When Mike Leach was hired to be the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs football team, the college football world knew it was only a matter of time until the offensive mastermind’s brand of pass-heavy football made its mark on the Southeastern Conference. But few people expected it to happen so quickly.
Leach, a two-time national coach of the year and former United States Sports Academy Alumnus of the Year, led the Bulldogs to a stunning 44-34 win over the defending national champion LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, La., in the first game of the season on 26 September.
“Our team – offensively, defensively and on special teams – had each other’s backs,” Leach told media after the win. “We had our share of adversity and slugged through it. Everybody was in there and stuck with one another, and that was maybe one of the strong parts of our team.”
Leach earned his Master of Sports Science degree in sports coaching from the Academy in 1988. A native of Cody, Wyo., he is the Academy Alumni President and a past winner of the Academy’s Alumnus of the Year Award.
“I had graduated from law school, but I was really interested in sports and coaching,” Leach said. “The Academy was a really efficient degree. You can still have a job while taking all these courses that elevate your knowledge base. I have three degrees and of the ones I have, my Academy degree was the most efficient program as far as learning something, then immediately being able to apply it to what I was doing.
“The Academy really ushered me into coaching and I’ve been doing it ever since. The education prepared me very well as I was able to get education and experience in coaching simultaneously. Ultimately the skills I learned at the Academy helped me in my coaching career. I obviously didn’t go back to practice law and I’m still coaching today.
“I remember the faculty members at the Academy were very sharp. I developed a real closeness with people there. The faculty gave you a lot of one on one time and the interaction was really good.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for the Academy because I had a great experience. Everything I learned at the Academy I still use all of the time,” he said.
“Getting my degree from the United States Sports Academy has been a huge part of my success.”
Leach began his career as an assistant coach at California Polytechnic State University and worked as an assistant at universities including Oklahoma, Kentucky, Valdosta State, and Iowa Wesleyan.
He eventually landed at the University of Kentucky, where he served as offensive coordinator under head coach Hal Mumme. At Kentucky, Mumme and Leach developed the “Air Raid Offense,” which Leach later utilized as head coach at Texas Tech. Under his leadership, the Red Raiders had an 11-win season in 2008 and nine-win seasons in 2002, 2005 and 2005. The team also led the NCAA in passing yardage four years in a row and his teams produced most of the school’s all-time statistical leaders in passing and receiving.
Leach, 58, arrived in Starkville after eight seasons at the helm at Washington State where he compiled a 55-47 (.539) record and was named the 2018 American Football Coaches Association National Coach of the Year and two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year (2015, 2018). Leach spearheaded WSU to a school-record six bowl appearances and became the first coach in school history to lead the Cougars to five consecutive bowl games. They also led the nation in passing offense in four out of his last six seasons in charge.