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Coach Mike Leach: College Football’s Historically Unique Figure
On Monday night, the college football world lost a shining light as longtime coach Mike Leach passed away “after complications related to a heart condition,” according to ESPN.
Leach was an assistant coach, beginning in 1987, for Cal Poly, College of the Desert, Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, Kentucky, and OU, before earning head coaching jobs at Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State.
It was at Iowa Wesleyan, his first stop with the legendary Hal Mumme, where they pioneered the air raid passing offense, which helped change the trajectory of football as we know it.
As a head coach, Leach amassed a record of 158-107, going 84-43 at Texas Tech, 55-47 at Washington State, and 19-17 at Mississippi State. While these records may not jump off the screen, given the context of the programs that he coached, he did a truly remarkable job.
According to sports-reference.com, he was the 2008 Big 12 Coach of the Year, 2015 and 2018 Pac-12 Coach of the Year, along with being named the 2018 American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
To call his passing offenses prolific would nearly be an understatement.
A quarterback’s dream, it would not be uncommon for Leach coached teams to throw the ball 40, 50, 60, 70, or in the record-breaking case of Connor Halliday, 89 times a game.
During his time as a head coach, some of his quarterbacks included Kliff Kingsbury, BJ Symons, Graham Harrell, Connor Halliday, Luke Falk, Gardner Minshew, Anthony Gordon, and Will Rogers, all gunslingers who put up phenomenal, astronomic numbers. In terms of passing yards in a single season, Leach coached quarterbacks appear eight times in the top 30.
While Leach was a great coach and a pioneer, he will be equally remembered for the person he was off the field.
A genuinely unique, eccentric, curious, intellectual, and caring man, he was incredible about giving people the time of day. Recently, Twitter has been completely flooded with story after story of Coach Leach’s generosity with his time and having intellectual conversations with so many people, even over the most random of topics.
One of the all-time great interviewees, the world was able to get a glimpse inside the mind of this unique personality. Over the years, he covered a wide array of topics, but here are a few of my favorites, from advice on weddings, his rightful disdain for candy corn, or which Pac-12 mascot would win a battle royale. No matter the topic, he always delivered.
It is unlikely that we will ever see an eccentric, unique personality rivaling the likes of the great Mike Leach.
Rest in peace, coach.