Mike Leach, a maverick in the college football pantheon, sadly passed away today at age 61 from complications due to a heart condition. Leach had a prolific coaching career, serving as head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State, and most recently, Mississippi State. Leach, along with Hal Mumme, patented the Air Raid offense, a variation of the run-and-gun offense known for its propensity for high scoring.
Before his head coaching gigs, Leach was a coordinator under Mumme, and one of his stops was at Valdosta State, where he coached a young Chris Hatcher at quarterback. Hatcher today offered words of tribute to his former offensive coordinator.
“I’m very saddened about the loss of coach Mike Leach,” Hatcher said. “He was a former coach of mine, a great mentor, and, more importantly, a great friend. We have a lot of memories together that I will always cherish.”
Coach Leach was one of the most exciting personalities in the sport of college football. In a profession full of straight shooters like Nick Saban, Leach brought color and life to every sideline he graced.
You’d want to listen to Leach for hours on end, whether he was riffing on the evolution of dinosaurs or which mascots would win in a brawl. Leach would talk to reporters for so long that they would have to end the call before he did. He even offered wisdom to future writers of his obituary: “Well, that’s their problem, they’re the one writing the obituary… what do I care, I’m dead!”
While Leach did not win a national or conference championship, he changed the sport forever with his charm and coaching skills. Don’t believe me? Mike Leach was a head coach for 21 years. In 10 of those 21 seasons, his team led college football in passing yards. Furthermore, he made 19 bowl games in 21 years, an unprecedented clip. Without Leach, football does not look the way it does today. Caleb Williams just won the Heisman Trophy for his quarterback play at USC. His head coach? Lincoln Riley, a walk-on quarterback and grad assistant at Texas Tech during Leach’s tenure in Lubbock. That is just a taste of how broad Leach’s impact truly is across the college football landscape.
My first Mike Leach memory was probably one of his most famous: his home win in 2008 over the No. 1 Texas Longhorns. Graham Harrell threw a bullet to Michael Crabtree in the crisp Lubbock night sky with one second left in the fourth quarter, sealing a 39-33 upset and one of the greatest upsets in college football history. I remember Leach sauntering onto the field after the game in a sea of Red Raiders fans, partying it up with the Lubbock faithful. It was a sight to behold, and I finally had a face to attach to my newfound love of college football.
Leach had an unmatched affinity for pirates, and he was a pirate in every sense of the word: a rebel who spread college football chaos wherever he went, capturing the hearts of millions in the process. While his unique personality and mannerisms will be remembered, so too should his Air Raid offense and how it changed football forever. So swing your sword onward, Coach. You will be missed.