A look at notable names on the Mike Leach coaching tree

Just a week ago the football world lost a great influencer of the game. Mike Leach was gone far too soon but the impact he had will never be forgotten. Many Oklahoma fans remember him for that 1999 season, and who could forget the playsheet trick in the Red River Rivalry game?

From high school to the NFL, you can see parts of the Air Raid System being installed. If you loved passing offense, Mike Leach was the man for you. Even his running game had elements of the passing offense. His teams put up points and yards in flourishes.

At Texas Tech from 2002-2009, Leach’s offense ranked among the top 15 in points per game every single season. With Graham Harrell as the quarterback, it reached its peak at 43.8 that season, which was No. 3 in FBS. Twice at Washington State, it was among the top 15 scoring offenses.

Beyond the scoring, he perfected the Air Raid and others have taken concepts and added them to their offenses. Leach left his mark on the game and now his disciples will carry it forward.

I put together a list of the most notable assistants to become head coaches and high-level assistants. From the 2000 Texas Tech team alone, there were a total of nine players and assistants who would move on to become head coach.

Neal Brown, West Virginia Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: WR at Kentucky in 1998

Neal Brown once played under Leach during his stint with the Kentucky Wildcats. He was a reserve player who caught just 10 passes and one touchdown in two seasons. He could go on to coach for Texas Tech as the OC under Tommy Tuberville in his first Power Five gig. Brown held the same position at Kentucky before being named head coach at Troy, where he was once an assistant. The former Leach WR has been the head coach at West Virginia since 2019. He took over for another Leach disciple, Dana Holgorsen.

Head Coaching Record: 57-41

Josh Heupel, Tennessee Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: QB at Oklahoma in 1999

The year before Josh Heupel helped lead the Sooners to their last national championship, he was the signal caller for Leach. After a short stint in the NFL, he returned to the college game at his alma mater as a graduate assistant. Eventually, the southpaw worked his way up to offensive coordinator for Bob Stoops. After stops at Utah State and Missouri as an assistant, he earned his first head coaching job with Central Florida and followed his athletic director to Tennessee.

Head Coaching Record: 45-16

Seth Littrell, Former North Texas Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: RB at Oklahoma in 1999, Texas Tech assistant

Another member of the 1999 team at Oklahoma that would eventually become an FBS head coach is Seth Littrell. Much like Littrell’s father, he won a national championship at Oklahoma. Following the 2000 season, Littrell would join the Kansas staff as a graduate assistant. He would join Leach at Texas Tech from 2005 to 2008 as the Texas Tech running backs coach. Littrell served as an offensive coordinator with Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina before becoming UNT’s head coach in 2016. He was let go following the 2022 season.

Head Coaching Record: 44-44

Art Briles, Former Baylor Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: Former Texas Tech assistant

Art Briles was a former Houston wide receiver and Texas Tech graduate in 1979. He would coach at the high school level in the state of Texas until 2000 when he joined the Red Raiders staff as the running backs coach. He became head coach at Houston in 2003 and left for Baylor in 2008. The sexual assault scandal is what eventually ran him out of the college game and he hasn’t returned since his firing in 2015.

Head Coaching Record: 99-65

Sonny Dykes, TCU Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: Former Texas Tech assistant

Sonny Dykes is the son of Texas Tech legend, Spike Dykes. He joined Leach’s staff at Tech in 2000 after one season at Kentucky. Dykes stayed on Leach’s staff through 2006 where he was promoted from wide receivers coach to co-offensive coordinator. He left for Arizona to become the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Dykes coached at Louisiana Tech, Cal, and SMU, before taking over at TCU prior to the 2022 season. The Frogs became the only other Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to make the College Football Playoffs.

Head Coaching Record: 83-64

Dana Holgorsen, Houston Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: Former Iowa Wesleyan player

As a player, Dana Holgorsen played for Iowa Wesleyan where Mike Leach was the offensive coordinator from 1991-1992. Holgorsen first coached alongside Leach at Valdosta State as the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and special teams coach. Leach was the offensive coordinator. When the Pirate took over at Texas Tech, Holgorsen would join as the inside wide receivers coach. Holgorsen worked his way up to co-offensive coordinator before leaving for Houston to be the offensive coordinator. After a one-year stop at Oklahoma State for the same position, Holgorsen took over as West Virginia’s head coach in 2011. He would return to Houston as the head coach in 2019.

Head Coaching Record: 87-61

Ruffin McNeill, North Carolina State assistant

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Connection to Leach: Former Texas Tech assistant

McNeill started his collegiate coaching career with the Clemson Tigers as a graduate assistant. He would return to his alma mater East Carolina as the defensive line coach in 1992. McNeill joined Leach at Texas Tech in 2000 as the linebackers coach and would remain there through the entirety of Leach’s tenure in Lubbock. He was named interim head coach following Leach’s dismissal, leading Tech to a bowl win over Michigan State. He would once again return to East Carolina as the head coach from 2010 to 2015, Lincoln Riley would serve as the offensive coordinator. When Riley took over Oklahoma, McNeill would join his staff as an associate head coach through 2019.

Head Coaching Record: 43-34

Greg McMackin, Former Hawaii Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: Former Texas Tech assistant

Much like McNeill, McMackin’s collegiate career began long before joining Mike Leach’s staff. He began as a graduate assistant at Arizona in 1968. He first coached a Power Five school as the linebackers coach at Stanford in 1984. He was a defensive coordinator in Utah (1990-91), Navy (1992), Miami (1993-94), Seattle Seahawks (1995-98), and Hawaii in 1999. McMackin was named defensive coordinator at Texas Tech where he stayed for three seasons. In 2008 he took over as the head coach of Hawaii after serving as their defensive coordinator once again in 2007.

