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MSU Head Coach Mike Leach Dies: ‘A Coaching Legend But An Even Better Person’

Close up of Coach Mike Leach at a Mississippi State football game
Mississippi State Head Coach Mike Leach died on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, after suffering a heart attack at his home. He was 61 years old. He is seen here looking into the stands prior to MSU's NCAA college football game against Memphis in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Mississippi State University Head Football Coach Mike Leach, 61, died Monday night at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the MSU announced in a statement that included remarks from his family.

“Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather. He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity,” the Leach family said. “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.”

MSU first announced that Leach had been hospitalized after suffering “a personal health issue at his home” in Starkville on Sunday, and said in an update Monday that the coach was in “critical condition.” The university issued the statement announcing his death on social media just before 8 o’clock this morning.

“Coach Mike Leach cast a tremendous shadow not just over Mississippi State University, but over the entire college football landscape. His innovative ‘Air Raid’ offense changed the game,” Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum said in the statement. “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. I will miss Mike’s profound curiosity, his honesty, and his wide-open approach to pursuing excellence in all things.

“Mike’s death also underscores the fragility and uncertainty of our lives. Three weeks ago, Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory in Oxford. Mike Leach truly embraced life and lived in such a manner as to leave no regrets. That’s a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family during these days and hours. The prayers of the Bulldog family go with them.”

a photo of Mike Leach in a maroon MSU zip up kneeling next to a bulldog
Mike Leach became MSU’s head football coach in January 2020. MSU Photo/File

Leach became Mississippi State’s 34th head football coach on Jan. 9, 2020. Before taking the head coach job at MSU in 2020, he served as head coach for Texas Tech from 2000 to 2009 and at Washington State from 2012 to 2019.

Along with his wife, Sharon, Leach leaves behind four children: Janeen, Kimberly, Cody and Kiersten. He was born in Susanville, Ca., and grew up in Cody, Wyo. He played rugby at Brigham Young University, where he graduated with honors in 1983, and later went on to earn a master’s degree from the U.S. Sports Academy and a Juris Doctor from Pepperdine University. 

Leach worked for nearly four decades in the game of football and began his coaching career in 1987 as an assistant at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo; he later spent 21 years spent in head coach positions. The MSU statement notes that he was a two-time national coach of the year and three-time Power 5 conference coach of the year. 

He coached the Bulldogs for three seasons, posting a 19-17 record and an 8-4 mark in 2022. Leach was at practice with the team as recently as Saturday preparing for the upcoming Jan. 2 ReliaQuest Bowl. MSU officials temporarily placed MSU Defensive Coordinator Zach Arnett in charge of the football team on Sunday after the coach’s hospitalization.

“We are heartbroken and devastated by the passing of Mike Leach. College football lost one of its most beloved figures today, but his legacy will last forever,” MSU Interim Athletics Director Bracky Brett said in this morning’s statement. “Mike’s energetic personality, influential presence and extraordinary leadership touched millions of athletes, students, coaches, fans, family and friends for decades.

 “Mike was an innovator, pioneer and visionary. He was a college football icon, a coaching legend but an even better person. We are all better for having known Mike Leach. The thoughts and prayers of Mississippi State University and the entire Bulldog family are with his wife Sharon, his children and the entire Leach family.”

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