Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach dies at 61

Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach dies at 61

Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach dies at 61

Gruff, pioneering and unfiltered, Mike Leach was one of the most influential football managers of this or any other generation. His boundless curiosity and fascination with people, places and things have made him famous beyond the pitch, a unique character in the sport.

Leach, who was in his junior year at Mississippi State after helping revolutionize the game of football from high school to NFL with the Air Raid offense, he died Monday night following complications from heart problems, the school said Tuesday. He was 61 years old.

Leach fell ill Sunday at his home in Starkville, Mississippi, near the university. He was treated at a local hospital before being airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) away.

“Mike was a generous and thoughtful husband, father and grandfather. He was able to participate in the organ donation to UMMC as a last charitable act,” the family said in a statement released by the State of Mississippi. “We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, of Mississippi State University, hospital staff and football fans around the world. Thank you for sharing the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.”

In 21 seasons as head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State, Leach went 158-107. Mississippi State was his third stop as a head coach in an unusual path in the profession.

Leach battled a bout of pneumonia late this season, sometimes coughing uncontrollably during press conferences, but seemed to be improving, according to those who worked with him.

News of his serious illness has been making the rounds in college football in recent days and has left many who knew him stunned. hoping and praying for a recovery.

“It’s hard to put into words the impact Mike Leach has had on the players he has coached, on the game of football and on me personally,” TCU head coach Sonny Dykes wrote on Twitter. “He was a unique personality, an independent thinker and a great friend. No one has had a greater influence on my life than my father.”

In Starkville, under a gray sky, the videoboard of Davis Wade Stadium it showed an image of a smiling Leach and the message: “In loving memory”. Black ribbons were tied to the stadium gates and flowers were left there to honor the coach.

“Mike’s sharp intellect and outspoken candor have made him one of the true coaching legends in the nation,” said Mississippi State President Mark Keenum. “His passing brings great sadness to our university, the Southeastern Conference and all who loved college football. I will miss Mike’s keen curiosity, his honesty, and his open approach to pursuing excellence in all things.”

At Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washingtona similar tribute was on the videoboard above a snowy field.

Leach was known for his happy-go-lucky offense, far-reaching interests—he wrote a book about Native American leader Geronimo, had a passion for pirates, and taught a course on rebel warfare—and rambling, impromptu press conferences.

An interview with Leach was likely to veer into politics, wedding planning, or hypothetical mascot fights how it was to stick to football. She considered Donald Trump a friend before the billionaire businessman ran for president and then campaigned for him in 2016.

He has traveled all over the world and appreciated those who came out of their experience the most.

“One of the biggest things I admire about Michael Jordan, he was convicted a lot for playing baseball. I completely admired that,” Leach told the Associated Press last spring. “I mean, you’re still going to be dead in 100 years. do it, and know that a lot of people will be watching you do it.I thought it was great.

Leach’s teams have been consistent winners in programs where success hasn’t been easy. His quarterbacks tuned up huge passing stats, running a relatively simple offense called the Air Raid that he didn’t invent but definitely mastered.

Six of the top 20 passing seasons in college football history have been by quarterbacks playing for Leach, including four of the first six.

Calling plays from a folded piece of paper smaller than a card, Leach turned passers such as BJ Symons (448.7 yards per game), Graham Harrell (438.8), Connor Halliday (430.3) and Anthony Gordon ( 429.2) in record-setters and Heisman Trophy contenders.

“You have to make choices and limit what you will teach and what you will do. That’s the hard part,” Leach told the AP of the air raid economic playbook.

Leach also had a penchant for headlines with authority, and wasn’t shy about criticizing players he felt weren’t playing tough enough.

A convergence of those traits cost Leach his first head coaching job. He went 84-43 with the Red Raiders, never missing a season at Big 12 school and reaching No. 2 in the country in 2008 with a team that went 11-2 and matched a school record in wins.

He was fired by Texas Tech in December 2009 after being accused of bullying a player, Adam James, son of former ESPN announcer and NFL player Craig James, who suffered a concussion.

He refused to apologize for the conflict and ultimately sued Texas Tech for wrongful termination. The school was protected by state law, but Leach never stopped trying to fight that case. He also filed a lawsuit against ESPN and Craig James which was later dismissed.

While out of coaching for two seasons, Leach and his wife, Sharon, retreated to their home in Key West, Florida, where he biked around town and had drinks at the bars.

He returned to coaching in the Pac-12, but never gave up that beloved home in the Keys.

Leach landed at Washington State in 2012. After three losing seasons, the Cougars have become much like his Texas Tech teams. In 2018, Washington State went 11-2, setting a school record for wins, and was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country.

Leach moved to the SEC in 2020, taking over from Mississippi State. After years of questions as to whether Leach’s outspread offense could succeed in the most talented football conference in the nation, the Bulldogs set an SEC record for passing yards in its very first game against defending national champion LSU.

Born March 9, 1961 in tiny Susanville, California, Leach grew up in even smaller Cody, Wyoming. Raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he attended BYU and graduated from Pepperdine with a law degree.

Leach didn’t play college football — rugby was his sport — but watching the innovative passing attack used by then BYU coach LaVell Edwards at a time when most teams were still heavy-handed piqued his interest in the ‘process plays.

In 1987, he began college coaching at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and spent a year coaching football in Finland, but it was at Iowa Wesleyan that he found his muse. Coach Hal Mumme had invented air raiding while coaching high school in Texas. At Iowa Wesleyan, with Leach as offensive coordinator, he began to catch on and radically change the way football was played.

Leach followed Mumme to Valdosta State and then to the SEC at Kentucky, breaking passing records along the way. Lui spent one season as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 1999 before getting his job at Texas Tech.

From there, the air raid spread like a wild one and became the predominant way the offense was handled in the Big 12 and beyond.

Leach’s extensive coaching tree includes USC’s Lincoln Riley, Dykes, Houston’s Dana Holgorsen, and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury.

“Coach – You will definitely be missed, but your impact on so many will live on – Grateful for every moment. You changed my life and so many others,” Riley posted on Twitter.

Last season, Leach’s Mississippi State team finished 8-4, including a 24-22 Thanksgiving night win over Mississippi in the intense rivalry known as the Egg Bowl. It was his last game.

Leach is survived by his wife and four children, Janeen, Kimberly, Cody and Kiersten.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com


AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP College Football Newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *