In 2008, I was given a Texas Tech hat following their iconic victory over Texas on Michael Crabtree’s famous touchdown reception. The game was an instant classic and has become known as one of the best in the history of college football.
I remember watching the highlights of the game on ESPN the following morning, as the game had concluded much later than my six year old bedtime. I learned who Mike Leach was, as the media affectionately referred to him as the “mad scientist” or “pirate”.
My dad has a tendency to order things that we sometimes do not need, so as an avid college football fan caught up in the exciting game, he ordered two Texas Tech hats, one for me and one for himself. By ordering one for me, he would be able to defend the purchase to my mom more easily.
I proudly wore my new hat to school and learned more about the “father” of the Air Raid offense in the years to come. I became a Leach fan, rooting for his success at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State.
Mike Leach passed away last Monday, December 12th at the age of 61.
The impact that Coach Leach had on me paled in comparison to the impact he had on those with whom he dealt. During today’s memorial service, there was an overarching message of gratitude. Every speaker thanked the Leach family for sharing him with the world. His football innovations, treatment of others and general uniqueness and authenticity were shared with everyone.
The stories shared over the past week only add to the lore of Coach Leach. Lincoln Riley, USC head coach and former assistant to Leach, shared perhaps the funniest of the day. He was in the car with Leach ahead of the 2008 Texas game when Leach’s phone rang. Matthew McConaughey, a famous Texas alum, was on the other end of the call. Leach began one of his famous long-winded, rambling conversations with McConaughey.
As he often did, Leach got lost within the depth of his conversation, leading to him cutting off a semi-truck, who then drove up next to his car, screaming and cursing at him. Leach, still not focused on his surroundings, thought that they were fans cheering for him, to which he responded with a wave and “Hey guys!”.
To those who knew him, this was classic Leach. He cared about what was important to him and shut out any noise. He was unapologetically himself at all times, whether it was expressing his disdain for candy corn or offering wedding advice.
It turned out that this interesting character was also a really good football coach. Leach was 158-107 as a head coach, earning eight or more wins in 13 of his 21 seasons . His Air Raid scheme has infiltrated all levels of football, revolutionizing the way offense is played. His coaching tree includes Riley, Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, TCU head coach Sonny Dykes, Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, and Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, just to name a few.
Despite these accomplishments, Leach is not eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame’s standard for coaches states: “He must have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.”
Coach Leach’s career winning percentage is .596, just one win shy of attaining hall of fame status.
Leach’s agent, Gary O’Hagan, eloquently spoke on this issue at the memorial. He brought up alternatives to credit Leach with one more win to get him into the hall of fame, but stated that Leach shouldn’t be in the hall simply because he deserved it.
“He doesn’t need to be credited with another win,” stated O’Hagan. “He should be put in the hall of fame because other coaches should want to be associated with him.”
Coach Leach had a magnetic personality. His impact was felt by all associated with football, even by a six year old boy from Long Island, the proud owner of a Texas Tech hat, who would never meet him. There will never be another like Mike Leach.
Rest in peace Coach. You’re a Hall of Famer to all of us.