Mississippi State University head football coach Mike Leach always had people laughing, said Derek Dorris, assistant football coach at Azle High School.
“Story teller extraordinaire,” said Dorris, who played for Leach when he coached Texas Tech.
Leach — who died at age 61 on Dec. 12 as a result of complications of a heart condition, according to a news release from MSU’s athletic department — was both a raconteur and innovative offensive football mind, as he helped introduce the “air raid” offense that commonly uses four-receiver sets.
“Sad news for sure,” Dorris said about Leach in a response to questions from the News. “A great leader of men gone too soon.”
Dorris played at Tech from 1997 to 2000 as a wide receiver and kick/punt returner. He said it was exciting to play for Leach. Now wide receivers coach at AHS, Dorris said he went from catching 40 passes in a season to almost 80.
“A receiver’s dream offense,” Dorris said.
Leach coached at Texas Tech from 2000-09 and had been head coach at MSU since 2020. Before going to Mississippi State, he had been head coach at Washington State from 2012 to 2019.
Before his head coaching stint at Tech, Leach was the offensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma, coaching under Bob Stoops, in 1999. It was then that fans, players and coaches could see what was to come from Leach. Under Leach, the Sooner offense went from one of the worst in the Big 12 Conference to one of the best, as in just one year, “OU's total offense numbers improved from 293.3 to 427.2 yards per game. Under Leach, the Oklahoma offense set six Big 12 Conference and 17 school records,” according to the MSU news release.
One player now at MSU — offensive lineman Jakson LaHue — played at Azle High School and graduated in 2022. He told the News that Leach’s death “was a real shock to all of us.”
He said Leach was “definitely a personality, always late for his own team meetings and practice always started 20 minutes behind schedule, but he was very funny and a very intelligent coach.”
LaHue said he got to know Leach “pretty extensively” during his recruiting, but said once he got to Mississippi State, he rarely interacted with him and “I had only talked to him personally a handful of times.” Mississippi State is scheduled to play Illinois Monday in the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa. The game will be broadcast at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.
LaHue along with Dorris and Azle High head football coach Devon Dorris said Leach had a tremendous effect on the game.
“I think he’s one of the most charismatic college football coaches we’ve had ever,” Devon Dorris said. “And on top of that, he changed the game offensively for every level. You can see his influences on some of his plays and play designs on every level of play, from the NFL to high school. I think that he has had a tremendous impact on the game X’s and O’s wise, but also opening the door for different individuals to be able to be head football coaches.”
He mentioned Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel as someone whose schemes are inspired by Leach, as Leach definitely changed the game on the coaching and schematic side.
“Just look at the number of current college coaches he’s mentored,” Derek Dorris said about Leach. “His style of offense and play calling is everywhere you look in all levels of football.”
“I think he had a huge impact on the football as a whole, taking pieces of offenses back in the day and building one of the most high-powered offensive schemes in the form of the air raid is a pretty big deal considering how much it is used these days especially in college and high school,” LaHue said.
Leach also had a significant effect personally on his players.
“I have never met one of his players that didn’t like him,” Derek Dorris said. “The kind of coach you’d run through a wall for. “
“I think he left a huge impact on his players as well as everyone he met,” LaHue said. “You will rarely find someone who didn’t have good things to say about him, and he never let us forget that we should respect everyone but fear no one.”
- Wade Blake
- KAYLEE PIPPINS firstname.lastname@example.org
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