Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach died Monday evening following complications related to a heart condition. With his death, part of college football died as well.
The Leach family released the following statement:
“Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather. He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity. We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, the hospital staff, and football fans around the world. Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.”
Mississippi State President Mark E. Kennum and Interim Athletics Director Bracky Brett shared their memories of the late coaching great:
“Coach Mike Leach cast a tremendous shadow not just over Mississippi State University, but over the entire college football landscape. His innovative “Air Raid” offense changed the game. Mike’s keen intellect and unvarnished candor made him one of the nation’s true coaching legends.
“His passing brings great sadness to our university, to the Southeastern Conference, and to all who loved college football. I will miss Mike’s profound curiosity, his honesty, and his wide-open approach to pursuing excellence in all things.”
“Mike’s death also underscores the fragility and uncertainty of our lives. Three weeks ago, Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory in Oxford. Mike Leach truly embraced life and lived in such a manner as to leave no regrets. That’s a worthy legacy.
“May God bless the Leach family during these days and hours. The prayers of the Bulldog family go with them.”
“We are heartbroken and devastated by the passing Mike Leach. College football lost one of its most beloved figures today, but his legacy will last forever. Mike’s energetic personality, influential presence and extraordinary leadership touched millions of athletes, students, coaches, fans, family, and friends for decades.
“Mike was an innovator, pioneer and visionary. He was a college football icon, a coaching legend but an even better person. We are all better for having known Mike Leach. The thoughts and prayers of Mississippi State University and the entire Bulldog family are with his wife Sharon, his children, and the entire Leach family.”
Leach had told ESPN he had struggled with pneumonia during the season but that he now felt better. According to the sports network, he observed practice on Saturday before suffering his health issue on Sunday.
The impact of Leach’s loss to the game of football cannot be overstated. Nicknamed “The Pirate” (and he was a huge fan of them), Leach was one of the key pioneers of the wide-open spread offenses that have proliferated throughout college football. If you see your favorite college team piling up passing yards and points, you can credit Leach at least in part.
What made Leach so unique is he never played college football and had a law degree. Yet he eschewed the legal world to go into coaching.
Leach got his start in college football under Coach Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan University in 1989 and eventually followed him to the University of Kentucky in 1997. The two coaches partnered to develop the now-famous air raid offense which shattered offensive records across the sport. This offense is predicated on gaining yards through the air rather than on the ground.
Leach while at Kentucky developed quarterback Tim Couch, who later became the number 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Couch set numerous passing records including the most passing yards in SEC history until LSU’s Joe Burrow broke the record in 2019.
His remarkable success continued at his next coaching stop at Oklahoma in 1999, spending one season there. While in Norman, he made the Sooners the top-ranked offense in the Big 12.
But it was at Texas Tech where he became a household name. While at Lubbock from 2000-2009, he set more than 150 school, Big 12, and NCAA records as head coach of the Red Raiders. His quarterbacks in particular were remarkably prolific, regularly breaking NCAA records for most yards and completions across several seasons.
Despite being the school’s all-time winningest coach and never having a losing season, Texas Tech railroaded Leach out of town after the 2009 season after a helicopter parent falsely accused the coach of mistreating their son. He would stay out of football for the next two years.
In 2012, Washington State hired Leach to turn around their moribund program. While success did not happen immediately, Leach eventually led the Cougars to six bowl appearances and a Top-10 finish in 2018.
Leach left Wazzu for Mississippi State following the 2019 season. He led the Bulldogs to two consecutive winning seasons including an 8-4 finish this year along with three bowl appearances.
On top of his coaching genius, he was also arguably the greatest character in the sport’s history. He never shied away from giving his opinion, whether it was football or other subjects.
Think about this: how many coaches give their unvarnished thoughts to reporters on the proper Thanksgiving meal? Mascot fights? Dating and marriage? How to handle your in-laws? Halloween candy?
Here are just a couple of examples:
Mike Leach breaking down a potential Pac-12 mascot fight.
He was one of a kind. RIP pic.twitter.com/KEp1FOnAip
— Mike Beauvais (@MikeBeauvais) December 13, 2022
Mike Leach giving marriage advice might be my all-time favorite sports interview. RIP Coach Leach. 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/CUlhC5oFAk
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) December 13, 2022
Only Mike Leach, and he did so with his renowned dry sense of humor.
The sports world will never experience another individual like Mike Leach. Rest in Peace, Coach.