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Mike Leach: In Memoriam

A few memories, from the Big Ten fans who watched him over the years.

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Mississippi State v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

As you’ve probably already heard, this morning brought the sad announcement that Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach has succumbed to the medical event that landed him in the hospital a few days ago. He was only 61, and our thoughts certainly go out to his family as they grapple with their loss.

Although Leach never coached in the Big Ten—a bit of a surprise, given that he coached everywhere else, including Finland in 1989—it’s safe to say that Leach was a national college football figure. His impact on the game was significant, in both on-field ways and... well, not. In a profession that rewards “coachspeak” and being as bland as one’s pair of Dockers, Leach, proudly, never fit that mold. The rare coach without much of a playing background, Leach came equipped with both a Juris Doctorate and an endless supply of hoodies; an array of innovative and daring offensive ideas, and more memorable soundbites than anyone else in the coaching profession.

When I read the news, my first thought was “I mostly remember him beating Nebraska 70-10, the Craig James ridiculousness, and the original “fat little girlfriends” quote.” If there is a better trio of things representative of Mike Leach the coach, I’m not sure what they are. I didn’t always like what Leach said (or what he did, if we’re talking about that ridiculous 70-10 game), but there was no denying that he made a unique imprint on this sport that we love. We’ve been reminiscing about Leach all morning in our Slack channel, particularly some of his most memorable games against our teams, and want to give you the chance to do the same in the comments below.

Smooth seas, Pirate. RIP.

BRT: 70-10 against Nebraska in 2004. It was horrifying. It was—literally—like anything else we’d seen up to that point. Nebraska was only three years removed from playing in a National Championship game, and had won three NCs within the past decade. The Huskers getting pasted has become routine in the last 15 years or so, but at that time... things like 70-10 didn’t happen. In fact, it was the worst loss Nebraska had ever had up to that point in time.

Jesse Collins: That was definitely the “omg he threw another INT” game, right? (Ed. Note: It sure was.) Beau Davis threw 8 passes, 4 of which were INTs.

The 2nd half Nebraska drives were spectacular... 3 play TD drive out of half and then...

  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Fumble
  • Int
  • Fumble
  • Int
  • Int
  • Punt
  • Int

I had forgotten the extent of how bad this game was!

BRT: And here Wisconsin thought they were really pioneering something with “/Wisconsin scores again.”

misdreavus79: Penn State didn’t play any games against a Mike Leach coached team, from what I can recall, but the two memories that come to mind were “I dreamed it in my head” from Texas/Texas Tech, and “Oregon died of dysentery” after Washington State upset Oregon. Then, of course, there’s the “Harry Potter Activist” quote when trying to figure out how to beat a sun devil, which was in response to a question about which Pac-12 mascot would reign supreme.

Creighton: Mike Leach was one of the all-time characters from the world of college football. He didn’t always say or do the right thing, in fact sometimes he could be kind of a bastard. But he made you smile a hell of a lot more than he made you frown, and as fans that’s all you could ever ask for. He was an evil genius that reinvented the game in a way that seemed to go against the grain of so many of the boring, micromanaging coaches that are typically the most successful. The game is worse without him in the world, and I can truly say that he will be missed, flaws and all.

Take, for example, his story about Nebraska:

Iowa played Mike Leach exactly one time: In the 2001 Alamo Bowl. I was too young to know who he was at the time, but I remember watching the game at a family friend’s house when all the adults started cracking up at this extremely in-character halftime interview:

RU in VA: What could Rutgers possibly have to do with Mike Leach?

Well, back in 2014/2015, Rutgers in the Kyle Flood era had a home and home series with Washington State. Mike made the comment that “The state has good players, but bad football”.

Reflecting back on this, it was apt, simple, and a bit poetic. Rutgers has always sent players to the NFL - look at Isiah Pacheco on the Chiefs, Raheem Blackshear on the Panthers, the McCourty brothers, etc. etc. But while they’re at Rutgers, the team is ass, my dude.

