STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University head football coach Michael Charles “Mike” Leach passed away last night (Monday, December 12) at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi following complications from a heart condition. He was 61 years old.
In a statement, the Leach family said, “Mike was a generous and thoughtful husband, father and grandfather. He was able to participate in the UMMC organ donation as a last charitable act. We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers family, friends, 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.”
Mississippi State University President Mark E. Keenum said, “Coach Mike Leach he cast a tremendous shadow not only over Mississippi State University, but the entire college football landscape. His innovative “Air Raid” offense changed the game. Mike’s sharp intellect and outspoken candor have made him one of the true coaching legends in the nation. His passing brings great sadness to our university, the Southeastern Conference and all those who loved college football. I will miss Mike’s keen curiosity, honesty and 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 in the dressing room together to celebrate a hard-fought win at Oxford. Mike Leach he truly embraced life and lived it in a way that left no regrets. This is a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family in these days and hours. The Bulldog family’s prayers go with them,” Keenum said.
MSU Acting Director of Athletics Bracky Brett said, “We are saddened and devastated by the passing of 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 have touched millions of athletes, students, coaches, fans, family members, and friends for decades.
“Mike was an innovator, a pioneer and a visionary. He was a college football icon, a coaching legend but an even better person,” Brett said. “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, which was named Mississippi State’s 34th head football coach on January 9, 2020, he was finishing his third season in Starkville and 21st as head coach. A lifelong college football icon, she leaves an incredible legacy as a husband, father, friend, and leader of young men.
The eldest of six siblings, Leach and his wife Sharon shared four children: Janeen, Kimberly, Cody and Kiersten.
Born in Susanville, California to Frank and Sandra Leach, Mike was raised in Cody, Wyoming. After graduating summa cum laude from BYU in 1983, where he played rugby, Leach earned a master’s degree from the US Sports Academy and his Juris Doctor from Pepperdine University, where he graduated in the top third of his class.
For nearly four decades, Leach has had an unparalleled impact on the game of football, including thousands of student-athletes, coaches and staff. He was a two-time National Coach of the Year, three-time Power 5 Conference Coach of the Year, and the mastermind behind the NCAA record-breaking “Air Raid” offense.
The achievements for Leach in his 21 years as head coach have been long and illustrious. Proven winner who established a culture of excellence at every leg of his career, Leach compiled a 158-107 (.596) record, led his teams to 19 bowl games, produced seven seasons of at least nine wins , captured two conference division titles, became the winningest head coach in Texas Tech history, and set school records for bowl appearances at both Texas Tech (10) and Washington State (6). During 10 of those 21 seasons, Leach’s passing attack led the FBS: six at Texas Tech and four at Washington State.
One of the most successful coaches in college football history, Leach’s 158 career wins as an FBS coach are second among active SEC coaches and fifth among active Power 5 coaches. Of the 50 most productive passing seasons in FBS history, 10 have come from quarterbacks coached by Leach since his hire as head coach at Texas Tech in 2000. This included one season by Kliff Kingsbury, one by BJ Symons (2003), one by Sonny Cumbie, three by Graham Harrell (2006-08), one by Connor Halliday, one by Luke Falk (2015), one by Gardner Minshew II (2018), and one by Anthony Gordon (2019).
An avid educator, mentor, historian, and lifelong student, Leach had a great admiration for academics. He has instilled that in his players, as his teams regularly set records for GPA and graduation rate. A masterful storyteller, Leach wrote a 2011 New York Times best-selling autobiography titled Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and Life. Later she wrote Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior in 2014.
Leach has built arguably the largest coaching tree in college football, giving countless coaches their start in the profession. His historical tree includes former and current head coaches Lincoln Riley, Dave Aranda, Sonny Cumbie, Dana Holgorsen, Seth Littrell, Art Briles, Ken Wilson, Neal Brown, Josh Heupel, Eric Morris, Sonny Dykes, Kliff Kingsbury, Ruffin McNeill and assistant coaches Wes Welker, Bill Bedenbaugh, Robert Anae, Alex Grinch, Brandon Jones and others.
Leach began his coaching career in 1987 as an assistant at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo before stopping at College of the Desert in 1988 and as a head coach at the European Football League in Pori, Finland in 1989.
Leach partnered with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan College in 1989 where the duo developed the popular Air Raid binding. From 1989 to 1991 Leach was offensive coordinator and line coach for a unit that led the NAIA in passing yards one season and finished second in the other two. Iowa Wesleyan quarterbacks passed for more than 11,000 yards in Leach’s three seasons and broke 26 national records.
Leach and Mumme went on to spend five seasons at Valdosta State (1992-96) and then two seasons at Kentucky (1997-98).
Named 1996 Division II Offensive Coordinator of the Year by American Football Quarterly magazine, Leach helped Mumme lead Valdosta State to a 40-17-1 record. The 1993 Blazer offense shattered 66 school records, 22 conference records and seven national records. In 1994, Valdosta State advanced to the Division II playoffs with Leach’s offense shattering 80 school records, 35 conference records and seven other national votes.
As Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, Leach coached the Wildcat offense to six NCAA records, 41 Southeastern Conference records, and 116 school records in 22 games.
Leach joined Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma staff as offensive coordinator in 1999. He led a Sooner offense that went from one of the worst in the Big 12 Conference to one of the best. In just one year, OU’s total number of attacks improved from 293.3 to 427.2 yards per game. Under Leach, the Oklahoma offense set six Big 12 Conference and 17 school records.
Leach went on to spend 10 seasons as the head coach at Texas Tech (2000-2009), where his teams produced bowl appearances throughout the 10 years. He compiled a school-record 84 wins, a school-record five bowl victories, and eight straight seasons of eight or more wins.
The architect of the most prolific passing attack in the country, Leach received three national coach of the year awards in 2008: the Woody Hayes Award, Howie Long/Fieldturf Coach of the Year and the George Munger Award. Leach’s offense captured six NCAA passing titles and three total offense titles during his 10 seasons in Lubbock.
Leach led Texas Tech to one of the most memorable seasons in school history in 2008, as the team set a program record with 11 regular season wins en route to an 11–2 record. The win total tied the mark, previously set by the 1953 and 1973 Red Raider teams. Acclaim came from across the country as an unprecedented four players earned first-team All-America status, as well as Leach’s three Coach of the Year honors. Harrell, offensive tackle Rylan Reed, and offensive guard Brandon Carter both earned first-team honors, while wide receiver Michael Crabtree was named a unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner for the second straight season.
A total of 18 players were drafted to Texas Tech under Leach’s watch, and 21 others signed free agent contracts. In the spring of 2009, four players were selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, marking the most successful draft for Texas Tech in the Leach era.
The program also made great strides academically under Leach. Throughout its 10 years, Texas Tech was recognized as one of the best institutions in the nation for consistently exceeding a 70% graduation rate, according to the AFCA.
Following his tenure at Texas Tech, Leach spent eight seasons at the helm of Washington State, where he compiled a 55-47 (.539) record and was named the 2018 American Football Coaches Association National Coach of the Year and twice Pac-12 Coach of the Year (2015, 2018). Leach guided WSU to a school record six bowl appearances and became the first coach in school history to lead the Cougars to five straight bowl games. They also led the nation in passing offense in four of their last six seasons in charge.
The 2018 campaign saw Leach produce one of the best coaching performances as WSU posted its first 11-hit season in school history and a share of the Pac-12 North Division. The Cougars have finished in the top 13 of every college football playoff standings, including four consecutive weeks ranked No. 8. WSU finished the season with a win over Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl and was ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press and Coaches polls. Senior quarterback and Mississippi native Minshew captivated the nation, leading the FBS in passing yards per game (367.6).
In the spring of 2019, Leach taught a five-week course at WSU on Insurgent Warfare and football strategy, alongside former Washington State Senator Michael Baumgartner.
Leach arrived in Starkville on January 9, 2020, as a 34-year-old from Mississippi Statethhead football coach. He has led the Bulldogs to a 19-17 record, including an 8-4 mark in 2022, and bowl appearances in all three seasons. Leach’s offense has led to the SEC folding in each of the last two seasons. The Bulldogs defeated seven AP Top 25 opponents during Leach’s MSU tenure, who tied for third place by a Bulldog head coach. Leach coached MSU to its two greatest comebacks in program history in 2021.