“Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather,” the Leach family said in the university’s statement announcing Leach’s death. “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, who was in his third season at Mississippi State and had a 19-17 record at the school, told ESPN after the end of the regular season that he had dealt with pneumonia during the season but was feeling better. His 8-4 Mississippi State team is preparing for the ReliaQuest Bowl against Illinois on Jan. 2, and Leach reportedly was at practice Saturday. The university said Sunday that defensive coordinator Zach Arnett would lead the program in Leach’s absence.
Leach coached at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2009 and at Washington State from 2012 to 2019, earning national coach of the year honors from the American Football Coaches Association in 2018. He had an overall record of 158-107, and next month would have marked his 18th bowl appearance.
Leach made a major mark on college football as a proponent of the record-setting “Air Raid” offense. He helped Will Rogers, a junior quarterback for Mississippi State, break in just 28 games an SEC record for career completions that previously took Georgia’s Aaron Murray 52 games to set. Rogers also holds Mississippi State career records with 10,428 passing yards and 81 passing touchdowns.
Leach’s influence extended beyond his own team. His prolific coaching tree of coaches he mentored when they were players or assistant coaches includes USC’s Lincoln Riley, TCU’s Sonny Dykes, Houston’s Dana Holgorsen and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury.
Off the field, Leach frequently was a breath of fresh air in a sport filled with coach speak, never shying from offering an opinion on any matter he was asked about.
“I mean, I completely hate candy corn,” Leach said last year when asked to rate Halloween candy in one particularly memorable exchange.
“I’ve always liked Lane — and I know you’re not supposed to like anything from Ole Miss — but I’ve always liked him, kind of an entertaining guy,” Leach said of Lane Kiffin, the coach at archrival Mississippi, during his first news conference after getting the Mississippi State job.
“They ought to let me handle that,” Leach said this summer of possible realignment in the SEC. “I’ll have that done by lunch. I think it would be brilliant to let me handle it.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.