Mike Leach left lasting effect years after coaching Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury

Dec 13, 2022, 5:57 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2022, 9:20 am

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

TEMPE — It’s hard to imagine a tougher time in Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure in the desert than the present.

Already dealing with a laundry list of issues in 2022, whether it’s been injuries, off-the-field issues, bad luck, worse play and the hot-seat talk that comes with it all, Kingsbury has not had an easy season by any means.

These last few days, however, have really hit home for the head coach, who watched franchise quarterback Kyler Murray, someone he has grown close with over the years, go down with a torn ACL in a Monday Night Football loss before learning his former college coach and mentor in Mike Leach passed away on Tuesday due to complications from a heart condition. He was 61.

Many in the sports world will remember Leach for the way he carried himself, especially when talking about who would win in a fight among Pac-12 mascots or his disdain for candy corn.

For Kingsbury, Leach was much more than a funny soundbite. He was an architect of the Air Raid offense that so many play callers in both the NFL and college ranks model their game plans after now.

“One of the most impactful minds ever in the history of college football,” Kingsbury said Tuesday. “I don’t know if he’ll ever get that credit because of his quirkiness — because of the presentation if you will — but when you look at how much he changed the game and the figures in the current game, whether it’s Mahomes, who obviously was touched by him through Texas Tech and me and some of the concepts that I learned, he learned.

“Just playing for him, being able to … see a guy who had those types of ideas and would allow players to offer up ideas and actually listen and things of that nature, way ahead of his time. He was a great person, great man, great coach and he’ll be dearly missed.”

Kingsbury spent three seasons under Leach’s tutelage while at Texas Tech from 2000-02. In each of those three years, Kingsbury consistently progressed with Leach leading the way, most notably in 2002 when the former Texas Tech QB threw for 5,017 yards and 45 touchdowns to 13 interceptions on 67.3% passing. Together, the duo helped lead the Red Raiders to a 24-16 mark that included a 2002 Tangerine Bowl victory and two more bowl berths.

The success of the field was nice and all but working with Leach was much more than just the Xs and Os when it came down to it.

“There’s a bunch of (memories), but you would learn a lot about life — probably 50-50 life and football in his meetings,” Kingsbury said. “And he always thought everybody was open. … That was kind of his beauty, he truly thought that his offense was unstoppable. He made you believe in yourself more so than you did. … Everywhere he’s gone he’s won. There’s a method to the madness and it just was an honor to call him a friend.”

“I don’t think he ever realized how big a figure he was in college football,” the head coach added. “I wish he could have seen the outpouring today, because I don’t think it ever hit him like that.”

With four games left in the regular season and entering a short week, the whirlwind of losing his college coach paired with Murray’s season-ending injury has been rampant over the last few days.

Luckily for Kingsbury, he’s relying on those around him to help push through this difficult time.

“It’s been a tough couple days and that’s life,” Kingsbury said. “It’s good to be around the guys, there’s no doubt. Teammates, coaching staff, all those guys. That’s definitely kind of a safe space to be between a tough couple days.”

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Mike Leach left lasting effect years after coaching Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury