Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach dies after hospitalization

Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach dies after hospitalization

Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach dies after hospitalization

Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach died Monday night after complications related to a heart condition, the school announced. He was 61 years old.

Leach’s family said, in a statement released by the school Tuesday, that Leach participated in organ donation at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as “a last charitable act.”

“We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, hospital staff and football fans around the world,” said Leach’s family. “Thank you for sharing the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.”

Leach suffered what the university initially described in a press release as a “personal health issue” at his Starkville home Sunday, requiring him to be airlifted to UMMC in Jackson, about 125 miles from the state of Mississippi.

Leach, in his third season as head coach at Mississippi State, told ESPN after the conclusion of the regular season that he had struggled with pneumonia during the season but was feeling better. He was in training on Saturday before suffering from his health problem on Sunday.

News of his serious illness has been making the rounds in college football in recent days and has left many who knew him in awe, hoping and praying for Leach’s recovery under sad circumstances.

“Coach Mike Leach has cast a tremendous shadow not only over Mississippi State University, but the entire college football landscape,” college president Mark E. Keenum said in a statement. “His innovative ‘Air Raid’ offense changed the game. Mike’s sharp intellect and outspoken candor made him one of the true coaching legends in the nation. His passing brings great sadness to our university, the Southeastern Conference and to all who loved college football.I will miss Mike’s deep curiosity, his honesty and his open approach to pursuing excellence in all things.

“Mike’s death also underscores the fragility and uncertainty in our lives. Three weeks ago, Mike and I were in the dressing room together to celebrate a hard-fought win at Oxford. Mike Leach truly embraced life and lived in such a way that leave no regrets. This is a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family during these days and hours. The Bulldog family’s prayers go with them.”

Leach was in his third coaching stint, with a 19-17 record for the Bulldogs, 8-4 this season. He was at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2009 and at Washington State from 2012 to 2019. He was the 2018 AFCA National Coach of the Year at Washington State.

“We are saddened and devastated by the passing of Mike Leach,” interim Mississippi State athletic director Bracky Brett said in a statement. “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 have 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 to have known Mike Leach. The thoughts and prayers of Mississippi State University and the The entire Bulldog family are with his wife Sharon, his children and the entire Leach family.”

Known for his prolific air raid offenses, Leach was 158-107 in his 21 seasons as head coach. He was also known for his flamboyant personality, dry wit, and penchant for talking history, business, and politics (and, really, pretty much anything else) as comfortably as he did quarterbacks who made the right reads and receivers traveling the right routes.

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.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who played three seasons under Leach at Texas Tech and was the Red Raiders’ head coach from 2013 to 2018, said on Tuesday that the sport of soccer “was better because of Mike Leach and he’s much less interesting without him.”

“There’s no way I would be where I am today if it weren’t for Mike Leach and everything he taught me about the game,” said Kingsbury. “Truly one of the most innovative attacking minds in football, he was more than a coach. He was a mentor, a friend and one of the most special people he has ever met.”

In addition to Kingsbury, Leach’s extensive coaching tree includes USC’s Lincoln Riley, TCU’s Sonny Dykes, and Houston’s Dana Holgorsen.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” by Leach’s “unexpected death.”

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Mike over the last few years,” Saban said. “I never quite knew where our conversations were going, but they always made me smile. He was an offensive innovator who always did things his own way and was admired for it. His teams were well trained and extremely difficult to defend. They played with composure and tenacity, which is a credit to his leadership.”

Nicknamed the “Pirate,” Leach had an affinity for pirates and even had a life-size statue of a singing pirate in his office when he was in Washington State. It was a gift from Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight, who was the basketball coach at Texas Tech when Leach was in Lubbock as the football coach.

Never one to shy away from an opinion on any subject, Leach once quipped, “I miss the stripes,” after a fan ran onto the field and pulled down his pants after a touchdown in State’s 24-21 victory of Washington on Stanford in 2017. And after Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, Leach congratulated Trump via text message and offered to be Trump’s “Offense Secretary.”

Leach had countless interests. He was an avid outdoorsman and loved to travel, especially to his favorite place in Key West, Florida. He graduated in the top 25% of his class with a law degree from Pepperdine University and co-authored a book on Geronimo and the Apache leader’s approach to leadership. After growing up primarily in Cody, Wyoming, Leach graduated from BYU, where he played rugby. He didn’t play college football, but he closely studied BYU Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards and his offense.

After receiving his law degree in 1986, Leach began his football coaching career at Cal Poly in 1987, then joined Hal Mumme’s staff at Iowa Wesleyan in 1989. He deserved much credit for turning the pattern in a brand. Leach worked for Mumme as the offensive line coach at Iowa Wesleyan and also worked as a de facto publicist, sending out press releases to national newspapers about the team’s high-level exploits.

“When you say ‘Air Raid,’ he came up with the name,” Mumme told ESPN in a recent interview. “He came up with the name so we could publicize it, and that’s probably fitting since he was the guy who got it the furthest.”

Leach followed Mumme to Valdosta State and Kentucky, where quarterback Tim Couch blossomed and became the #1 pick in the 1999 NFL draft. Leach spent the 1999 season as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, greatly improving the Sooners’ offense with quarterback Josh Heupel under head coach Bob Stoops, before getting his first head coaching job at Texas Tech in 2000.

“I am heartbroken over the passing of Coach Leach,” said Heupel, who is now the head coach at Tennessee. “In 1999, he gave a boy from Snow College in Utah a chance to play major college football. He saw something in me when no one else did. Like so many in our sport, I am grateful for the impact of coach Leach on my life both personally and professionally. His offensive philosophy and vision were ahead of their time and continue to shape the game today.

“Off the field, he was one of a kind – an incredible storyteller, a man full of wisdom and someone who always cared about his former players and coaches. I’ve enjoyed our friendship over the years.”

Leach developed high-scoring offenses at Texas Tech and quarterbacks like Kingsbury and Graham Harrell. The Red Raiders went 11-2 in 2008 and finished in the AP Top 25 in five of Leach’s last six seasons as manager.

“Coach Leach will forever be remembered as one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football history,” Texas Tech said in a statement. “His impact on Texas Tech Football alone will live on in history as one of the greatest tenures in the history of our program. From his 84 wins to his career-high offenses, Coach Leach has quickly built a legacy here at Texas Tech that will never be forgotten.”

He coached 10 seasons at Texas Tech before being fired on December 30, 2009. A former player, Adam James, accused Leach of roughing him up after he suffered a concussion. Leach was suspended December 28, 2009, and then fired for what the university called a “defiant act of insubordination.” Lui sued the university for wrongful termination and lost a monetary damages bid on a legal technicality, but continued to fight for documents relating to his dismissal.

Washington State had suffered eight consecutive winless seasons when Leach arrived at the Palouse in 2012. But he led the Cougars to a bowl game in his sophomore season and, from 2015 to 2018, won at least eight games each season, of which 11 in 2018.

“Mike is a guy who’s been in the spotlight for 15 or 20 years, in the Big 12, in the Pac-12, in the SEC,” Mumme said in a recent interview with ESPN. “He’s the guy that everyone looked up to. He’s won football games in places you’re not supposed to win.”

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

Leach leaves his wife, Sharon; children Janeen, Kim, Cody and Kiersten; and three grandchildren.

Keenum and Brett had put defensive coordinator Zach Arnett in charge of the football program when Leach was hospitalized. The Bulldogs will face Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl on January 2nd.

Chris Low, Adam Rittenberg and Dave Wilson of ESPN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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