Mississippi State coach Mike Leach dies at 61

Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach has died. He was 61.

Leach suffered what the school said were complications from a heart issue on Sunday morning and was transported to a hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. Earlier Monday, Mississippi State said Leach was in critical condition and had his family at his side in the hospital. He died Monday night.

"Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather," the Leach family said in a statement. "He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity. We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, the hospital staff, and football fans around the world. Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father's life."

Leach had been at Mississippi State for three seasons after stints at Texas Tech and Washington State. It’s not hyperbole to say that the eccentric Leach is one of the most influential figures in modern college football history.

His success at Texas Tech made the Air Raid offense more than a novelty and ushered in a new era of passing across the country. Coaches like USC’s Lincoln Riley, TCU's Sonny Dykes, Houston’s Dana Holgorsen and Baylor’s Dave Aranda served as assistants under Leach at Texas Tech, and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury, Tennessee’s Josh Heupel and West Virginia’s Neal Brown all played for teams Leach coached.

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach talks with Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin before an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mike Leach's Mississippi State went 8-4 in 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

"Coach Mike Leach cast a tremendous shadow not just over Mississippi State University, but over the entire college football landscape," Mississippi State president Mark Keenum said in a statement. "His innovative 'Air Raid' offense changed the game. Mike's keen intellect and unvarnished candor made him one of the nation's true coaching legends. His passing brings great sadness to our university, to the Southeastern Conference, and to all who loved college football."

Leach was hired at Texas Tech in 2000 after he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma for a season and ran the offense at Kentucky for two seasons. Texas Tech never finished below .500 in any of Leach’s 10 seasons with the team and the Red Raiders went 11-2 in 2008.

The Air Raid spread across college football in the 2000s as Texas Tech quarterbacks put up eye-popping passing statistics on a regular basis. At its core, the Air Raid is a simple offense. It’s about completing passes to receivers in open space and often involves quick and short throws.

“The life of Mike Leach touched thousands upon thousands of people through his coaching, leadership teaching and insightful commentary,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said.

“We will miss Mike. Every conversation with Mike made you think. His humor, depth and point of view continually challenged all of us to think differently and re-evaluate our perspectives. His innovative approach to the game contributed to the evolution of college football.”

Leach was unafraid to pass in any situation and his offenses often eschewed running the ball in favor of passing whenever possible. Leach’s Bulldogs threw the ball 49 times a game in 2022 to just 23 rushing attempts. Mississippi State’s 79 rushing yards per game ranked 130th out of 131 teams at the top level of college football. Only Boston College rushed for fewer yards per game in 2022.

“Mike Leach was a friend and we are deeply saddened by his unexpected passing,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Mike over the last several years. I never knew quite where our conversations were going but they always made me smile. He was an offensive innovator who always did things his way and was admired for it. His teams were well-coached and extremely challenging to defend.”

Despite his success at Texas Tech, Leach left the school under acrimonious circumstances at the end of the 2009 season after Adam James, the son of former TV analyst and SMU running back Craig James, accused Leach of mistreatment after Adam had suffered a concussion. Leach was suspended from Texas Tech and fired after he refused to apologize to Adam. Leach’s firing came a day before Leach was set to receive over $1 million in guaranteed money from the school. The money remaining on Leach’s deal with the school became a longstanding point of contention for the coach.

After spending two seasons out of coaching, Leach was hired at Washington State after the 2011 season and tasked with bringing the program back to relevance after the Cougars had won eight games combined from 2008-11.

Washington State went 3-9 in 2012 but made a bowl game after going 6-6 in 2013. After another 3-9 season in 2014, Washington State had four consecutive winning seasons. including an 11-2 mark in 2018.

Leach left Washington State after the 2019 season to go to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs finished 4-7 in his first season in 2020 but improved in each of the next two seasons.

His last game was a 24-22 victory against rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl to finish the season with an 8-4 record.

Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett was appointed the Bulldogs’ interim coach Sunday. The school confirmed Monday afternoon that it would play in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Jan. 2 against Illinois.