Mike Leach, the unfiltered, gruff and pioneering coach who helped revolutionize the passing game with the Air Raid offense, died of a heart condition on Tuesday, Mississippi State announced. He was 61 years old.
The Mississippi State head coach, who was in his third season, fell ill on Sunday at his home in Starkville. After being treated at a local hospital, he was airlifted to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, about 120 miles away.
“Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather,” the family said. “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.”
During news conferences, Leach coughed uncontrollably at times during a bout with pneumonia late in this season, but he seemed to be improving, according to those who worked with him.
As news of Leach’s illness spread throughout college football the past few days, many hoped and prayed for his recovery.
“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,” MSU president Mark E Keenum said. “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.”
During the last two decades, Leach’s impact on college football has been profound and continues to be so.
Leach was renowned for his pass-happy offenses, wide-ranging interests – he wrote a book about Native American leader Geronimo, loved pirates, and taught a class about insurgent warfare – and rambling, off-the-cuff news conferences.
Leach’s teams won consistently at programs where it wasn’t easy to succeed. During his 21 seasons as head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State, Leach went 158-107. His quarterbacks put up huge passing statistics while running a simple offense called the Air Raid that he did not invent, but certainly mastered.