Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
So unique, Leach was a talented coach
Mississippi State coach Mike Leach talks with Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin before an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mike Leach defied the odds.
A guy who never wore a college football uniform, a guy with a law degree, a guy from a small town who had stops at College of the Desert and Finland among his six jobs, until he was hired as offensive coordinator by Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.
At OU, his high-octane offense was revealed to the nation, and after one season he became the head coach at Texas Tech for 10 years, eight at Washington State and then the SEC and Mississippi State for three seasons.
The only odds he could not defy are the ones no one can beat.
Leach, at the young age of 61, died in a Jackson, Miss., hospital after suffering a heart attack in his home in Starkville.
By helicopter, he was rushed to a bigger hospital where less than 48 hours later he was gone, leaving behind a legacy that was complete with football genius and subjective and often random press conferences.
This may be the carrot calling the potato a vegetable, but Leach was odd at times.
Ask him anything and he had an opinion.
The man’s IQ had to be off the charts and his thirst for knowledge was unquenchable.
He had no secrets. What went through that magnificent brain usually came out of his mouth. That’s why everyone knows he loved everything about pirates.
Last season after a football game, while still on the field, he pontificated about Halloween candies that he liked and how much he disliked candy corn.
Through it all, football was his game and his fame.
He created the Air Raid offense and perfected it at Tech where he was 84-43 overall and 5-4 in bowl games which illustrates teams often needed more than 15 practices to prepare for his bombs away attitude.
He had just led the Bulldogs to an 8-4 season including a 24-22 win over arch-rival Ole Miss in the annual Egg Bowl, and the Dogs were headed to the ReliaQuest Bowl, formerly known as the Outback Bowl.
In his third season, it appeared he had defied the odds of him fitting into a league of mostly buttoned down, humorless coaches who would rather walk on hot coals than be interviewed.
Leach reportedly had Arkansas on his wish list when Chad Morris was fired, but the UA had no interest then, so he used a permanent marker to get that off his bucket list.
That he landed in the SEC is a little remarkable when you consider he didn’t come from anyone’s coaching tree. There were no helping hands for Leach in his career.
He had greater accomplishments than every coach he ever worked for except Stoops.
Leach got his jobs the old-fashioned way, through hard work and success.
Yet, it would be hard to find someone who seemed to love their job more than him and could find humor in almost anything.
When at Washington State, before a game with Arizona State, he said of their mascot: “You’d have to get one of those Harry Potter activists to read up on how you kill a Sun Devil, because there’s a lot of outside stuff there.”
A magazine once interviewed seven of his former quarterbacks who admitted that they hated meeting with their coach because he might talk for an hour on politics or the economy and never mention the next game.
Yet, he was always ready, and so were his teams.
There wasn’t a pass play he didn’t love, but he also respected defense as a necessary evil.
In the world of perspiring arts, Leach was unique. Usually likeable and always himself.
He entertained with winning football, wit, intelligence and a unique view of life.
Mike Leach defied most of the odds in a world stacked with them.
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