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Mike Leach remembered as innovator, entertainer

Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach was remembered Tuesday for his aggressive and innovative offenses and his colorful and eccentric personality.

Leach died Monday night at age 61 from cardiac complications, leaving behind a grieving family and team and an impressive coaching tree that includes the Arizona Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury, TCU’s Sonny Dykes and Southern Cal’s Lincoln Riley.

“There is no way I would be where I am today if not for Mike Leach and everything he taught me about the game,” said Kingsbury, who played quarterback in Leach’s “Air Raid” offense at Texas Tech from 2000-02.

“Truly one of the most innovative offensive minds in football, he was more than a coach. He was a mentor, a friend and one of the most special people I’ve ever met. My heart goes out to Sharon, the Leach family and everyone who had the privilege of knowing and loving him. Our sport was better because of Mike Leach and is far less interesting without him.”

After compiling an 84-43 record with the Red Raiders from 2000-09, Leach went 55-47 at Washington State (2012-19) before joining Mississippi State in 2020. His Bulldogs were 19-17, including 8-4 this season.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said that Leach’s life “touched thousands upon thousands of people through his coaching, leadership, teaching and insightful commentary.”

“We will miss Mike,” Sankey said. “Every conversation with Mike made you think. His humor, depth and point of view continually challenged all of us to think differently and reevaluate our perspectives. His innovative approach to the game contributed to the evolution of college football.”

Leach was a favorite interview for many journalists with his occasionally rambling but always humorous takes on subjects that often had nothing to do with football.

In just one example, he once espoused on which Pac-12 mascot would win in a fight. He said UCLA’s bruin would be “formidable” and Colorado’s buffalo would be “pretty hard to tangle with.” And Arizona State? “You’d have to get one of those Harry Potter activists to read up on how you kill a Sun Devil, because there’s a lot of outside stuff there.”

Leach was known as “The Pirate” for his affinity for the swashbuckling culture, and also due to his daring, take-no-prisoners approach to the game.

“He’s truly a one-of-a-kind,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said, per ESPN. “There will never be another Mike Leach to walk this earth or grace the sideline at a college football game.”

“He changed college football,” former Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said, per ESPN. “He took college football from a very conservative offensive approach where coaches were afraid to make a mistake … I go back to the word fearlessness. He’s not afraid to take risks.”

–Field Level Media


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