The college world will miss Mike Leach - he was a Mike McDaniels way before his time.

I also don’t know if this is completely true, but he’s the only HC in history to have coached in the SEC (2x!), Big 12, Pac-10, and Finland.

“My favorite weather pattern happens to be when it rains mud. Dust comes through, rain on top of it, and it rains mud. Now, I know that people that have been here for a while don’t like that particular phenomenon as well as I do. But think about it: How many times in your life are you actually going to see it rain mud?”

Buffkomodo: Mike Leach was one of a kind. When you dig into some of his background, you just marvel at how incredibly talented of a person he was. When you heard him speak, you saw something that is criminally missing in sports and pop culture today: authenticity. He was what you saw. I always have admired him and am very sad to see him pass.

LPW: I loved how off the wall he could get. And look at his coaching tree!

Mike Leach should be posthumously inducted into the college football hall of fame.

I enjoyed all the memes that came out of him vs Craig James, who did NOT kill 5 hookers at SMU, you hear?

I dreaded some athletic director in the Big Ten hiring the crazy pirate, because we’d would all struggle against him. Imagine if Illinois hired him.....

I had some fun with Leach when I imagined him barging in on a Big Ten spring coaches meeting years ago....

Oh my god, the prank he pulled against Texas when he arranged for one of his players to drop a fake call sheet in front of their sideline in warmups .. I didn’t even know about that until today...

He’ll be sorely missed. Too many coaches just stick to the script, on the field and in front of the media. Cap’n Leach just didn’t give a fuck and let it rip. We’re the poorer for the pirate sailing the heavenly seas now.

WhiteSpeedReceiver: He wasn’t boring. In an industry full of Paul Chryst-types, he actually said something. Plenty of times you’d wish he hadn’t, but overall it made things much better for fans.

And he’s faced Minnesota twice in bowl games in wildly different circumstances. The one that matters came first. In 2006 his Red Raiders faced Glen Mason’s Gophers, and proceeded to spot us a 35 point lead well into the 3rd quarter. Then he decided that wasn’t going to work for him and Texas Tech hit the gas.

Glen Mason was fired two days later.

Then years later after Glen Mason’s replacement, noted dipshit Tim Brewster, was fired there was quite a bit of rumbling for Leach to get a shot at Minnesota. Hell, I even wore a pirate hat to half of the games in the 2010 season. But that never happened, because according to legend the ol’ pirate showed up quite late and quite drunk to a press event and former Minnesota AD/prudish dipshit Joel Maturi refused to interview him.

Atinat: Just wanted to say RIP to the Pirate. I liked him, I can understand why some didn’t, but WSR said it best: he wasn’t boring. CFB is better with guys like him in it.

Zuzu: Such incredibly sad news. He was only 61. He was a great coach and I was always fascinated by his career trajectory, being one of the few prominent coaches that did not have a formal college football playing career. What stood out most though is that I think he was an authentically genuine person. He was never not his true self and there was something so awesome about that and led to such quirky and goofy interactions with people. Almost every goofy Mike Leach story or encounter made me smile. I especially love his breakdown of which Pac-12 mascots would win in a fight. His voice in the world of College Football will be missed.

MNW: He was really one of the few true random number generators in college football, which I really appreciated about him. I think the caveats BRT has noted get to the nub of why he was such a personally polarizing figure.

On the field, though, I truly loved some of the complete insanity you would get. Some of the best times to watch Leach were when he took over a new program: You get a quarterback and set of receivers who were not there to run the air raid, suddenly being asked to throw the ball 70 times a game.

And then, suddenly, he would turn around and beat ranked USC in the Coliseum, 10-7. He’d lose to a decimated Minnesota team in the Holiday Bowl, 17-12. He’d run the ball at inappropriate times, throw the ball at inappropriate times, run a non-kneel down play at inappropriate times...

That inappropriateness, for good and for bad, made him an innovator and must-watch television in the world of college football.