Mike Leach, Innovative Football Coach at Three Colleges, Dies at 61

Texas Tech hired Leach in late 1999, and his teams there went on to compile an 84-43 record.

In 2020, shortly after he left Washington State for Mississippi State, Leach shared on Twitter a Coronavirus-related meme, which he later deleted, that presented an image of an older white woman with knitting needles. Its caption read, “After 2 weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf.”

But it wasn’t a scarf; it was a noose, which evoked the Deep South’s history of lynching Black people. Leach apologized and was ordered by the university to undergo sensitivity training.

A defensive lineman, Fabien Lovett, who is Black, transferred to Florida State, saying he felt that Leach’s apology was insincere and that the university’s response insufficient.

Leach is survived by his wife, Sharon (Smith) Leach; his daughters, Janeen Clark, Kimberly Betty and Kiersten Leach; his son, Cody; his father; his sisters, Lindsey Andrus, Mary Quackenbush and Cara Williams; his brother, Tim; and six grandchildren.

Leach was also known for his off-the-field football interests. He taught a course on the connection between football and insurgent warfare at Mississippi State. In addition to his autobiography, he wrote “Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior” (2015, with Buddy Levy).

And, fascinated by pirates, he kept a talking life-size model of one in his office and carried the buccaneer theme into lectures to his players. Following an overtime loss, he talked to his team about pirates for three hours. When he was interviewed on “60 Minutes” in 2008, he recounted another lecture he had given.

“I brought his sword in, this pirate sword replica, and I talked about how are you gonna swing this sword?” Leach said as he wielded the weapon. He asked his players if they were going to wield it “out of control,” blindly, or with precision. He noted how “even the most derelict pirates” sharpen and polish their swords, then compared that to the way players work out in weight rooms.

“Your body,” he said, “is your sword.”

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