Mike Leach’s affect extends deeply into CFP title sport

Mike Leach wasn’t one to get too romantic about his personal legacy. His thoughts cherished to wander, however particularly so when he was being requested about himself or his impression on school soccer.

It’s doubtless he wouldn’t have recognized what to make of the scene Saturday on the School Soccer Playoff media day in downtown Los Angeles, the place one in every of his many proteges was about to steer a staff into the nationwide championship sport however acknowledged he’s been eager about Leach “constantly.”

Leach died Dec. 12 after struggling a coronary heart assault. He was 61.

“I wish he was here for the ride,” Texas Christian coach Sonny Dykes mentioned. “He would be one of those guys that would have had an invitation to come with us and spend some time with us here in L.A. and come to the game. I’m sure he would have declined, but he certainly would have had an invitation.”

If tragedy hadn’t befallen Leach, a visit to Southern California to tag alongside for the top of the Horned Frogs magical journey would have been a tricky promote. If he wasn’t already in Key West, his cherished offseason custom, he would have been eyeing the dates.

Dykes coached below Leach at Kentucky in 1997 and at Texas Tech from 2000-06. He took his “Air Raid” education with him to go teaching stops at Louisiana Tech, California and Southern Methodist earlier than jetting throughout city to TCU final offseason.

The Horned Frogs will honor Leach with a pirate flag decal on their helmets as they did throughout their upset victory over Michigan within the Fiesta Bowl. However for Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, who performed for Leach at Texas Tech throughout 2008-09, their devotion goes a lot deeper than a surface-level nod to their mentor.

Dykes was capable of communicate with Leach the week earlier than Mississippi State’s Thanksgiving Day sport in opposition to rival Mississippi, and the contents of that decision nonetheless gave him consolation virtually a month after Leach’s sudden demise.

“Mike is not always going to show his emotions and can be pretty stoic,” Dykes mentioned, “and we had some really heart-felt conversations preceding that game. And that gave me a lot of peace. I think we both said some things to each other that we wanted to say. Certainly, I feel that way.

“And it’s sad, just because, he never had an opportunity to play for a championship like this. And what he did for college football in general is really hard to measure. I think he would be proud to see one of his disciples have the kind of success we’ve had. As a matter of fact, I know he was because we talked about it.”

Sonny Dykes, left, and Mike Leach speak earlier than a sport between California and Washington State in November 2016.

(Younger Kwak / Related Press)

“Playing for a guy who was as unique and entertaining as he was, I was like, ‘Hell, this coaching thing looks pretty cool.’”

— Garrett Riley, TCU offensive coordinator, on Mike Leach inspiring him to pursue teaching

Dykes and Riley, the youthful brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley, attended Leach’s memorial service in Starkville, Miss., in December.

Riley looks like he may very well be subsequent in line from the Leach tree to attain stardom after profitable the Broyles Award because the nation’s high assistant coach this 12 months on the age of 33.

“He’s one of the biggest influences on my life,” Riley mentioned Saturday. “I just think about him a lot. When you get to a stage like this, like how in the heck are we here, all those things, and you can’t help but think about him.

“Certainly, he’s here with us, has his hand on us, for sure.”

The youthful Riley credit his time round Leach for, properly, nearly the whole lot.

“Just totally the reason I wanted to coach,” he mentioned. “I was there at Texas Tech when the run they were going on at that point in time was opening eyes to a cutting-edge offense, an offense that was taking college football by storm. Playing for a guy who was as unique and entertaining as he was, I was like, ‘Hell, this coaching thing looks pretty cool.’ ”

As Dykes famous, Leach by no means had the nice fortune to make it to a nationwide championship sport or playoff semifinal. Much like Dykes, Leach was by no means pegged to steer one of many sport’s critical blue-bloods, stubbornly swinging his sword in school cities akin to Lubbock, Pullman, Wash., and Starkville.

Leach believed his “Air Raid” might get a staff there. The pass-happy scheme was designed to stage the enjoying subject, taking proficient defenders and getting them to stumble in area attempting to maintain up with this staff’s relentless precision.

He virtually bought it finished in 2008 with quarterback Graham Harrell and vast receiver Michael Crabtree, going 11-1, however the Pink Raiders misplaced the Large 12 South divisional tiebreaker to a kind of blue-bloods, Oklahoma.

TCU was simply the type of place that Leach knew the “Air Raid” might elevate to unexpected heights.

“It’s kind of built on the same principles as the option in a lot of ways,” Dykes mentioned. “Execution, simplicity, fundamentals, drills, all the things that make the option a big equalizer. That’s the principle in all of this.”

Leach left an impression on most everybody throughout school soccer sooner or later within the final 30 years, and that listing contains Georgia head coach Kirby Sensible.

When Leach was an assistant coach at Valdosta (Ga.) State within the early Nineteen Nineties, the workers recruited Sensible, who ultimately went to Georgia. However Sensible didn’t get to know Leach very properly till the 2 have been teaching within the Southeastern Convention the previous few years.

“My experiences with Coach Leach were just different,” Sensible mentioned. “We played them the COVID year. Nobody warned me that before the game when you went and talked to him that he would talk. And he would talk. And he would talk. And I got worried because you’ve got time limits to do what you’ve go to do pregame. And I couldn’t break away from the conversation. We had run out of time. I’m like, ‘I gotta go.’ This guy’s still going.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart, left, and Mississippi State coach Mike Leach talk before a game on Nov. 12.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart, left, and Mississippi State coach Mike Leach talk before a game on Nov. 12.

(Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

“Then this year, I was a little more prepared. And I thought, OK, I’m going to have my time, allow me to get away. I found myself again, I couldn’t get away. He was talking about South Florida, a place where he goes, how he’s going to go down there after the season. I kept looking at the clock; I can’t get away from this guy.”

Equally, this 12 months’s CFP groups can’t get away from Leach’s aura.

Dykes was requested what Leach would say about TCU’s run to the brink of immortality.

“He would get a kick out of it,” Dykes mentioned. “He would say, ‘You know, you’re still that same guy that was at Navarro Junior College making 288 bucks a month, so don’t forget it.”