Head Coaching Record: 53-39-1

Manny Matsakis

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Connection to Leach: Former Texas Tech assistant

Matsakis started coaching in 1989 as an assistant following his one season in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts as a kicker. He joined Kansas State as an assistant and left for Hofstra to be the offensive coordinator from 1991 to 1993 and rejoined the Wildcats in 1994. Matsakis came to Texas Tech in 2000 as the special teams coordinator. In 2003 he took the Texas State head coaching job but lasted just one season. His only other head coaching experience came from 1995 to 1998 at Emporia State.

Head Coaching Record: 43-62

Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals head coach

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Connection to Leach: QB at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2002

Kingsbury was Leach’s first quarterback as a head coach. At the time that he left Tech, Kingsbury was the Big 12’s all-time leading passer with 12,429 yards and 95 passing touchdowns. Records that stood until another Tech gunslinger, Graham Harrell, came along. Following his playing career in the NFL and CFL, Kingsbury returned to the college game under another Leach disciple, Dana Holgorsen at Houston. He would join Texas A&M as the offensive coordinator, coaching Johnny Manziel to a Heisman Trophy. He took over as head coach at Texas Tech in 2013, where he remained until his dismissal in 2018. Kingsbury also helped develop future NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. He was hired at USC as the offensive coordinator but instead left for the NFL as the Arizona Cardinals head coach.

Head Coaching Record (College): 35-40

Dave Aranda, Baylor Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: Former Texas Tech assistant

Dave Aranda came to Lubbock as a graduate assistant in 2000, he previously served as the linebackers coach at Cal Lutheran from 1996 to 1999. He remained at Tech through 2002 but left for Houston in 2003. His rise to prominence began in 2013 as the defensive coordinator for Wisconsin. He then joined the LSU Tigers in 2016 and led their defense. After the national championship season with the Tigers, Aranda accepted the head coaching position at Baylor. The Bears won the Big 12 Championship in 2021.

Head Coaching Record: 20-15

Sonny Cumbie, Louisiana Tech head coach

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Connection to Leach: QB at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2003

Cumbie was a walk-on quarterback from Snyder, Texas. He would have to wait behind Kingsbury and B.J. Symons to get his shot at playing. Cumbie helped lead Tech to win over No. 4 Cal and Aaron Rodgers in the Holiday Bowl in the 2003 season. He had a brief professional playing career and returned to his alma mater to be a graduate assistant in 2009 and 2010. He remained on staff until 2013 before he left for TCU in 2014. Cumbie would return in 2021 as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. After Matt Wells was dismissed midway through the 2021 season, Cumbie would take over as interim head coach and led the Red Raiders to a bowl victory over Mike Leach and Mississippi State. Following the season he left for the head coaching position at Louisiana Tech.

Head Coaching Record: 5-12

Lincoln Riley, USC Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: QB at Texas Tech in 2002

Much like Cumbie, Riley started out as a walk-on quarterback after his high school playing days at nearby Muleshoe High School. In 2003 he became a student assistant and he remained on Leach’s staff through 2009. Riley left with Ruffin McNeill to East Carolina and joined Oklahoma in 2015, eventually being the heir to Bob Stoops. Riley left for USC following the 2021 season.

Head Coaching Record: 66-12

Eric Morris, North Texas Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: WR at Texas Tech from 2004 to 2008

Morris was a member of the Texas Tech football team from 2004 to 2008 and played with Graham Harrell, Danny Amendola, and Michael Crabtree. It was quite the offensive tandem. He signed with Saskatchewan in 2009 as a free agent. He joined Houston as a quality control coach in 2010. Morris joined Leach’s Washington State staff in 2012 as the wide receivers coach but left after one year to become the co-offensive coordinator under Kingsbury at Tech. He remained with Tech until becoming Incarnate Word’s head coach from 2018 to 2021. In 2022 he would return to Washington State as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. On Dec. 13, Morris was named North Texas’ head coach after they dismissed another former Leach assistant, Scott Littrell.

Head Coaching Record: 24-18

Ken Wilson, Nevada Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: Former Washington State assistant

Wilson first joined Leach in 2013 as the linebackers coach for the Washington State Cougars. He was a longtime assistant at Nevada serving plenty of roles from 1989 to 2012. After coaching at Washington State for seven seasons, Wilson coached two years with Oregon and eventually returned to Nevada in 2022 as head coach.

Head Coaching Record: 2-10

Zach Arnett, Mississippi State Head Coach

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Connection to Leach: Mississippi State assistant

In Mike Leach’s latest stop he gave Zach Arnett his first Power Five job. Arnett would serve as defensive coordinator for the last three seasons. Following the passing of Leach, Arnett quickly went from interim head coach to officially being named head coach of the Bulldogs. He played linebacker at New Mexico from 2005 to 2008. He would join San Diego State as a graduate assistant in 2011 and worked his way up to defensive coordinator in 2018. Arnett would leave SDSU for MSU with Leach in 2020.

Notable Assistants

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  • Wes Welker, Houston Texans Assistant: Former Texas Tech wide receiver (2000-2003)

  • Bill Bedenbaugh, Oklahoma assistant: Former Iowa Wesleyan offensive lineman, Texas Tech assistant (2000-2006)

  • Robert Anae, NC State OC: Texas Tech assistant (2000-2004)

  • Alex Grinch, USC DC: Washington State DC (2015-17)

  • Brandon Jones, Houston assistant: Former Texas Tech offensive lineman (2003-2006), Texas Tech assistant (2007-2008)

  • Graham Harrell, Purdue OC: Former Texas Tech quarterback (2004-2008), Washington State assistant (2014-2015)

Story originally appeared on Sooners Wire