College football just lost one of the men who best personified what made college football what it was. He epitomized the sport in many ways. The head coach of the Mississippi State football team, Mike Leach, was an icon for this sport. And the Bulldogs’ legendary head coach has passed away.
Leach is headed out a winner. He came out on top in the Egg Bowl and, despite only being in Starkville for a handful of seasons, he helped breathe new life in Mississippi State football. He’s helped remind folks outside of Starkville that this program can be a winner. Leach put this program back on a solid foundation. But beyond all of that, Leach is leaving behind a remarkable legacy that will almost certainly be celebrated for as long as this sport is played.
His accomplishments are often unfairly overlooked because of the programs he elevated and, well, many of the players he led were also similarly overlooked. People will downplay the impact he’s had on the sport because they don’t realize just how many leaders he’s helped develop during his coaching tenure. And some folks will simply ignore just how revolutionary his offense is and how, when it’s fully running effectively, it allows for programs that aren’t laden with absurd levels of talent to punch above their weight and compete against powerhouses.
Leach deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s changed football as a whole. And he deserves a lot of gratitude from folks in Lubbock, Pullman, and Starkville.
There are ways to preserve and subsequently build upon the impact that he’s had on the Mississippi State football program. And it’s appropriate to mourn the loss of a fascinating man and a great college football coach. We should rally around his loved ones and celebrate all that he accomplished. More than anything, his family, friends, players, and coaches deserve an outpouring of love right now.
After stepping into a bit of a mess of a program, Leach helped Mississippi State get to three bowl games. Though he was only at State for three years, Leach’s quarterbacks in Starkville have already been working on rewriting the record book in the SEC. K.J. Costello shook things up in Leach’s first game in the SEC when he crushed the defending national champs in Death Valley. Now it sure seems conceivable that Will Rogers will end up being the single most productive quarterback Starkville has ever seen.
Hiring Leach was one of the three most impressive things that John Cohen ever did, right up there with getting the baseball hire right by landing Chris Lemonis and then the simultaneous coaching searches for Chris Jans and Sam Purcell. Stealing a college football legend away from a power five program is a tough thing to do. And that’s exactly what happened in 2020 when the Bulldogs got Leach from Washington State.
Following the disappointing end to the 2019 season, Cohen searched around and brought Leach to Starkville to ultimately reinvigorate the program. And it took a couple years to get things rolling in the right direction once more, but Leach’s efforts have the Bulldogs back in the midst of the SEC West, pretty much right where Mississippi State was when Dan Mullen left for Florida.
And that’s no easy feat. Starkville can be a difficult place to win. Still, Leach did just that.
Beyond all of that, there’s the far more important human element here. Since the news of Leach’s cardiac incident broke, there’s been an overwhelming amount of support and love shown online for MSU’s head coach. But there’s also been a bunch of reminders of why Leach made college football so special. And there’s sure been a lot of stories about how Leach impacted the lives of so many by just simply taking the time to spend with them and invest in their lives.
He’s helped develop a number of coaches all across football and has had a hand in altering the manner in which this sport is played.
In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t been on this Earth for very long, but through most of my college football enjoying years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed keeping up with what Leach has done for this sport. I was peripherally aware of what he was doing at Texas Tech while he was in Lubbock (it’s admittedly hard to live in Texas and not be at least remotely familiar with this memorable and quirky quote machine of a head coach who loves pirates and lives out in West Texas).
His time at Washington State was a lot of fun to watch as he steadily elevated the Cougars into one of the most entertaining programs the Pac-12 had to offer.
Daniel Black and Justin Strawn (and some others) might be able to attest to this, but when coaching rumors were floating around Starkville at various times between 2014 and 2016 and it sounded like other programs might be interested in convincing Dan Mullen to leave town, I advocated (tweeted) heavily (several times) about somehow convincing Leach to move to the SEC and take up residence in Starkville.
I never envisioned that this would one day happen. Though I’m glad it did.
I’ve been critical of his offense’s performance at times throughout the year (I suspect many of us have been and are now regretting such frustrations), but I will forever be grateful that Leach coached at my alma mater. I’ll forever be thankful for his time in Starkville. And I’ll forever appreciate the impact that he’s had on this sport.
Mike Leach forever. Let’s Raid the Air.