Kirby Smart on Mike Leach: 'His impact was wide and broad'
ATHENS — Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach passed away at the age of 61 on Monday night.
The news shocked the college football world as it mourned a man that changed the game.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart took to Twitter and paid his respects to Leach and his family.
Smart included a picture of himself and Leach talking before a game in Starkville last month. The Bulldogs defeated Mississippi State 45-19 at Davis Wade Stadium on Nov. 12.
The two have faced off twice as head coaches. The other matchup was in 2020 when a short-handed Mississippi State squad came into Sanford Stadium and almost beat Georgia. The home Bulldogs escaped with a 31-24 victory over MSU during the COVID season.
Also, Leach’s relationship with Smart goes way back to the mid-1990s when he was a coach at Valdosta State. The Blazers recruited Smart when he was attending Bainbridge High School, although he ended up coming to UGA and playing for Jim Donnan.
“He was at Valdosta State when I was in high school and his staff recruited me to go to Valdosta State from right down the road, so I know he was there at that time,” Smart said about Leach before Georgia’s matchup with the Bulldogs in November. “I know a lot about him and followed his career because of coach (Chris) Hatcher and because of the air raid kind of family. But I have a lot of respect for what he does. He’s evolved, too. He’s not stayed exactly the same. Their backs and their commitment to the run -- and the air raid. And he’s brought that physicality, really, to the SEC in terms of what he does. They have answers for what they do. They’re usually one step ahead in their answer than you, because you don’t play against them but once a year and they do it all the time. So they have exposure to everything every defense has tried on them.”
Leach was best known for his shared creation of the Air Raid offense. He and former Hal Mumme came up with the idea for the Air Raid when they were at Iowa Wesleyan University. Leach then moved on to coach at Valdosta State from 1992-96. He served as the Blazers’ offensive coordinator, wide receivers, offensive line and quarterbacks coach. He then became Kentucky's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1997-98.
Leach served in the same position for Oklahoma in 1999 before becoming a head coach at Texas Tech in 2000. He turned the Red Raiders’ program around and went 84-43 during his 10 seasons in Lubbock. Leach secured won five bowl games and had a winning record every year. The Red Raiders reached a No. 2 national ranking in 2008 after beating No. 1 Texas.
In 2012, he took the head coaching gig at Washington State after being dismissed from TTU in 2009. Leach compiled a 55-47 record in his eight seasons with the Cougars. Washington State had four winning seasons in Leach’s final five years in Pullman. The Cougars went 11-2 overall in 2018 under Leach and won the Alamo Bowl.
Leach returned to the SEC after a 22-year hiatus when he took the Mississippi State job in 2019. He was starting to turn the program around before passing away this past weekend. The Bulldogs went 4-7 in 2020 but upset defending national champion LSU to open up the year. Leach went on to lead MSU to a 7-6 record last year and a second straight bowl appearance.
The Bulldogs improved to 8-4 overall this season under Leach, led by quarterback Will Rogers. They also went 4-4 in SEC play and are slated to play in the ReliaQuest Bowl against Illinois on Jan. 2., 2022. Leach went 19-17 overall in his time at Mississippi State. His last victory was on Thanksgiving night over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
Smart talked about the loss of Leach during a press conference held on Wednesday.
“His impact is wide and broad. He traveled all over the country to coach. He went from the bottom right down at Valdosta State all the way up to Washington State and coached all over the country,” Smart said. “His impact is really more felt at the high school level. I think it’s because we see what the vision he had in terms of passing the ball (and) throwing the ball from his young years with coach Mumme all the way through now. But what you don’t see is the trickle-down effect that he’s had. It’s where we watch a high school team play, and the elements of his offensive system are pervasive. It’s all over the place. It changed the game from when years ago when it was the wishbone or triple-option. You couldn’t watch a high school game without the wing-T, veer option, triple option (or) wishbone. Now, you see more Air Raid elements than you do those. He had a large part to do with that. A heartfelt feeling goes out to his family.”