Former Mississippi State coach Mike Leach was a luminary and a larger-than-life character in college football. On Tuesday, his impact was spelled out in detail as friends, coaches and players shared personal stories of Leach's humanity, his sense of humor and the deep curiosity that drove him to the highest levels of the sport.
Leach died on Dec. 12 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson from a heart condition. He was 61 years old.
At Humphrey Coliseum on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, Mississippi State held a memorial for its departed head coach with some of college football's most recognizable figures in attendance. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and USC coach Lincoln Riley were some of those who eulogized Leach.
Many of his protégés, including TCU coach Sonny Dykes and Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, traveled to Starkville for the memorial. Some of his competitors in the SEC, including Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, came to pay their respects as well.
As the service was about to begin, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" played over the sound system. It was quickly apparent with every speaker who came on stage that Leach, who was born in California and raised in Wyoming, had carved his own path -- from college rugby player to Power 5 head coach.
Many in attendance wore cowbell-shaped pins on their suit jackets. Inside the cowbell was a skull and crossbones, a nod to Leach's nickname, Pirate.
Mississippi State president Mark Keenum recalled meeting Leach for the first time before he was hired as head coach in January 2020. Keenum said he was struck by Leach's "intense curiosity." Keenum said that not only did Leach want to learn about anything and everything, he wanted to share what he'd learned.