Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach passed away at 61. He changed the sport. There will never be another coach or character quite like him.
Mike Leach is probably the reason you like football.
At the very least, he’s probably the reason you think it’s so much fun.
There was a time not too terribly long ago when football was all about running, and defense, and more running, and keeping things conservative with the running.
There was a time not too terribly long ago when the NFL was all about running, and defense and more running, and lots and lots and LOTS of interceptions whenever anyone tried to throw. That’s why coaches liked the running.
MSU Bulldog family, college football community mourns the death of Coach Mike Leachhttps://t.co/LzWyLyX3xM
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) December 13, 2022
It’s not that football wasn’t fun, but even the high-flying run ’n’ shoot started with the word run. And it’s not like some teams didn’t bomb away – Dan Marino was pretty good for the Miami Dolphins, and several college programs started opening it up a bit – but it sure wasn’t like it is now.
It’s not like Leach didn’t like the running game. He showed there was a better and more creative way to do things.
He was able to take all the positives from what the new wave passing games did, and the precision of the West Coast offense, and what BYU was cranking up under LaVell Edwards – Leach was a part of that in Provo – and was all in on an offensive style that changed the sport forever.
No, he didn’t invent the Air Raid style, but Leach worked it better, at a higher level, and he made it mainstream. Basically, every passing game you see now borrowed something from him.
No one embodied that more than Oklahoma.
There was no arguing with the success of the Sooner program that was so dominant for so long with its wishbone style of ground attack, but the forward pass was just something to do when the offense got bored of rolling for five yards a carry.
It was just one year at Norman after what he and Hal Mumme were able to unleash at Kentucky, but as the OU offensive coordinator, Leach took a program’s foundation and pivoted it into one of the most dangerous offensive teams over the last 25 years.
Oklahoma won the national title a year after Leach left for Texas Tech, and its quarterback almost won the Heisman because of it. Now Josh Heupel is doing just fine for himself as the head coach at Tennessee. No matter what kind of a fan you are, you probably like watching that Volunteer offense.
And you probably enjoy how college football went from three yards and a cloud of dust to the consistently best quarterback play by 1,000 miles over the 150 years of the game.
You probably liked that Tom Brady guy over the last 20+ years, too.
No, the NFL didn’t totally take the Mike Leach style of Air Raid offense in all phases, but the attack certainly stylistically influenced absolutely everything.
The five-yard pass became the new running game.
His teams became the working model for how the passing game could be used. Others saw what the Leach style was doing, lifted its basic principles, and used it to fit their own personnel and style. Leach was about to do the same thing himself.
We were all just about to see what he could do in his next act.
It all worked fine at Texas Tech and Washington State, but he was never able to get the SEC/NFL-level defensive guys like he could at Mississippi State. Now Leach could show all he could do with time to build things up with star parts in all phases, and in that, there’s inspiration.
Even in your early 60s, you can still take everything you’ve accomplished to a potentially higher level.
Above all else, Leach was one of the most unique characters in the history of college football. Whether you found him funny, abrasive, charming, obnoxious, generous, or any and all of the above, there was only one Mike Leach.
It was all a mix as Leach became one of the most beloved coaches in the sport – everyone has a story about how he went out of his way to be decent when no one was watching – who was still a young man with so much more to do.
He was never like everyone else. He spoke his mind, was never afraid to be a little goofy, and he never, ever held back. In a football coaching world of robots who crash spectacularly the moment they veer out of their talking-football lanes, Leach was just as comfortable discussing anything other than sports.
But when he did talk football, he saw things far, far differently than anyone else – and no one got that more than his peers.
The NFL changed forever because of him. Quarterbacks have made billions because of him. Football in general has become what it is because of him.
College football will never be the same without Mike Leach.