SAN ANTONIO -- Texas Tech players, fresh off a come-from-behind victory over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl, said the incident involving Adam James that led to the firing of coach Mike Leach was just the last in a line of problems this season involving the coach and players.
Many players expressed views, but didn't want to go on the record after an emotional 41-31 victory over Michigan State in the Valero Alamo Bowl late Saturday night. Some did.
Senior offensive lineman Brandon Carter, who admitted he and Leach haven't always seen eye-to-eye, said fans who were quick to pile on James -- including lustily booing him as the team headed to the locker room at halftime -- as the reason for Leach's firing don't know the entire story.
"I don't want to say anything bad about the fans, but this is not the first situation that something like this has happened [with Leach]. This is just the first time someone stepped forward," Carter said. "I don't want fans thinking that Adam James did this because he was upset but it was just kind of the last straw, and sooner or later something was going to come out. This is the first situation that someone spoke up about.
"We always thought that Mike Leach was a great coach, and he always has been. This year, I don't know if it was personal issues or what not, but things just kind of turned for the worst and it just became a big distraction this year for us. And I think that's one reason we were so up and down this year, because some of the things that he said to his players and some of the things that were done. People just didn't cope with that."
Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers said after the game that he believes the process to hire a new head football coach will be a "fairly fast process" and Ruffin McNeill, the defensive coordinator who took over as interim head coach after the university fired Leach on Wednesday, would be given a fair shot at the job.
Myers said he and the Tech administration will begin meeting Sunday to narrow a list of candidates. McNeil is scheduled to be interviewed Monday, a source close to the situation told ESPN's Joe Schad.
"Ruff has done a good job," Myers said after the Alamo Bowl. "He mentioned earlier in the week that he would be auditioning for the job tonight, and I think he had a pretty good performance. He did a great job. These players love Ruffin. Our fans love Ruffin. He certainly will get a lot of strong consideration. We're not opposed to hiring coordinators. We're going to take a look at it. We've got to meet with our administration and go from there. The sooner the better is all I can say."
Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has publicly stated his interest in the position. Baylor coach Art Briles, who served under Leach at Tech from 2000-02, said in a statement that he is committed to the Bears. But this does not preclude the possibility he could be bought out and hired by Texas Tech.
In fact, language in his Briles' contract reportedly suggests that Tech is the only school that could buy out the deal. And in published e-mails to the Tech AD, one of Tech's biggest boosters has specifically referred to Briles. Tech officials have long been interested in Briles and if not McNeil, he is the top choice.
Other candidates could include Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, who runs a spread offense and whose offensive coordinator is former longtime Leach assistant Dana Holgerson. Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora could also be in the mix.
Players lauded the job McNeill did throughout the week. They also described Leach as viewing himself as bigger than the program and losing touch with the players.
"It didn't click with the players, and the players kind of rebelled against him and it just kind of made things worse," Carter said of Leach. "Everyone just started doing their own thing. We weren't playing together there for a little while. So, like today, I think we played well together, and Coach Ruff did a good job today keeping us together."
McNeill, whose defense came up with key fourth-quarter stops to ensure the Alamo Bowl win, said he'd be honored to assume control of the program. Players doused McNeill with a bucket of Gatorade, and then he individually embraced players, clearly showing the exhaustion and mental toll the past few days had taken.
"This was the most challenging week I've had in my 29 years of coaching," Ruffin said. "It was a fun challenge though, and this is the most rewarding night I've had in my coaching career. I love those players and this is the most rewarding night of my life."
Players stressed that the team never fractured -- if anything they grew closer -- and that they found television and other media reports of divisiveness and chaos amusing.
"When I was watching TV and with all the media, it was kind of funny to us because ... everybody else thought we were going to come out and lay down and look for a reason not to play hard," junior running back Baron Batch said. "But it was more than that. We wanted to come out and play hard for Ruff and for our coaches."
Added Carter: "It was easily the best week of practice. It literally was like a burden was kind of lifted up. I don't want y'all to think I don't have any respect for Mike Leach because he gave me an opportunity, he gave me five years of his coaching and I learned a lot from him. I hope the best for him. I hope somewhere down the road we cross paths again. I just hope that it's a little different from this past year."
Batch also defended James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James, who accused Leach of mistreating the sophomore receiver the day after he sustained a "mild" concussion.
"The best thing right now is just to move on. What happened happened, that's in the past now. Being mad about it won't help," Batch said. "You know, I love Adam. I support him 100 percent, and the administration did what they had to do. The Double-T, it's bigger than one person and I hope people realize that it's bigger than me, it's bigger than Ruff, it's bigger than one person. The thing that Ruff knows is, he holds that to be true: The Double-T is bigger than just one person."
Players were vocal about their support for Ruffin as the next coach.
Junior wide receiver Detron Lewis said the team moved on quickly from Leach's firing.
"Ruffin McNeill did a great job," Lewis said. "We just blocked everything out and had a good week of practice. It was the best week of practice we've had, I think, this year."
The Alamo Bowl victory was just the first step toward recovering from the turmoil, and the players are ready to close the book on the Leach era at Texas Tech.
"The administration did what they had to do. I can't really get caught up in that," Batch said. "The thing everybody needs to do is move on right now. You know, Leach, he's not here anymore. There's nothing that complaining and being mad can do now.
"We just won a bowl game. That's a big deal. We won it for Ruff. I think the best thing right now is just to move on and accept that that's that and we're still a great football team."
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag. Information from ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad was used in this report.