Loved ones, friends and fans of late football coach Mike Leach gathered Tuesday for his memorial service at Mississippi State University. Leach died last week at age 61 after experiencing complications from a heart attack.
Tuesday’s speakers celebrated the life and legacy of the beloved coach, who reshaped the football landscape with his innovative offensive schemes. They recalled his unorthodox coaching style, unforgettable storytelling skills and intense curiosity about the world.
Here’s a rundown of who spoke at Leach’s memorial service and what they said:
Who spoke at Mike Leach’s memorial service?
Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University
Keenum, who is chairman of the College Football Playoff board of managers, recalled Leach’s effort to convince him that the playoff should be expanded to 64 teams. The most frustrating part, Keenum said, was that his explanation of how it could work actually made sense.
“One of Mike’s many gifts was that his mind was always working,” he said.
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the SEC
Sankey highlighted how Leach’s love of football went hand in hand with a love for learning, noting that the coach continued to teach college classes even after his coaching career took off. It didn’t matter if a scheduled phone call was supposed to be about a single, pressing issue, Sankey said. Leach always had dozens of different ideas and observations bouncing around his head.
Hal Mumme, a former college football coach and former boss of Mike Leach
Mumme described the early days of Leach’s coaching career and a wild recruiting and research trip across the state of Florida. The pair’s time in Key West inspired Leach’s pirate persona, he said.
Bob Stoops, who hired Mike Leach as offensive coordinator in 1999 while he was head coach at the University of Oklahoma
Stoops talked about how Leach was an unusual mix of intensity, competitiveness and deep love for his players, staff members and friends. Leach made everyone who knew him better, he said.
“Let’s take comfort knowing Mike Leach lived a big life and — though too short — a full life,” Stoops said.
Lincoln Riley, head coach for the University of Southern California
Riley told some of his favorite stories about working with Leach, like the time he nearly caused a major traffic accident while talking on the phone with actor Matthew McConaughey.
One of the most amazing things about Leach is just how many lives he touched, Riley said, adding that, as he celebrated his 10-year-old daughter’s birthday Monday, he couldn’t help but think about how much of her life, like where she was born, was shaped by the coach.
Gardner Minshew, who played quarterback for Mike Leach in 2018 at Washington State
Minshew recalled following Leach’s career even before he was recruited to Washington State or played a down of high school or college football.
“To say that playing for coach Leach was a dream, that really doesn’t cover it. He was my favorite coach long before I met him,” he said, adding that during the six months they spent together, Leach “changed what I thought was possible for myself.”
Gabe Marks, who set receiving records while playing for Mike Leach at Washington State
Marks described what it was like to play for Leach, explaining that the lessons he and others learned on the field about efficiency and order changed the way they approach life off the field, too.
Will Rogers and Nathaniel Watson, current members of the Mississippi State football team
The players shared memorable moments with their coach, like the time when quarterback Rogers and Leach got into an in-game argument about what play to run next. As the officials rushed Rogers back onto the field, Leach gave up on defending his own idea and said, “All right, just call something and score.”
Gary O’Hagan, Mike Leach’s agent and friend
O’Hagan said he and Leach discussed everything from the book “Moby Dick” to the shape of snowflakes over the years.
“Mike wanted to believe that anything was possible,” he said. “He lived his life like anything was possible.”
Dave Emerick, who worked under Mike Leach at Washington State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State
Emerick remembered the time that Leach shared a somewhat awkward greeting with someone who had made his way onto the football field. He asked around and learned that the man had actually been Leach’s dad.
As that moment showed, Leach wasn’t always great at showing the love he had for everyone in his life, but he was great at winning people over and changing their lives, Emerick said.
“Our lives were definitely more interesting for having known him,” he said.
Elder Matthew S. Holland of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder Holland reflected on Leach’s faith, noting that the coach read the scriptures every night. The last text thread on his phone was a conversation with a friend about the nature of eternal salvation, he said.
Elder Holland then offered a prayer, thanking God for Leach’s life. “He was an arresting one-of-a-kind character who made us think, gave us wisdom, helped us laugh and inspired our best efforts,” he said.
Neil Price, the “Voice of the Bulldogs”
Price closed out the memorial service with a call to action borrowed from the inspirational message Leach used to share with his players in the locker room.
“Let’s do our jobs. Let’s live. Let’s play the next play. Let’s live to the fullest everyday and may we do that until the clock says zero, zero, zero,” he said.
Memorable quotes from Mike Leach’s memorial service
- “There’s a ball game going on right now in heaven and can’t you just picture Mike? It’s fourth-and-2. He’s on his own 40. You know he’s going for it. He’s got his pen in his mouth, a folded up piece of paper in one hand. He’s signaling with his other hand. ... Rest in peace Mike,” Stoops said.
- “Maybe all of us who received those late night phone calls from Mike — let’s reach out and call each other after midnight every once in a while,” Stoops said.
- “No matter when you were introduced to coach Leach ... one thing’s for certain, you were on one hell of a ride,” Emerick said.
- “I certainly believe his legacy will go far beyond his offensive creativity, the wins, the crazy press conferences, all the great stories. ... He truly did invest in other people. It’s a great reminder for us all to take a little bit of your time and invest it in other people and get to know them and look to help them. It’s amazing how you can change one person’s life. He certainly did that for me, and I’m really grateful,” Riley said.
- “We loved him because he so often loved and lifted us first,” Elder Holland said.
What’s next for Mississippi State?
Mississippi State interim athletic director Bracky Brett confirmed on Dec. 13 that the football team will still compete against Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 2.
“The players are 100% behind playing this bowl game and doing what coach Leach would expect them to do,” Brett said, according to ESPN. “We all know that’s what coach Leach would want, and it’s what we should do.”
Zach Arnett, who spent the season working under Leach as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator, has been named the new head coach of the football team.