Leach still has a big footprint in college football

Published 11:50 am Thursday, July 27, 2023


Kentucky Today

The late Mike Leach left his mark on college football.

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As one of the early architects of the “Air Raid” offense, Leach gained a reputation of running the pass-oriented attack while he was Hal Mumme’s offensive coordinator at Kentucky from 1997-98. Leach died last December at age 61, but in three seasons under Leach in Starkville, Mississippi State coach Zach Arnett learned lessons that will last a lifetime.

“I look at it as a blessing. I got to spend three years under, in my opinion, a unanimous first ballot hall of famer,” Arnett said at Southeastern Conference Media Days last week in Nashville. “I mean, his fingerprints and impact on the game of football are evident throughout, particularly offensive play, in modern football.”

One of the trademark plays Leach called, the Y-cross or 95, is a staple play in many offensive play sets throughout college football. Those were the plays Mumme and Leach ran at Kentucky and you might have seen it in the Wildcats’ 40-34 memorable overtime win over Alabama at Kroger Field in 1997. It was a win that set the tone for things to come during the next two seasons in Lexington.

“That’s a coach Leach and coach Mumme idea that has taken over the game of football.” Arnett said of the offensive scheme.

The last quarterback Leach coached, Will Rogers, a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, agreed with his current head coach. Rogers added that he’s planning on honoring Leach with more passing touchdowns this season.

“We had a really special connection, obviously,” Rogers said. “(I) played three years for coach Leach. (He) recruited me out of high school. Very, very sad when he ended up passing. I look forward to honoring him this year just by playing hard and hopefully throwing a couple touchdowns for him. Just doing as he would do.”

In his final appearance at SEC Media Days in Atlanta last summer, Leach discussed neckties with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

“It was a conversation that went much longer than I anticipated, and it ended in the rhetorical question of why neckties survived but powdered wigs went away,” Sankey recalled last week. “That conversation was with Mike Leach and today I’m without a tie, just to honor Mike’s memory.”

Much like that conversation in July of 2022, Sankey said Leach “was fascinating and impacted the lives of thousands of people across the college football spectrum and across his life.

“He provided wedding advice, evaluated Halloween candy and if you ended up in a phone call talking about history, you better have scheduled a great deal of time as he recited his historical knowledge,” Sankey said. “He also observed the world from a perspective that made you think. It often made you laugh and sometimes made you just perplexed.

“It’s important that we remember people who have contributed, be it for the short term or the long term, to this wonderful conference. We’re going to miss Mike, but he’s not going to be forgotten.”