MSU’s Mike Leach, pioneering football coach, dies at 61

Sports

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach confers with quarterback Will Rogers (2) during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

(AP) — Mike Leach, the gruff, pioneering and unfiltered college football coach who helped revolutionize the passing game with the Air Raid offense, has died following complications from a heart condition, Mississippi State said Tuesday. He was 61.

Leach, who was in his third season as head coach at Mississippi State, fell ill Sunday at his home in Starkville, Mississippi. He was treated at a local hospital before being airlifted to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, about 120 miles away.

Leach fought through a bout with pneumonia late in this season, coughing uncontrollably at times during news conferences, but seemed to be improving, according to those who worked with him.

“Mike’s family is with him and appreciates the overwhelming expressions of love and support for the coach, but also requests that their family’s privacy be respected at this time,” the school said Monday.

Messages of concern and support for Leach poured over social media from former players, and colleagues and rivals across college football.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Mike Leach, his wife Sharon, their family and the doctors treating him,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Mike’s infectious personality and passion for the game have impacted the sport in so many positive ways during his career.”

His impact on college football over the last two decades runs deep and will continue for years to come.

Leach was known for his pass-happy offenses, wide-ranging interests – he wrote a book about Native American leader Geronimo, had a passion for pirates, a taught a class about insurgent warfare – and rambling, off-the-cuff news conferences.

Leach’s teams were consistent winners at programs where success did not come easy. In 21 seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State, Leach went 158-107. And his quarterbacks put up massive passing statistics, running a relatively simple offense called the Air Raid that he did not invent but certainly mastered.

Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett has been placed in charge of the football team by Mississippi State President Mark Keenum and interim athletic director Bracky Brett as it prepares for an appearance in the ReliaQuest Bowl against Illinois on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Florida.

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