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Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach dies at 61

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach dies at 61
Mike Leach, Mississippi State football coach, dies at age 61 00:25

Mike Leach, the head football coach at Mississippi State University, has died, the school announced in a statement. He was 61.

Leach died on Monday, Dec. 12, following his hospitalization over the weekend for health complications associated with a heart condition, according to the university. In remarks shared with Mississippi State, Leach's family paid tribute to him as a husband, father and grandfather, as well as his career and rise to prominence within the college sports arena.

"Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather," the family said, noting that Leech became an organ donor and described the donation 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," the family continued. "Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father's life."  

Head coach Mike Leach looks on from the sidelines during the first quarter of the of the Washington State Cougars' game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Corvallis, Oregon. Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Leach was admitted on Sunday to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, due to an incident at his home in Starkville that Mississippi State initially described as a "personal health issue."

By Monday, the university reported that Leach's condition remained critical, although it did not provide details about the specific medical concerns preceding his hospitalization until the latest announcement confirming his death.

"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 university said on Monday afternoon. "That is the extent of information that MSU has available regarding Coach Leach's condition, and the university will make no other comment at this time."

News of Leach's death prompted a wave of tributes and condolences on social media from across the sports world, including football coaches across the nation.

"Prayers for our dear friend and favorite OU Off. coordinator Mike Leach, Sharon and his family," wrote Bob Stoops, the former football coach at University of Oklahoma, where Leach previously worked as offensive coordinator.

Bill Bedenbaugh, the Oklahoma team's current offensive line coach, echoed Stoops' condolences to the Leach family in another tweet, writing, "Devastated and heartbroken that my coach, Mike Leach, is gone. Coach was one of a kind and had a lasting impact on my life and career. I would not be where I am without him. Love you coach."

"Coach- You will certainly be missed but your impact on so many will live on," said Lincoln Riley, head coach of the Trojans football team at the University of Southern California. "Thankful for every moment. You changed my life and so many others." 

Josh Heupel, head football coach at the University of Tennessee, penned a lengthy message honoring Leach, whom he credits with launching his own athletic career.

"I am heartbroken on the passing of Coach Leach," Heupel wrote. "In 1999, he gave a kid out of Snow College in utah a shot at major college football. He saw something in me when no one else did. Like so many across our sport, I am grateful for Coach Leach's impact on my life both personally and professionally."

Heupel went on to praise Leach's "offensive philosophy and vision," which, he said, "were ahead of his time" and "continue to shape the game today."

"Today is a sad day in the world of college football," Mack Brown, head coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, wrote. "Mike Leach was an innovative football mind, who kept us on our toes. I always enjoyed facing off with him over the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mike's family and friends during this difficult time."

Kliff Kingsbury, who coaches the Arizona Cardinals, also touched on the ways in which Leach positively impacted his life in a statement shared online by Mark Dalton, senior vice president of media relations for the football team.

"There is no way I would be where I am today if not for Mike Leach and everything he taught me about the game," Klingsbury said. "Truly one of the most innovative minds in football, he was more than a coach. He was a mentor, a friend and one of the most special people I've ever met. My heart goes out to Sharon, the Leach family and everyone who who had the privilege of knowing and loving him. Our sport was better because of Mike Leach and is far less interesting without him."

Leach led the Mississippi State Bulldogs through nearly three full seasons, having joined the team in the fall of 2020. After his hospitalization over the weekend, the university announced that its defensive coordinator, Zach Arnett, would replace Leach as head coach in an interim role until his return. It is not clear whether Arnett will now fulfill the position for a longer term.

In its Tuesday announcement, Mississippi State called Leech an icon and "one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football," highlighting his track record of mentorship that helped steer a number of other coaches through the early stages of their own ultimately successful careers.

"Coach Mike Leach cast a tremendous shadow not just over Mississippi State University, but over the entire college football landscape," said Mark Keenum, the president of Mississippi State. "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."

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

Born on March 9, 1961, in Susanville, California, Leach was raised in Cody, Wyoming, as the oldest of six siblings. After graduating from Brigham Young University, where he played on the rugby team, in 1983, Leach went on to earn a master's degree at the U.S. Sports Academy and, later, a law degree at Pepperdine University.

Prior to joining the staff at Mississippi State, Leach served as head football coach at Texas Tech and Washington State University. Outside of coaching, he worked for a time as an analyst at CBS College Sports Network and as a co-host of SiriusXM's radio show "College Football Playbook." He released an autobiography about his life and athletics career, titled, "Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and in Life," in 2011. His second book, "Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior," was published in 2014.

Leach was the subject of a "60 Minutes" profile in 2009, during his tenure as head coach of the Red Raiders at Texas Tech University. At the time, the team had recently recorded its best season in the school's history, with its sudden ascension through the college football rankings widely attributed to Leach's coaching expertise.

 Leach is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their four children, Janeen, Kimberly, Cody and Kiersten.

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