Mike Leach, football coach and Eagle Scout, dies at 61

Photo by Patrick Green/CSM/Shutterstock

Mike Leach, Eagle Scout and revolutionary college football coach, died Monday night following complications from a heart condition. He was 61.

Leach, who earned the rank of Eagle in 1975 from Troop 58 in Cody, Wyoming, was an ardent supporter of Scouting.

In 2015, when he was coaching at Washington State, Leach was invited to speak at a breakfast fundraiser to benefit Scouts in Moscow, Idaho. There, he reminisced about earning his Eagle and had this to say about Scouting:

“I really do believe in Scouting. I’ve been in Scouting since I can remember almost, and I was thrilled to death when I put on my first Cub Scout shirt.

“(Scouting) is very American, I think it’s very important and it’s always been important to me.

“To get … Eagle requires a lot of support. It doesn’t just require parents. It requires people of the church, people in the troop. I recognize the fact that a bunch of people were involved in my success and then you understand what relationships with other people mean and how together you can do a little bit more.

“Now my son has his Eagle; that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

An entertaining personality

Throughout his coaching career, Leach was known for two things: his role in creating what is now known as the “air raid” offense, and his willingness to answer almost any question a reporter can come up with.

While some coaches just talk endlessly about schemes and strategies, Leach wasn’t afraid to comment on topics such as pirates, random wild animals and Vikings.

Leach first made his first big splash in coaching in 1997, when he took over as offensive coordinator at Kentucky and lit the old-school SEC on fire. Leach’s performance was good enough to get him a job as an assistant at Oklahoma and, eventually, the head coaching gig at Texas Tech. It was at Tech that he once had this to say about the officials making some calls that went against his team:

“It’s a little like breakfast — you eat ham and eggs. As coaches and players, we’re like the ham. You see, the chicken’s involved, but the pig’s committed. We’re like the pig; (the officials) are like the chicken. They’re involved, but everything we have rides on this.”

In 2011, Leach took over as head coach at Washington State, where he made a struggling team relevant again in the Pac 12. At a news conference, he mentioned to reporters that he goes on lots of walks and sees all kind of interesting animals, especially in the winter. When asked what the most interesting animal he had seen was, he came back with this:

“Tracked a raccoon one time in the snow. I was in the neighborhood, and I was just curious where this raccoon lived. There’s some fresh raccoon tracks. He’d been digging at somebody’s garbage. So, I followed the tracks, and I don’t even know if these people know it, but he lives right in the back of their house.

“It was residential enough — I was curious where this sucker lived, so I walked about a half a mile out of my way to sort that out.”

Bigfoot? Aliens? Why not?!?

At a different news conference, Leach was asked if he believes in Bigfoot.

“Do I believe in Bigfoot? I hope there’s Bigfoot. I doubt there is. The reason I don’t think there is is we’ve found bones of dinosaurs and everything else, but we haven’t found bones – that I’ve heard of – of Bigfoot. It’d be fun if there’s Bigfoot. I hope there’s Bigfoot. But my guess is there is not.”

At the same event, he did say he “suspects” that aliens are real.

“I don’t think that they’re little green men. And I don’t know that they’re specifically in our galaxy. … To me, why only this planet? Why only us? On Earth, they always say, ‘We’re the only ones.’ Really? Why?”

Leach was asked once who would win in a battle between pirates and Vikings — assuming of course that they could exist in the same era:

“You have to go with the Vikings if it’s cold weather. If it’s at sea, you have to go with pirates because of course they have cannons and everything. …

“You could almost see them joining forces because the Vikings were a group that would go down those rivers and it wasn’t just like, ‘Well, the only place we can live is Norway,’ or something. I mean, they could go down those rivers all throughout Europe. And if they liked it better where they ended up – they might raid the place first – but if they liked it better, they’d stay. ‘Oh, this is nice. This is a nice place. And oh yeah, the people who live here, they seem nice. Maybe I can marry one of their daughters.’ It would be like that, you know.”

A loving father and husband

“Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather,” said the Leach family in a prepared statement. “He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity. We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, the hospital staff and football fans around the world.  Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.”

About Aaron Derr 262 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.