The MSU Bulldog family and college football community mourn the passing of Coach Mike Leach

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University football coach Michael Charles “Mike” Leach died last night (Monday, December 12) at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, after complications from a heart condition. He was 61.

In a statement, the Leach family said: “Mike was a giving and caring husband, father and grandfather. He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity. We are sustained and uplifted by the outpouring of love.” Prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, hospital staff and football fans around the world. Thank you for sharing the joy in the life of our beloved husband and father.”

Mississippi State University President Mark E. Keenum said, “Coach mike leach cast a tremendous shadow not only on Mississippi State University, but on the entire college football landscape. His innovative “Air Raid” offense changed the game. Mike’s sharp intellect and unvarnished candor made him one of the nation’s true coaching legends. His passing brings great sadness to our university, the Southeastern Conference, and everyone who loved college football. I will miss Mike’s deep curiosity, honesty and open approach to 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 celebrating a hard-fought win at Oxford. mike leach truly embraced life and lived it in a way that left no regrets. That’s a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family in these days and hours. The prayers of the Bulldog family are with them,” Keenum said.

Bracky Brett, MSU’s interim director of athletics, said, “We are heartbroken and devastated by the death of mike leach. College football lost one of its most beloved figures today, but its legacy will live forever. Mike’s energetic personality, influential presence and exceptional leadership touched millions of athletes, students, coaches, fans, family 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,” said Brett. “We’re all better for knowing 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, who was named the 34th state of the state of Mississippith Head Football Coach on January 9, 2020 ended his third season at Starkville and 21St as head coach. He will forever be a college football icon and leaves behind 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.

Mike was born in Susanville, California to Frank and Sandra Leach and grew up in Cody, Wyoming. After graduating with honors 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 finished in the top third of his class.

For nearly four decades, Leach had an unmatched impact on the game of football, including thousands of students, athletes, coaches and staff. He was a two-time National Coach of the Year, a three-time Power 5 Conference Coach of the Year, and the mastermind behind the NCAA’s record-breaking “Air Raid” offense.

Leach’s accomplishments in his 21 years as head coach have been long and notable. A proven winner who established a culture of excellence at every stop in his career, Leach compiled a 158-107 (.596) record, led his teams to 19 bowl games, produced seven seasons with at least nine wins, and won two conference divisions title, became the most successful coach in Texas Tech history and set school records for bowl appearances at both Texas Tech (10) and Washington State (6). In 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 ranks second among active SEC coaches and fifth among active Power 5 coaches. Of the 50 most productive passing-yardage seasons in FBS history, 10 have come from quarterbacks coached by Leach since he joined Texas Tech as head coach in 2000. These included one season from Kliff Kingsbury, one from BJ Symons (2003) and one from Sonny Cumbie, three from Graham Harrell (2006-08), one from Connor Halliday, one from Luke Falk (2015), one from Gardner Minshew II ( 2018) and one by Anthony Gordon (2019).

A passionate educator, mentor, historian, and lifelong learner, Leach had a deep admiration for academics. He taught his players that as his teams regularly set records for GPA and completion rates. A master storyteller, Leach penned a 2011 New York Times best-selling autobiography entitled Swing Your Sword: Leading in Football and in Life. Later he wrote Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior in 2014.

Leach has built arguably the largest coaching tree in college football and has given countless coaches a foothold 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 more.

Leach began his coaching career in 1987 as an assistant at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo before retiring from College of the Desert in 1988 and as head coach of the European Football League in Pori, Finland in 1989.

Leach teamed up with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan College in 1989, where the duo developed the famous air raid offensive. From 1989 to 1991, Leach served as offensive coordinator and line coach for a unit that led the NAIA in passing yard one season and finished second in the other two. Iowa Wesleyan quarterbacks rushed for more than 11,000 yards in Leach’s three seasons and broke 26 national records.

Leach and Mumme then spent five seasons at Valdosta State (1992-96) and then two seasons at Kentucky (1997-98).

Leach was named Division II Offensive Coordinator of the Year by American Football Quarterly Magazine in 1996 and helped Mumme lead Valdosta State to a 40-17-1 record. The 1993 Blazer offense broke 66 school records, 22 conference records, and seven national records. In 1994, Valdosta State advanced to the Division II playoffs, with Leach’s offense breaking 80 school records, 35 conference records, and seven other national records.

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’ staff in Oklahoma in 1999 as an offensive coordinator. He led an offense by Sooner that went from one of the worst in the Big 12 Conference to one of the best. In just one year, OU’s total offensive yards per game improved from 293.3 to 427.2. Under Leach, the Oklahoma offense set six Big 12 conference and 17 school records.

Leach spent 10 seasons as head coach at Texas Tech (2000-09), where his teams made bowl appearances every 10 years. He compiled a school record 84 wins, a school record five bowl wins, and eight consecutive seasons with at least eight wins.

As the architect of the nation’s most prolific passing game, 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 won six NCAA passing titles and three overall offense titles during his 10 seasons at 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 matched the mark previously set by the 1953 and 1973 Red Raider teams. Numerous awards from around the country came in as an unprecedented four players achieved first-team All-America status, in addition to Leach’s three Coach of the Year awards. Harrell, offensive tackle Rylan Reed and offensive guard Brandon Carter each received first-team honors, while wide receiver Michael Crabtree was honored as a unanimous All-American and winner of the Biletnikoff Award for the second straight year.

A total of 18 players were drafted at Texas Tech under Leach’s supervision and 21 others were signed to free agent contracts. In the spring of 2009, four players were selected from the first four rounds of the NFL Draft in what was Texas Tech’s most successful draft of the Leach era.

The program also progressed academically under Leach. During its 10 years, Texas Tech was recognized by the AFCA as one of the best institutions in the country, having consistently had a graduation rate of over 70 percent.

After his time at Texas Tech, Leach spent eight seasons at the Washington State top flight, where he posted a 55-47 (.539) record and was named the 2018 American Football Coaches Association National Coach of the Year and a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year year (2015, 2018). Leach led WSU to a school-record six bowl appearances and was the first coach in school history to lead the Cougars to five consecutive bowl games. They also led the nation in passing in four of his last six seasons.

During the 2018 campaign, Leach put on one of the best coaching performances as WSU recorded its first 11-win season in school history and a share in the Pac-12 North Division. The Cougars have been ranked in the top 13 of every college football playoff ranking, including four consecutive weeks at No. 8. WSU capped the season with a win over Iowa State at the Alamo Bowl and ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press and Coaches polls. Senior quarterback and Mississippi native Minshew captivated the nation and led the FBS in passing yards per game (367.6).

In the spring of 2019, Leach co-teached a five-week course at WSU on Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies with former Washington State Senator Michael Baumgartner.

Leach arrived on January 9, 2020 as the 34ththsenior football coach. He 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 resulted in passing the SEC each of the last two seasons. The Bulldogs defeated seven AP Top 25 opponents during Leach’s MSU tenure, finishing third by a Bulldog head coach. Leach coached MSU to its two biggest comebacks in program history in 2021.

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