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Mississippi State University's Mike Leach, pioneering football coach, dies at 61

Leach was known for his pass-happy offenses, wide-ranging interests and rambling, off-the-cuff news conferences.
/ Source: Associated Press

Mike Leach, the gruff, pioneering and unfiltered college football coach who helped revolutionize the passing game with the Air Raid offense, has died following complications from a heart condition, Mississippi State said Tuesday. He was 61.

Leach, who was in his third season as head coach at Mississippi State, fell ill Sunday at his home in Starkville, Mississippi. He was treated at a hospital before being flown to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, about 120 miles away.

Leach fought through a bout with pneumonia late in this season, coughing uncontrollably at times during news conferences, but seemed to be improving, according to those who worked with him.

News of him falling gravely ill swept through college football the past few days and left many who knew him stunned, hoping and praying for Leach’s recovery under grim circumstances.

His impact on college football over the last two decades runs deep and will continue for years to come.

Mike Leach during a game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Memphis, Tenn
Mike Leach during a game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 28, 2021. Prentice C. James / Cal Sport Media via AP file

Leach was known for his pass-happy offenses, wide-ranging interests — he wrote a book about Native American leader Geronimo, had a passion for pirates, a taught a class about insurgent warfare — and rambling, off-the-cuff news conferences.

Leach’s teams were consistent winners at programs where success did not come easy. In 21 seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State, Leach went 158-107. And his quarterbacks put up massive passing statistics, running a relatively simple offense called the Air Raid that he did not invent but certainly mastered.