Legacy of Mike Leach: generous genius

Looking back at Leach’s outstanding life



WSU head coach Mike Leach walks ahead of the WSU football seniors as they come onto the field together to be recognized during Senior Night.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

Mike Leach, former WSU football head coach passed away Monday night after suffering complications related to a heart condition. He was 61.

Mike Leach will forever be remembered as an authentic, no-nonsense, football genius who made WSU football relevant again. After nearly a decade of mediocrity, Leach took a WSU football program to six bowl games over the course of seven seasons. He spent eight incredible years on the Palouse.

He left WSU to lead Mississippi State’s program and was in the midst of preparing for the ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida before he suffered a medical emergency at his home on Sunday. He was transported to University of Mississippi Medical Center where he spent his last days.

The setting of the bowl game would have been truly appropriate for Leach, a man who famously loved pirates. While he was at WSU, his office was decked in pirate decor.

Leach was born in Susanville, California but grew up in Cody, Wyoming. He was raised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and was recruited to play football at BYU before he suffered an ankle injury in high school that ended his football playing days.

Leach, despite being one of the greatest minds in college football, never played a down of college football himself.

After BYU. he attended law school at Pepperdine University.

“I went through this thing in law school where I thought ‘do I have a great law practice and coach in my spare time or coach when I retire?’ And I was fearful of putting that off because I was afraid that if I liked it too much I would have big regrets that I hadn’t coached instead of law or something. So I figured ‘well I’m going to coach for two years, maybe three at the most, get it out of my system.’ Well, I’ve been coaching ever since,” Leach said in an interview with the Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth. 

In 1987, he got his first college football coaching job at Cal Poly, coaching the offensive line. Eventually, he got a head coaching job.

After a remarkable 10-season stint as head coach of Texas Tech (2000-2009) in which he had a winning record every year, Leach was hired as head coach at WSU.

In 2012, Leach walked into a WSU program that had not had a winning season in nine years (2003) and transformed it into one of the most entertaining programs in college football. 

He was the architect of a Cougar football program that brought ESPN College GameDay to Pullman for the first time in a magical 2018 season that ended in an Almo Bowl victory.

Leach invented the air raid offense in which practically every quarterback who touched the field excelled. Luke Falk set the Pac-12 Conference record for all-time passing yards under Leach’s system and guidance.

Leach’s leadership has inspired a slew of college players or coaches. His coaching tree includes current Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, USC coach Lincoln Riley and former WSU offensive coordinator Eric Morris.

Leach is responsible for bringing perhaps the most iconic WSU player in recent memory to the Palouse: Gardner Minshew. He transferred to WSU after spending his first season of college ball at Northwest Mississippi and the next two seasons at East Carolina.

He took a standout 2018 season at WSU in which he excelled under Leach’s air raid system and turned it into an NFL career that is still being written.

Beyond football, Leach was beloved as a brutally honest man with a lot of opinions who truly cared about his community. 

His press conferences usually took a lively turn with some of his most beloved moments including him giving a journalist advice about their wedding, talking about which Pac-12 mascot would win in a fight or explaining how he would gladly play the triangle in the marching band.

His 10-minute ponderings of topics like student loans or an expanded college football playoffs are some of the most entertaining 10 minutes one could find on the internet.

While many critiqued him for how he spoke about his players to the media, his commitment to the Pullman community was unmatched.

Leach famously walked from his Pullman home to the Cougar football complex on WSU’s campus each day he could.

In the days leading up to his passing and afterward, people took to Twitter to share their stories of the man who seemed to know everything.

He taught a class in the spring semester of 2019 at WSU with a unique curriculum. He partnered with former Washington state senator Michael Baumgartner to teach a class called ‘Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies.’

Baumgartner explained how Leach’s use of unique football strategies like the air raid turned his opponent’s strengths into weaknesses.

Leach is survived by his wife  Sharon Leach and four children Cody Leach, Kim Leach, Kiersten Leach and Janeen Leach.

Leach’s impact on the game of football is extraordinary but far more important is his impact on each individual he interacted with. His long, curious ponderings and community-oriented heart endeared him to many.

“He wrote about Geronimo, he’s wrote about football, he’s talked about chasing raccoons,” Minshew said in an interview with the Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth. “I don’t know how he knows this stuff but he puts out himself every day and I think it’s awesome and I think it’s how it should be.”