We lost a legend this week.
When Mike Leach passed from this earth, part of America went with him.
Our modern-day Will Rogers, our college football satirist, our own walking sports quote machine and unabashed storyteller moved on to hold forums somewhere else in the skies.
My heart goes out to his family, wife Sharon and kids, brother Tim, a real estate agent in Utah County for years, and his parents, who also live in south Utah County. They are salt of the earth people.
Mike Leach, dead at 61.
As Andy Staples of The Athletic put it: “You’ve lived an incredible life when, after you go, people come to cry and wind up laughing.”
Leach will go down as one of the great innovators of the college game. A lawyer and graduate of BYU, he will be known for his ability to operate in a corporate college world with an irreverent approach to the politics and madness it has become.
BYU’s athletic director Tom Holmoe, who has known Leach since he was a player at BYU, joins many others nationwide in mourning the loss of one of our great college coaches.
“I am devastated to hear of Mike’s passing. Mike was a BYU alum and has been a friend of ours for many years. His daughter and son both worked in our athletic department while BYU students and were incredible young people. We love the Leach family, and we offer our constant prayers and sincere condolences at this time,” said Holmoe in released statement shared on Twitter.
“Mike’s connections to BYU and our football program are strong. He is a strong branch of the LaVell Edwards coaching tree. He didn’t play football at BYU but could see the possibilities for his coaching future by learning LaVell’s system. His success on the field is matched by his joy for life and the many people like me, who call him friend.
“Peace and love to the Leach family. ’Til we meet again, Coach.”
Leach had that kind of impact on many.
In the sportswriting profession, Leach was a gold mine. Reporters felt very comfortable around him because he was so accessible. His ability to get sidetracked while giving football game quotes and get into the weeds on just about anything became his calling card.
It got to the point where his press conferences often morphed into topics so far removed from the game, it was amazing.
One of my favorite Leach rants was his advice to a player who was planning a wedding. It is classic and exemplifies his humor, his way of explaining everyday challenges, and gives a peek into how he processed things in his mind.
Sometimes using pauses or a little stutter move to shift his brain into the analogies he wanted to make, he would then take off on hysterical oral pathways that could include everything from Viking axes to ego-feeding praise from girlfriends of his players.
Leach could talk football all day, but he could also lecture about pirates, the intellect of Geronimo, aliens, life on other planets, evolution, crop yields, how to do a wedding, Sasquatch, locker room dances or any other topic a person could ask or want to chat about.
Here is a piece I did earlier on the Leach family and Utah ties.
He was the Mark Twain of today’s sports world, a unique American treasure. He had a bottomless reservoir of quotes on any topic imaginable. He was entertaining, genuine and down to earth.
“We are all trying to process the news of Mike Leach’s passing today,” BYU football coach Kalani Sitake said in a released statement. “My deepest, heartfelt condolences are for the entire Leach family. I truly enjoyed and appreciated my friendship with Mike. His son Cody also worked with me on our staff. Mike has left us way too soon. We will all feel his missing presence as an exceptional coach, leader, father, husband and friend and as one of the biggest personalities in our game. Much love!”
While Leach never played football at BYU, he did play rugby in Provo, worked as a graduate assistant with the football program and hung around practices with LaVell Edwards. He wanted to soak up what BYU was doing with the passing game. It was the foundation of his lifetime iconic work that stretched from Kentucky to the Great Plains, from the steakhouses of Lubbock to the Pac-12’s Northwest and the Deep South BBQ hangouts of Starkville, Mississippi.
In 2005, it was Leach who recommended that new Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall hire Robert Anae, who then produced school record-breaking running backs like Curtis Brown and Harvey Unga before leaving for Virginia, Syracuse and North Carolina State.
Long will be the lines of admirers who will speak up, write, remember and share thoughts about Mike Leach.
It will be stories and one-liners that will live forever.