Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach has died at the age of 61 after being taken to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson on Sunday.
By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
December 13, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy James Snook/USA Today Sports)
Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach has died at the age of 61.
Sources close to the situation confirmed Sunday evening to IlliniGuys.com that Leach was hospitalized with what was categorized as a medical issue related to his heart.
The Bulldogs head coach, who was a college football coach for 35 years including stints as head coach at MSU, Washington State and Texas Tech, was pronounced dead at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi after being airlifted to the hospital following what MSU spokespeople were calling “a personal health issue at his home”.
A source close to the MSU athletics department confirmed to IlliniGuys.com what was reported earlier by ESPN.com’s Chris Low that Leach had been struggling with pneumonia during the 2022 season.
Mississippi State president Mark Keenum and interim athletic director Bracky Brett, who has been the MSU compliance director of the athletics department since 2002 before assuming this temporary post when John Cohen left for Auburn, elected to name 36-year-old defensive coordinator Zach Arnett in charge of the MSU football program until Leach is healthy enough to return to work.
Mississippi State (8-4) is scheduled to play in its 13th consecutive bowl game in Tampa, Fla. when they face Illinois (8-4) on Jan. 2 in the ReliaQuest Bowl at 11 a.m. CST on ESPN2.
Leach did not attend the first official ReliQuest Bowl media conference in Tampa, Fla. earlier this past week but he was present at the team’s practice session on Saturday afternoon before suffering the serious health issue the following day.
Leach was 158-107 in 21 seasons as a college football head coach where his resume included highlights such as 10 consecutive winning seasons at Texas Tech where owned a program-record five bowl wins, four consecutive winning seasons at Washington State, a two-time Pac 12 Conference Coach of the Year selection, was the first WSU coach to ever win 11 games in a season and went 19-17 in his three season at MSU but has increased the season win total from four to seven to eight in 2022.
Leach won the last game he ever coached - a 24-22 victory at Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night in the annual Egg Bowl rivalry between the two Southeastern Conference schools in Mississippi.
Leach was seen in the profession as a unique figure who was outspoken and freely spoken on several off-the-field topics from weddings, pirates, halloween candy and the possible existence of ‘Bigfoot’ and/or aliens. Over the last several years, Leach would spend his offseason time in Key West, Fla. studying topics such as pirates, the Native American leader Geronimo, American pioneer Daniel Boone, grizzly bears, chimpanzees, whales, and American artist/painter Jackson Pollock. Leach's affinity for pirates came to bear in a cameo he made on the NBC TV series ‘Friday Night Lights’ where in the show's fourth season, Leach portrays person at a gas station who implores a despondent coach Eric Taylor, played by actor Kyle Chandler, to "swing your sword" and "find your inner pirate”. In the 2019 spring semester of 2019, Leach co-taught a five-week seminar at Washington State University titled ‘Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies’ alongside Washington politician Michael Baumgartner.
“You guys (in the media) should buckle up. Press conferences with Mike Leach will be at another level and I’m sure we’ll feed off each other quite a bit,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said on Dec. 4 after the announcement of the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl invitation. “He’s a very good friend who I met a long time ago back when he just took the job at Texas Tech. He and I met through some common friends and he was obviously with Bobby Stoops and got to know him through the fashion. I’ve been with him throughout several occasions in our careers professionally and also some personal time with him at some Nike trips and whatnot.”
When asked by ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap how he wanted to be remembered in his obituary, Leach responded in his classic deadpan style of answers.
“Well that's their problem. They’re the ones writing the obituary,” Leach said for the 2019 segment on ESPN’s ‘E:60’ show. “I mean, what do I care? I'm dead.”
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