American Football coaching legend and character Mike Leach passed away on Monday, December 12th, 2022 at the age of 61. Coach Leach, who has affectionately been known in football as “The Pirate,” helped to innovate the game of football through the Air Raid offense he helped create with mentor Hal Mumme.
Coach Leach was born in Susanville, CA in 1961 but spent his formidable years in Cody, WY. Leach played football at Cody High School, and rugby at Brigham Young University. After graduating from BYU, Leach received his Juris Doctorate from Pepperdine University before getting into the world of college coaching.
After stints of coaching at small colleges in California, and a coaching job in Finland, Leach hooked up with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan to coach the offensive line. The rest became history as Leach followed Mumme to Valdosta State and Kentucky, before taking over as the offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Sooners under then head coach Bob Stoops.
The Mumme-Leach Air Raid set records at Wesleyan and Valdosta, as well as Kentucky with future 1st overall NFL Draft pick Tim Couch at quarterback. Leach then helped the Sooners offense moved from 11th to 1st in the Big 12 before taking the head coaching job at Texas Tech.
Over a coaching career that spanned 1987 through 2022, Leach has had prolific passers under his wing. Josh Heupel (Tennessee head coach), Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals head coach), B.J. Symons, Sonny Cumbie (La. Tech head coach), Graham Harrell (West Virginia OC), Luke Falk, and Garner Minshew (NFL QB).
Through 21 seasons as a head coach, Leach complied a 158-107 record including stints at doormats like Texas Tech and Washington State, before his final seasons at Mississippi State. Leach’s teams made bowl games in 19 of his 21 seasons as a head coach, only failing to make a bowl in his first and third seasons at Wazzu.
Leach’s two best seasons, both featuring 11 wins, were at Texas Tech in 2008, and Washington State in 2018. Leach’s longevity of success, considering his playbook has hardly changed in 25 years, is even more impressive. His career impacted many coaches and his coaching tree has been expansive and prolific.
The Leach Coaching Tree
Maybe even more impressive than his winning percentage and bowl game stats is Leach’s coaching tree. Lincoln Riley, Dave Aranda, Dana Holgorson, Neal Brown, Cumbie, Heupel... the list goes on and on. Football Study Hall put together a post with some impressive information on Leach’s Coaching Tree back in 2017. And don’t forget his profound impact on football coach Eric Taylor, below:
Needless to say, when schools wanted a booster in offensive performance- they looked for a Leach “first mate.” The amount of influence Wes Welker, a former Leach wide receiver and assistant, had on the New England Patriots screen game can never be completely accounted for.
Or how about NFL and NCAA pass concept staples like Mesh (sup to Kevin Fielder), Stick, and “6.” Mike Leach’s legacy will always be his quirky interviews on dating, marriage, candy, and technology- but he was much more than that.
Leach was also an author. He wrote his autobiography Swing your Sword with University of Miami graduate and fan Bruce Feldman. He also wrote, Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior. Leach was the focus of two of The Athletic’s greatest pieces. One on Mike Leach making first impressions, and the other on his infamous quarterback room meetings. Leach loved indigenous tribes, but also pirates and Key West- and the latter duo takes us to Coral Gables.
Mike Leach loved The U
Before leading his Red Raiders to their most famous win in school history over the Texas Longhorns in 2008, Mike Leach lobbied for the Hurricanes head coaching job between the Larry Coker and Randy Shannon Eras back in 2006, and again in 2010 before The U hired Al Golden as head coach.
Shannon’s Mark Whipple and Patrick Nix offenses were mostly bad, but Al Golden’s issue was defense- not offense. However it would’ve been an interesting sociology study to see Leach in orange and green. The man knew how to rebuild a roster, hire assistant coaches, and strength and conditioning coaches.
Leach had an eye for talent like no other, and there’s no way he passes on Miami Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater- who lit up scoreboard and beat Miami while starting QB at Louisville. He would’ve seen Bridgewater’s talent and Bridgewater would’ve thrived in the Air Raid for his hometown Hurricanes.
Leach had always loved his Hawaiian shirts and Jimmy Buffett. The Leach family even has a house in Key West, and Leach had been known to spend a lot of time in Miami and Key West during the off-season and after being fired at Texas Tech. Leach wanted the Miami job and even had Donald Trump lobby for him with Donna Shalala. Politics aside, it’s just one more interesting Leach-ian thing to happen over his career.
Impact on The U
Former Miami OC Rhett Lashlee coached under current TCU head coach Sonny Dykes while at SMU. Dykes is part of the Leach tree, and Lashlee learned the Air Raid principles that helped Tyler Van Dyke throw for 25 TD’s and nine yards per attempt in 2021. One of Lashlee’s favorite concepts? Mesh, a Leach staple.
After Miami fans had to suffer through the Mark Richt and Dan Enos antiquated offenses, and now seeing the Josh Gattis behind on the times offense, Miami fans were spoiled a bit with the 30+ points per game of an Air Raid type of scoring prowess. Mike Leach may have never gotten his dream job at Miami, but his impact was felt. And it’s felt all over high school football, college football, and the NFL.
Teams all over the country use screens as outside runs, run mesh and tag rail and wheel routes to the back, dial up stick to big body tight ends, and use “6” (four verts) and the spacing and ‘option’ route concepts from the Air Raid. I truly do believe Leach and his Air Raid could’ve made Jacory Harris a Heisman Trophy winner, and won some serious ball games at Miami.
Mike Leach loved The U, he wanted to be the ‘Canes head coach, and he would’ve thrived on the speed and lanky offensive linemen in South Florida. There would’ve been good years and bad years in an offense like the Air Raid down at Miami, but Leach always managed to win ball games no matter where he coached. His impact on me as a coach, and on the game of American Football, will forever be felt and never forgotten.
Mike Leach’s authenticity has impacted me more than I will ever understand. When we’re dead and gone we all leave behind a legacy. What that legacy is, is up to us. Leave your best, most authentic legacy- and don’t forget to swing your sword.