Mike Leach, Mississippi State Head Coach and College Football Revolutionary, dies at age 61
Mike Leach, the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and one of the architects of the “Air Raid” attack, died on December 12 after complications from a heart condition.
The Leach family released a statement saying, “Mike was a giving, giving and thoughtful husband, father and grandfather. As a last act of charity, he was able to participate in organ donation at the UMMC. We are sustained and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, hospital staff and football fans around the world. Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.”
Often described as a national treasure, Leach’s passing has left the college football community in shock. As well known for his big personality off the field as his success on the field, the loss of the Mississippi State head coach leaves a significant hole in the heart of the sport. He was unique and at times controversial, that rare breed who could control a room of people, hold their attention, and lead a college football offense to greatness on the field.
Born Michael Charles Leach in Susanville, California, the Mississippi State head coach was a standout academic at BYU in the early 1980s. While playing Rugby for the Cougars, he was also inspired by the BYU football offenses led by Steve Young and Jim McMahon.
In the 1980s, Leach achieved multiple academic achievements. The Mississippi State head coach graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, a doctorate from Pepperdine University and a master’s degree in sports science from the Alabama-based United States Sports Academy. One of the most intelligent men in football, Leach continued his academic stature throughout his football journey, teaching ‘Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategy’ until his untimely death.
While Leach’s coaching career began in 1987, the origins of the success that defined him can be traced back to 1989 and Iowa Wesleyan University. It was there, as offensive coordinator, that Leach met Hal Mumme. The pair came up with the “Air Raid” strike that would revolutionize college football and change the way the game was played forever.
After incredible success as an offensive coordinator, including setting numerous SEC and program records in Kentucky, Leach embarked on a 21-year, multi-stop, head coaching career that saw multiple controversies but can be considered extremely successful in terms of sheer victory . loss record and with a number of entries in the record books at each stop.
At Texas Tech, Leach led more than 10 consecutive winning seasons, including eight straight eight-win seasons. His pass-happy offense broke NCAA, Big 12, and program records for fun. He was named the 2008 Big 12 Head Coach of the Year after leading the Red Raiders to an 11-2 record and finishing his time at Tech 84-43. Leach made household names of Graham Harrell, Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree on his way to becoming the winningest coach in Texas Tech history.
During a coaching hiatus of nearly three years, Leach developed his off-field personality with appearances on CBS Sports Network and Sirius XM. The charismatic coach also released a book in 2011, “Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and in Life”, a reference to his fixation with pirates. The fascination seeped into his coaching career, with references to pirates at press conferences becoming a commonplace and beloved part of Leach’s appeal.
Upon his arrival in Washington State in 2012, Leach rejuvenated a Cougars team that had not had a winning season since 2003. During his eight-year tenure with Pullman, Leach became the first Washington State head coach to win 11 games. During that campaign, he was named the 2018 Pac-12 Coach of the Year, adding to an award he also won in 2015. The quarterback on that 2018 Cougars team, Gardner Minshew, became the second quarterback to win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in Leach’s high-volume passing offense.
Despite believing his offensive style would not work in the SEC, Leach left for Starkville ahead of the 2022 season to take over as Mississippi State head coach.
While shocking the reigning champion LSU on opening day, KJ Costello set an SEC record for passing one game and throwing for 623 yards on the Tigers’ defense. However, the disrupted 2020 season produced disappointing results as the Bulldogs offense ranked only 110th nationally, while finishing with just three regular season wins. The doubters seemed to be proven right, but Leach remained firm in his approach.
It paid off in 2021, with a 7-5 regular season record before turning into a Top-25 challenger last season. Leach has helped Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers break several SEC and program records as the Bulldogs finished the 2022 college football season with an 8–4 record and prepared for the ReliaQuest Bowl at the time of Leach’s death.
The eldest of six siblings, Leach is survived by his wife Sharon, his four children Janeen, Kimberly, Cody and Kiersten, and three grandchildren.
Leach will be remembered for his large-scale, hugely successful passing offenses. He will be remembered for his lengthy monologues about pirates, mascot fights and marriage advice. You may even remember him for his brief cameo on the hit TV show Friday Night Lights. However you remember Leach, the important thing is that he will be remembered – as a coach, as a teacher, as a personality and as a revolutionary in college football.
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