Mike Leach

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Courtesy Deseret News

Mike Leach was a longtime college football coach who was the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the time of his death on December 12, 2022. He died after a hospitalization due to a heart condition at the age of 61.

The tributes that followed his passing included, “He brought a wealth of knowledge to our profession, and I admired and loved how straight up and unfiltered he was. Truly a one of a kind coach and person," (from Kyle Whittingham[1]); “Mike’s connections to BYU and our football program is strong. He is a strong branch of the LaVell Edwards coaching tree. He didn’t play football at BYU but could see the possibilities for his coaching future by learning LaVell’s system. His success on the field is matched by his joy for life and the many people like me, who call him friend,” (from Tom Holmoe[2]); "When Mike Leach passed from this earth, part of America went with him. Our modern-day Will Rogers, our college football satirist, our own walking sports quote machine and unabashed storyteller moved on to hold forums somewhere else in the skies," (from Dick Harmon).

Leach and his wife, Sharon, met when they were both undergraduate students at Brigham Young University. They had three daughters and one son.

In a book excerpt published in the Deseret News, authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian note that Leach had a plan for his life: be a lawyer or a college football coach. He studied and analyzed the coaching of LaVell Edwards, who had “a major impact” on Leach. Although he played college rugby, Leach never played college football due to an ankle injury.[3]

After earning his law degree from Pepperdine University, he did not take the bar exam, but instead, he and Sharon headed to Alabama where he obtained his master’s degree in sports coaching from the U.S. Sports Academy.

He took a part-time assistant’s position with the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo football team, which led him to take other coaching jobs at College of the Desert in California, Iowa Wesleyan College, and Valdosta State University in Georgia. Leach spent a year coaching football in Finland. “He held every position from offensive line coach to linebacker coach to quarterback coach. He even served as sports information director and equipment manager at one school.”[4]

In 1997, Leach was hired as offensive coordinator at the University of Kentucky. His coaching style led to him making an instructional video that sold thousands of copies.

After two seasons at Kentucky, Leach accepted the position as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. He was there less than one year before he got offered the head job at Texas Tech. The opportunity had some downsides. It was 1999 and Tech was on academic probation for recruiting violations, academic fraud, and unethical conduct. Eighteen scholarships were stripped from the football program between 1999 and 2001. Not only would Leach be competing against Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M, but he’d be doing it with 18 fewer scholarships for his first three seasons.
There were other problems. Tech’s graduation rates were among the lowest in the nation. Leach held two advanced degrees and had no interest in a football culture that ignored the importance of academics. Plus, there was the unenviable task of replacing Tech’s Spike Dykes, who had won more games — 82 — than any football coach in the history of the school. In Lubbock, where football is right beside God in importance, Dykes was beloved.
Despite all this, Leach said yes. At 38, a guy who never played college football was off to Lubbock to coach the Red Raiders in the Big 12.[5]

Leach was fired from Texas Tech, and in January 2010, he formally filed suit against Texas Tech for wrongful termination and other claims.

In August 2010, he joined CBS College Sports Network. He also co-host "College Football Playbook" on SiriusXM College Sports Nation Channel 91. In 2011, he published an autobiographical book, Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and in Life, which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list at number six.

From 2012 to 2019, he coached at Washington State. He was head coach at Mississippi State from 2020 until his passing.

During his career, he was two-time National Coach of the Year. During his 21 years as an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) head coach, he compiled an overall record of 158-107.

Leach was born in Susanville, California. He was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.