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US mourns death of iconic college football coach aged 61

Mike Leach helped revolutionize the sport with his passing game

Leach was a hero at the Mississippi State Bulldogs. ©  Justin Ford / Getty Images

Pioneering US college football coach Mike Leach has died after complications from a heart condition, as confirmed by Mississippi State on Tuesday.

Leach was in his third year as the head coach of the university’s football team, the Bulldogs, when he fell ill on Sunday at his Starkville home. During the current season, he told ESPN that he had been suffering from pneumonia. 

The 61-year-old was treated at a local hospital near Starkville and then airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in the state capital Jackson around 120 miles away. 

“Coach Mike Leach cast a tremendous shadow not just over Mississippi State University, but over the entire college football landscape,” said university president Mark E. Keenum in a statement. 

“His innovative ‘Air Raid’ offense changed the game. Mike’s keen intellect and unvarnished candor made him one of the nation’s true coaching legends.

“His passing brings great sadness to our university, to the Southeastern Conference, and to all who loved college football. I will miss Mike’s profound curiosity, his honesty, and his wide-open approach to pursuing excellence in all things.”

Keenum added that Leach’s death “also underscores the fragility and uncertainty of our lives.” 

“Three weeks ago, Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory in Oxford. Mike Leach truly embraced life and lived in such a manner as to leave no regrets.

“That’s a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family during these days and hours. The prayers of the Bulldog family go with them.”

As Keenum mentioned, Leach was a pioneer in college football who had a considerable impact on the sport over the last two decades.

Known for his gruff and unfiltered demeanor, he oversaw consistent winners at other colleges such as Texas Tech and Washington State. 

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Leach, known as the Pirate, finished his career 158-107 with his quarterbacks often putting up big numbers as part of the Air Raid offense he did not necessarily invent but undoubtedly mastered. 

He left the Mississippi State Bulldogs 8-4 this season, and one of his biggest individual accolades was being named the AFCA national coach of the year at Washington State in 2018. 

Leach is survived by his wife Sharon plus children Janeen, Kim, Cody and Kiersten in addition to three grandchildren.

“We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, the hospital staff, and football fans around the world,” said Leach’s family in a statement. 

“Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.”


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