College football lost one of its most colorful and beloved characters on Monday when Mississippi State coach Mike Leach died at the age of 61 following complications from a heart condition.
The university announced Leach’s death early on Tuesday and referred to him as an “innovator, pioneer and visionary” who helped popularize the Air Raid offense.
“Mike’s keen intellect and unvarnished candor made him one of the nation’s true coaching legends,” said Mississippi State president Mark E. Keenum. “His passing brings great sadness to our university, to the Southeastern Conference, and to all who loved college football. I will miss Mike’s profound curiosity, his honesty, and his wide-open approach to pursuing excellence in all things.”
Indeed, Leach was a unique character and he provided plenty of honest thoughts and opinions throughout his decades-long coaching career. And they weren’t just about football. Leach would discuss anything and everything, from candy corn to Bigfoot to pirates and even to a hypothetical Pac-12 mascot battle.
Leach created endless memorable soundbites and clips over the years. Here are just a few of the best that represent exactly what Leach brought to college football from an off-the-field standpoint.
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Mike Leach’s candy corn, Halloween candy rant
One of Leach’s most well-regarded interviews came after Mississippi State’s win over Vanderbilt in 2021. It was eight days before Halloween, and it had been revealed that Leach hated candy corn, a fact that was shared with the broadcast.
Leach was asked about his disdain for the candy after the contest and was asked instead which candies he liked the most.
What followed was a minute-long rant the covered everything from Haribo gummy bears to Almond Joys.
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Mike Leach’s wedding advice
Mike Leach wasn’t a big fan of weddings, and he let people know it over the years. He had multiple rants about the process of getting married, the most recent of which he gave in response to SEC Network reporter Alyssa Lang telling him she was marrying Trevor Sikkema.
What did Leach encourage the two to do? He thought they should elope. Here’s why.
“We’ll keep a close eye on it, but whatever you and Trevor decide, I would kind of keep it on the down low, which you failed to do that,” Leach said. “Trevor was probably planning to, but you didn’t, so go ahead and don’t say anything else about it, but as soon as the season’s over, or even an off week, go elope. Trust me on that. Go elope, because basically every female in the family is gonna terrorize you guys until it’s over. Once it’s over, I mean, they’ll be upset for a few days, but it’ll be over and then you can cruise along and have a happy marriage, have a happy life.”
No football coach has stronger opinions on weddings than Mike Leach
After we talked about the win, I got some advice straight from the source..
Coach Leach, big elopement guy 😂
— Alyssa Lang (@AlyssaLang) October 2, 2022
That isn’t the only time that Leach has bemoaned weddings in an interview. He was asked by reporter Mike Stefansson during his time at Washington State if he had any advice for Stefansson’s upcoming marriage.
Instead of bigger-picture advice, Leach implored Stefansson to stay out of the way during the wedding planning process.
You have to stay out of the way. I wish you a very happy marriage, and I’m sure you’ll have one, but I’m just telling ya, when it comes to marriages, women lose their minds. Your fiancee’s going to lose her mind; your mother-in-law is gonna lose her mind; your mom is gonna lose her mind; several of your sisters and female relatives are gonna lose their mind; and they’re gonna barrage you with constant questions.
Leach went on to explain that his answer to just about every question about his wedding was, “I don’t care,” in his three-plus-minute rant.
Mike Leach’s pet raccoon, Bilbo Baggins
Leave it to Leach to have had one of the most unique pets possible during his youth in Wyoming: a pet raccoon. He detailed that his family took the raccoon in and fostered him in an article for The Players’ Tribune.
The raccoon’s name was Bilbo Baggins, titled after the main character in J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit.”
Leach had plenty of stories about Bilbo’s desire to play with shiny pans in the kitchen. He would climb onto shelves to pull them down and bang them together.
However, Leach also detailed in a way that only he could the night that the family had to let Bilbo go.
“One night, Bilbo got particularly feisty, so my dad and I drove him out to woods,” Leach wrote. “Once we found a good spot, we stopped and I put him on the ground and took his collar off. He kind of ambled about, taking in the new surroundings. I preface this next part by saying I do think humans and animals share an unspoken understanding, to some extent. That’s why it’s so easy to bond with pets.
“So this is how I remember saying goodbye to Bilbo: He wandered 10 yards away or so from the truck, and then he turned and looked at us and kind of had this expression like, It was nice knowing ya. It was this moment where like, both I knew and he knew that we’d had some good times, but this was it. It was onward and upward for both of us.”
Leach spoke about this story in 2017 and revealed that he would like a pet raccoon again, despite their teenage years being difficult.
Covering Mike Leach was funny because he’d refuse to offer anything worthwhile about his team one minute, then give a thorough account of life with a pet raccoon the next.
There is no mind like his, and I’m praying we get to enjoy his musings again soon.pic.twitter.com/MQkSVnRFz4
— Darnay Tripp (@DarnayTripp) December 12, 2022
Mike Leach’s view on Bigfoot, aliens
Leach used to answer one fan-written question per week during his time at Washington State. Plenty of good ones would come in, and that included one about his views on Bigfoot and aliens.
Leach was skeptical about the potential of Bigfoot’s existence.
“We found bones of dinosaurs and everything else, but we haven’t found bones that I’ve heard of, of Bigfoot,” Leach said. “It would be fun if there’s Bigfoot. I hope there’s Bigfoot. But my guess would be there’s not.”
He was, however, far more open to the idea of aliens existing.
“To me, it’s always been naïve. On Earth, they say, ‘We’re the only ones.’ Really? Why? Have you been to the other planets? Have you checked out the other planets? I mean, to me it makes more sense that if it happened here, it happened somewhere else than it does that it only happened here.”
Mike Leach’s Pirates vs. Vikings debate
Leach famously was able to debate topics logically with himself when asked about them. That included his debate over whether pirates or vikings would win in a fight.
Leach was known as a big fan of pirates, and his office at Texas Tech was described as a museum of pirate paraphernalia by ESPN in 2009 feature. So naturally, he had plenty of thoughts on a hypothetical battle between a group of pirates and a group of vikings would play out.
He also provided the reporters on hand with a mini history lesson about each set of raiders, and he seemed to think that they could decide to team up. But he acknowledged that it was a “tough question.”
Mike Leach’s opinion of a Pac-12 mascot battle
In another great self-debate, Leach was once asked which mascot would win a battle royale between the Pac-12 schools. He broke it down on a school-by-school basis to assess which won would have the best chance.
Among his best thoughts:
- Oregon: “The Duck might lose interest and just fly away and get out of there, which may be good advice under the circumstances.”
- Stanford: “The tree, I bet that tree is going to get chopped down. Unless we’re going to go with a bird and somebody might get pecked or something, I don’t know.”
- Arizona State: “You’d have to get one of those Harry Potter activists to read up on how you kill a Sun Devil, because there’s a lot of outside stuff there.”
Ultimately, he gave UCLA’s “formidable” bruin a good chance while saying that Colorado’s buffalo would be “pretty hard to tangle with.
Naturally, he also believed that Washington State’s mascot, Butch the cougar, would have a chance to win. He said Butch would have to be “clear-minded and crafty” to get the job done.
These represent just a handful of Leach’s most memorable quotes and stories from his time as a head coach. They just about capture his eccentric personality and the unique way that he was able to entertain folks off the field.