Mike Leach, innovator of Air Raid offense, dies at 61
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 local hospital before being airlifted 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.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury was Leach’s first quarterback at Texas Tech and played there from 1999-2002. He threw for an NCAA-leading 5,017 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior.
“There is no way I would be where I am today if not for Mike Leach and everything he taught me about the game,” Kingsbury said in a statement released by the team. “Truly one of the most innovative offensive minds in football, he was more than a coach. He was a mentor, a friend and one of the most special people I’ve ever met.
“My heart goes out to Sharon, the Leach family and everyone who had the privilege of knowing and loving him. Our sport was better because of Mike Leach and is far less interesting without him.”
His impact on college football over the last two decades runs deep and will continue for years to come.
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.