My heart broke when I heard Mike Leach was dead.
Maybe yours did, too.
Mine hurt for Leach. For Leach’s wife, Sharon, and their four children. For the players he recruited and coached, as well. For his close friends, fans, and colleagues. In the end, Leach’s heart itself gave out.
Doctors at the University of Mississippi Medical Center did what they could. But they couldn’t save Leach. He died Monday night.
He was 61.
I wrote a column early Monday while we braced for news, pointing out that the football coach wouldn’t have wanted us to sit around, fretting about his health. He’d much have preferred we spent our time on an old-fashioned yarn about cowboys, axes and UFOs. But today, we must talk about Leach.
There was no one quite like him.
The last time I spoke with the football coach on the phone, he told me he couldn’t sleep. This was a couple of months ago. He was up well past midnight in Mississippi, walking his dog, Keira. She’s a lab. Leach and his wife adopted her and the football coach marveled at how well trained the dog was.
We talked about the Pac-12, and pets he had as a kid, and Leach told funny stories while out on that walk.
If you have a Leach story, I’d love to hear it today.
I’m sure others would, too.
A few months ago, I wrote about an emergency-room nurse who had performed CPR and revived a football fan who suffered a heart issue at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Leach heard about it and called the nurse, thanking her for helping a stranger. While on the phone, the coach was coughing and hacking.
He joked: “I may need an ER nurse myself.”
Leach battled pneumonia this football season. Also, he was suffering from a heart condition. He had fluid drained from his chest and lungs. But he didn’t like talking about that kind of stuff.
Mississippi State issued a statement, citing “complications from a heart condition” as the cause of Leach’s death. His athletic director called Leach “a pioneer.” His university president, Mark Keenum, pointed out how Leach’s death underscores the fragility and uncertainty of life.
“Three weeks ago,” Keenum wrote, “Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory in Oxford.”
Now, he’s gone.
Leach’s family thanked the sports world in a statement for “sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.” They also noted that he participated in organ donation. His kidneys, I’m told, were suitable for transplants.
“He gave the gift of life to two other people,” said a source.
Mike Leach was the son of a forestry ranger. He earned a law degree in college. He never played college football, opting instead for rugby. That didn’t stop him from becoming one of the best football coaches of his generation. He was named coach of the year three times in two different Power Five conferences (including the Pac-12 twice) and won 158 games in two decades.
He wasn’t for everyone.
But his impact on football and people who played the sport is impossible to ignore.
Leach challenged conventional thinking. He pushed boundaries. He did things with his offense that almost nobody else would have done. He was outspoken, intelligent, polarizing, had no filter, and made an impact with the players he coached.
My heart broke when I heard the news.
The game was better with him in it.
The world was, too.
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It's a difficult time to be enthusiastic about college football. But in the midst of the mess you have placed value on the places deserving statements of value. Thank you for keeping the eye on the importance of character and of simple gratitude for those who should be admired. Your articles on Leach are fine contributions to the importance we can still find among college athletes and their mentors and coaches. I appreciate that.
That ER nurse he reached out to was my daughter Andrea Perry. He took the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to call her and wish her well in her cancer journey. She was blown away talking to him- we loved him as our Coach at WSU ❤️. Unbelievably sad right now. He was one of a kind and we loved him. Prayers to his family 🙏. RIP Coach 💔