Mike Leach left a lasting legacy

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

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In a perfect world, we could all aspire to be a bit like Mike Leach.

He was funny, he loved to be around people, he was a loving family man, and he shaped and molded the minds of young people to prepare them as future leaders.

Mike Leach died Dec. 12 in Jackson, Mississippi after being hospitalized for heart complications. He was 61. While his “big and kind” heart may have failed, his other organs were in working condition. Perhaps it’s only fitting that he was an organ donor.

For those reading this column who are unaware of Mike Leach’s life story, he was a college football coach…and a very good one at that.

His teams were always fun to watch. He was the godfather of the “Air Raid” offense and his playbook was a small piece of paper kept folded in his pants pocket. In FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision…teams competing in the top half of Division 1) history, four of the top nine passing yardage quarterbacks were on teams that he coached. In 21 seasons, he was the head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State where he had a combined 158-107 record.

Always outgoing and witty, Leach was famous for his quotes, a few of which follow:

“Golf is for people who don’t swear effectively enough or need practice at it.”

“We found bones of dinosaurs and everything else, but we haven’t found bones that I’ve heard of, of Bigfoot. It would be fun if there’s Bigfoot. I hope there’s Bigfoot. But my guess would be there’s not.”

“I’ve never liked candy corn. I think it’s just awful. I think candy corn is awful. You know, it’s like fruitcake. There’s a reason they serve fruitcake once a year, because it’s awful.”

“If you get into a fight, don’t take your helmet off…We’re looking for smart football players, not dumb ones. In the interest of time, don’t get into any more fights today.”

“I’m a thin-crust pizza guy. I respect people who like thick crust, but in my view it’s mostly bread.”

There’s also another side to this witty football coach and the best way to share that is through someone who closely followed coach Leach’s career. Rick Karle of WVTM 13 in Birmingham, Alabama spent 35 years as a sports anchor. On his Facebook page, Karle has been sharing coach Leach stories since his passing. Below is my most favorite story to date:

How welcoming, how kind was Mike Leach? Jeff Tyler of Wetumpka, AL contacted me to tell me a great story. It’s a story that reminds us of Coach Leach’s patience, his keen memory and his interest in others.

“Three years ago, I took my 11-year-old son to a Mississippi State game. Jackson wanted to see pre-game warm-ups, so we were practically the first fans in the stadium. We took our upper level seats, and my son asked if he could walk down to the field level seats to watch warm-ups, and I let him.

“Well, this kid somehow managed to convince a security guard that he was supposed to be on the field. The next thing I saw was my son walking up to Coach Leach and fist bumping him.

“The two started talking, and a few minutes later Coach Leach was calling over a couple of his players. Now, my son was a center on his YMCA [football] team. Coach Leach had his centers showing my son how to snap the ball!

“I was in the upper deck, totally dumbfounded that an SEC coach just spent time in pre-game showing some kid he’d never met how to snap a football. My kid comes back to our upper deck seats beaming with pride – I saw it as a memory of a lifetime.

“Two years later we went to another game – my son was again in the front row watching warm-ups. A graduate assistant ran over and yelled, Are you Jackson?’ and my son said, ‘Yes!’

“The graduate assistant said, ‘Coach Leach wants to see you,’ and he took my son out on the field. Coach Leach asked my son if he’d been practicing, and then made him do several snaps. Coach told him to keep working on it, gave him a football and sent him on his way.

“I was in the stands dumbfounded that a coach remembered my son’s name, remembered that day, and knew what spending five minutes of his time with a kid could mean.”

If anyone wonders why Mike Leach was and is so loved, they need only listen to the story of the coach and 11-year-old Jackson Tyler. Then we will all understand…in a snap.

Thanks, Rick, for sharing that wonderful story.

If we could all just take a few moments of our busy schedules and share the knowledge we have gained over a lifetime of work with a young person, what a better place this world would be.

It doesn’t matter if you are a well-known football coach or an “average Joe (or Josephine)”, we can all make an impact by etching a lifetime memory into the mind of a child. They, in turn, will do the same upon reaching adulthood. What a wonderful Christmas present this will make….and it doesn’t cost a single dime

The sudden passing of coach Leach also serves as an important reminder. Not a single one of us is promised tomorrow….or the next minute for that matter. The only life guarantee we can rely on is the breath we just exhaled.

So, with that in mind, I encourage you (myself included) to wrap your arms tight around your loved ones and share your feelings….there’s no better gift during this holiday season than love.

Merry Christmas to all!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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