LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — The nasty voicemails and emails don't weigh on Adam James anymore. And he doesn't care if people view him as a pariah, the guy who brought an end to the high-flying Mike Leach era at Texas Tech.
James is more interested in helping the Red Raiders get to a bowl by winning at least one of their last three games. The 23-year-old senior tight end is wrapping up his career at Texas Tech, and he said he doesn't carry any baggage around from the ugly ending to Leach's career in West Texas two years ago.
"I don't really think that much about it," James said during his first interview since Leach was fired in December 2009. "I really have never let what people say or think about me affect me, unless it was somebody that really knew me and knew who I was."
James has never spoken at length about what happened with Leach. There were allegations that James had suffered a concussion, and that Leach basically ignored it while forcing the sophomore to twice stand for hours while confined in a dark place during practice.
Leach has denied the allegations, but he was fired and wound up suing Texas Tech in a legal fight that still isn't settled. Adding to the intrigue were suggestions that James' father, former SMU star and ESPN analyst Craig James, had pushed school officials to fire Leach.
In the two years since, the younger James has never spoken publicly as he put together a solid, unremarkable career on the field. He sat down with three reporters on Monday, politely and matter-of-factly answering questions about his life on campus and what has turned out to be his best season.
James didn't play much the year after Leach was fired but so far this year he has caught 19 passes for 240 yards. He caught a touchdown — the third in his three years at Texas Tech — against in-state rival Texas A&M.
But the touchdown brought a few boos from the home crowd in Lubbock, illustrating how challenging his life has been.
"I guess when you get 60,000 strong it's easy to voice your opinion," James said. "You can't let what other people say get to you because the people that know me, that's the important thing."
James, who is expected to graduate with a degree in restaurant and hotel management, said he never considered transferring.
The school barred questions they deemed connected with Leach and the pending litigation against the university, including whether James regretted anything about his time at Texas Tech and the concussion. Leach declined to comment for this story.
Shortly after he was hired to replace Leach, Tommy Tuberville told James he wanted the player to feel that he was part of the team. He told James he could make things better by being a regular student, a player and a leader.
Or he could go "into a shell," Tuberville said he told James.
"I think he understood he made some mistakes in things he said and did and all that, but bottom line is I never heard one thing from the players," Tuberville said. "I think the players really respect, No. 1, all he went through, how he handled it and now where he's at and how much he's meant to the team."
Last season, James said, he "embraced" the role of being "a sideline guy bringing energy." Earlier this season, though, he went to his coaches to talk about how he could help his team on the field.
"I think he was a little disappointed in his playing time earlier in the year but as he's practiced better and been more productive (there) he's been more productive," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I think he's grown up over the past two years and he's playing pretty well on the field also."
James had chances to play in two years under Leach, catching 32 passes for 313 yards. Now he's got a different perspective.
"I think now I've learned to take advantage of my opportunities better. As a player I've matured, my practice habits have matured," he said. "Over the last two years I think I've grasped the importance of being consistent every day and I think that's helped me out."
His father agreed.
"That's not uncommon especially for seniors and for players who have a passion for their team to win and doing the best they can," Craig James said. "What you see is the hard work he's put in. He's always worked hard. It's nature. It just all comes together. You get stronger. You get faster."
The support from teammates has been there since a few days before the Alamo Bowl two years ago when the team learned Leach had been fired.
Seth Doege, the Red Raiders' quarterback and one of Adam James' closest friends, said the tight end has been vocal all year, getting the team motivated with halftime speeches.
"He works hard," Doege said. "He's been a big vocal leader for this team. He's really changed his ways and turned things around."
Pressed to explain what he meant, Doege wouldn't go where James' first quarterback, Graham Harrell, went two years ago. Harrell and Dana Holgorsen, formerly the Red Raiders receivers coach and now head coach at West Virginia, issued statements that portrayed James in an unflattering light shortly after Leach's firing. They said James was spoiled, didn't work hard and felt he was entitled to a position.
"I would say everybody has their opinion, and if that's their opinion of me, that's unfortunate," James said. "But I think if you were to go ask any of my teammates now, any of my coaches now, it would be a completely different response."
Craig James said what happened two years ago wasn't easy to watch.
"It's one of those situations that you can't understand how painful it was for a parent watching a kid go through it. To me, what speaks volumes of who Adam is and what happened is the level of respect his teammates have for him," he said. "It took a lot of courage and character two years to stand up for himself and his teammates."
The younger James said he has only recently wondered how the crowd will respond when he and his family are introduced Saturday on Senior Day before the Red Raiders wrap up their home schedule with a game against No. 2 Oklahoma State. His father won't be there; he will be working in the broadcast booth when No. 22 Michigan plays at Illinois.
Some fans will acknowledge his contributions, James said, while others will use the occasion to voice their displeasure at his legacy that will forever be tied to Leach's firing.
"They'll be people cheering and there'll be people booing," he said. "And the people cheering, that's great, and the people booing, like I said, I wish they take the opportunity to get to know me."