders in San Antonio on Monday, but was suspended before the Red Raiders even had their first practice.
Leach said he will "pursue all available legal remedies" against Texas Tech.
Leach is the winningest football coach in Texas Tech history. In the wake of the firing, Leach's former staff say they want to remain with the Red Raiders and have been careful not to publicly take sides.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said the problems within his team and Texas Tech haven't dampened the bowl atmosphere.
"A lot of people have the opportunity to sit at home and read newspapers and read the Internet, watch TV and those sort of things, but our players have really been focused," he said.
McNeill, who was Texas Tech's defensive coordinator before being named interim head coach, has lobbied to permanently replace Leach. Acting offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has been more defensive toward his former boss, quickly saying "no" on Thursday when asked if Leach ever harmed a player.
Leach's quirky, pirate-loving personality became the face of Texas Tech as he turned the program into a consistent winner over 10 years.
McNeill said Friday it's hard to tell whether Leach's personality will be with the team against the Spartans.
"You're talking about the guy who was the winningest coach in Texas Tech football history," McNeill said. "He led us to more bowl games than anyone in Tech history and really put us on the map nationally. That's not something I want to lose."
Texas Tech has not made players formally available to reporters since firing Leach, but several current players have said the firing was the right move. Riley, who wrote a letter to Texas Tech administrators last week defending Leach as the investigation unfolded, said not everyone feels that way.
"Anytime you have 120 players, you're going to have different feelings about things," Riley said.
The Leach saga has brought an intense level of intrigue and attention to what had been an underwhelming bowl matchup. Both teams entered the game unranked, and Texas Tech had a particularly disappointing year after its breakout 11-2 record last season.
Michigan State, meanwhile, was pummeled by Penn State to end the season, and the dorm brawl happened a day later. Among those the Spartans will be without are wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell, and starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker.
The Spartans will play backup quarterback Keith Nichol at wide receiver Saturday to offset the losses. It's a move Dantonio was eager to share with reporters.
"It'll be a positive story," Dantonio said. "We need some positive stories."