My Tribute to Mike Leach: My Ultimate Sports Hero

I realize that it seems cliche and insincere to mourn the death of a celebrity that you have never met, but I have to be honest the untimely passing of Mississippi State coach Mike Leach really hurts on many levels.  I, first of all, just want to preface this tribute by saying that I realize that I am extremely lucky to have lived 37 years on this planet without having someone with whom I am extremely close with pass away in a tragic or untimely manner.  I realize there are people reading this who have had to deal with much great tragedy and grief than I have ever had to comprehend, so I don’t want to make it seem like my grief is somehow comparable to that because it is not.  Nevertheless, on its own level this is a devastating loss for me and others. It is not because I particularly like any of the schools Mike Leach has coached (Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State) because I don’t.  It is not because Mike Leach is some unbelievable football icon whose win totals will never be surpassed, because he is not.  It is because of two very profound reasons explained below that I significantly grieve this loss. 

First of all, Leach was truly one of the most interesting characters in modern sports history.  I am someone who admires and embraces the most outrageous characters in sport and life in general (Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, Andre Agassi, Bob Knight, Stone Cold Steve Austin, John Daly, Muhammad Ali, etc.),and Leach was college football’s most unique personality.  I have followed Leach’s career closely ever since I was in 5th grade and he came to my hometown of Lexington, KY to transform the University of Kentucky’s football team in 1997 as its new offensive coordinator.  Since then, Leach has been revolutionary in so many ways.  His Air Raid offense changed the way the sport was played and led to his immense success, despite his teams always lagging behind in the recruiting ranks.  No one ever did more with less on the football field than Leach, and he did it in the most entertaining way possible.  Even more entertaining than the football he coached were the sound bites he gave.  His musings on first dates, weddings, mascot battle royals, stealing plays, playoff expansion, big foot/aliens, the game of golf, weather, student loans, and halloween candy were always hilarious, insightful, and on point.  His various one-liners were just as legendary, his reaction to his first ever win as an SEC head coach was absolutely classic.  Then there are the stories of his actions and antics which will forever be enshrined in sports folklore such as the class he taught at Washington State on football and military strategy and the fake playbook he used to deceive Texas’ defense at the start of their Red River Rivalry game.  Mike Leach was a phenomenal football coach but an even better human being.  No one mastered the art of mixing honesty, intellect, and football quite like Coach Leach.

Any dedicated college football fan will likely remember and admire Mike Leach for all of the stuff mentioned above, but my connection with Leach feels much more personal than that.  Which leads me to the second corresponding reason this loss is so devastating for me: Michael Charles Leach is the ONE HUMAN BEING WHOM I HAVE NEVER MET that I have felt the most personal connection with and admiration for..  That is right of all the 7.83699 billion people on this planet who I have never had a chance to interact with personally, I have sincerely felt like Leach is my kindred spirit.  Why you may ask?  Because I agree with every quote/rant he ever gave.  Because I am constantly inspired by the meteoric heights he reached in his sport despite never playing a down of college football.  And because I am obsessed with his “tell it like it is”/“anti political correctness” persona.  Leach and I are both quirky insomniacs who share the same political opinions and societal viewpoints, which occasionally have made us the subjects of controversy and public scorn.  I went to law school at least partially because Leach is the only Juris Doctor head coach in modern college football history.  I considered attending Pepperdine University when I was in high school because Leach went there.  I visited Cody, Wyoming while on a family vacation a decade ago because Leach was from there.  Leach has been one of the most profound personal and professional inspirations for me despite the fact we have never met.  

This leads me to my final point: when someone’s childhood/adult celebrity role model dies, most people typically bemoan the fact they never got to meet that person.  With Leach, I actually don’t feel that way.  That is because Leach was so open and so authentic about the way he lived his life and interacted with people, that I felt like I did know him.  In a sporting universe dominated by “coach speak”, Leach was the only coach in American sports to tell us how he truly felt.  In a world obsessed by political correctness, Leach refused to hold back his thoughts and his beliefs.  One tweet I read yesterday really summed up this sentiment well.  It read “in a world full of Urban Meyers, be a Mike Leach.”.  I couldn’t agree more.

I will leave you with this– for whatever reason, God seems to take the most legendary people from us before their time.  Whether it be Abraham Lincoln and  John F. Kennedy in the realm of American Politics; Princess Diana a in the gamut of world leaders; the countless number of musicians and actors who have died young; Roberto Clemente, Len Bias, and Dale Earnhardt who died at or near the prime of their legendary athletic careers; or coaches such Skip Prosser, Jimmy Valvano, and now Mike Leach, legends often inadvertently enhance their legacies by dying tragically or in an untimely manner.  One day the ultimate compliment for me would be to be remembered in the same light as Mike Leach– a blunt, one of a kind character with a quirky persona that was able to achieve success as a person and professional.  However, if I am not, that is okay too.  Because Leach said it best himself a few years ago in an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp

Q: When people write Mike Leach obituary, how do you want to be remembered?

A:  “Well that’s their problem, they are the ones writing the obituary.  What do I care, I am dead.”  

You’re right coach, that is our problem now, not  yours, and this tribute is how I am choosing to address it.  RIP Mike Leach (March 9, 1961-December 12, 2022).

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