Like most sports followers across the land, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach to a heart attack on December 13.
My son, Jake, bought me Leach’s book, Swing Your Sword,” back in 2012. I wrote this column then about the book and re-running it as a tribute to the affable long-time head coach.
I expected the book, “Swing Your Sword” by Mike Leach to be an entertaining read.
I was not disappointed.
It’s easy to see why Leach is considered one of the great offensive minds in the game.
And why he’s considered one of the most controversial..
Leach attended Brigham Young and law school at Pepperdine. His comparisons of being a football coach and lawyer are a bit ominous.
Leach followed former Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme from Iowa Wesleyan to Valdosta State in Kentucky.
They parted ways after that as Leach took the offensive coordinator job at Oklahoma when Mumme went on to Southeastern Louisiana. I believe SLU fans would have fallen in love with Leach.
Leech and Mumme led Kentucky to a 7-4 season in 1999, and the first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1951.
The Wildcats lost to Penn State, 26-14.
Leach said this about visiting LSU:
“My all-time favorite road trip was that visit to LSU. I have coached in a lot of fantastic atmospheres, but LSU is the greatest place to play.”
Leach talks about the slow ride by bus to the stadium, and the way their bus was greeted, some of it not fit to print.
He also talked about Mike the Tiger in his cage on the field.
“I thought I had a pretty good sense of how big a Bengal Tiger, but I had no idea.”
Leach said, “He’s enormous. His eyes are the size of my fists. The bars on that cage they keep him in are no bigger than the thickness of my finger. There is no doubt in my mind that if that tiger wanted to get out of that cage, he’s getting out. I went over to examine him. I felt like my chances of survival were high because he had lots of people to choose from for a snack. He looked a bit bored.”
Leach described Tiger Stadium as “one big intense hostile place.”
However, behind quarterback Tim Couch, Kentucky upset LSU, 39-36.
Leach followed Bob Stoops to Oklahoma. A year earlier, in 1988, he interviewed for the Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Lafayette coaching positions, as well as talking to Arkansas.
Leah recruited quarterback Josh Heupel to Oklahoma.
Asked about recruiting quarterbacks, Leach said the reason teams struggle when graduating quarterbacks is that sometimes their priorities are out of order.They get caught up in arm strength and speed. Did you see the guy throw it through the goalposts while kneeling at midfield.” Leach recalled someone saying. “That’s great, but the last time I checked you don’t throw passes in games from your knees.”
Leach said arm strength is sixth on his list. He has accuracy first, followed by good decisions, how tough, good feet and leadership qualities.
When Leach arrived at Texas Tech he had very little time to recruit. He said recruiting coaches was more important.
Wes Welker signed with OSU two weeks after signing day. Leach said Oklahoma would not even accept him as a walk-on.
“He was this slow, short guy from Oklahoma City,” Leach said.
Welker brought his tapes to the coaches and Leach sent him out to the strength coach to tour the facility so the coaches could watch his tapes.
“It was the most impressive high school film I’ve ever seen,” Leach said. “His production was off the scale. He returned kicks, punts and interceptions back for touchdowns. He caught touchdown passes. Then he finished the thing with an exclamation point, hitting a game-winning 52-yard field goal. This is all in one playoff game.”
Welker went on to start four years, catching 259 passes for 21 TDs, and set an NCAA record with eight punt returns for TDs.
Welker was not invited to the combine and was not drafted. He signed with San Diego as a free agent. Head coach Marty Shottenheimer later acknowledged that in terms of roster cuts, releasing Wes Welker was the “biggest mistake he ever made.” He was later traded from Miami to New England.
Leach was also critizied at times for running up the score while at Texas Tech.
“Next year those third-team guys might be my starters,” Leach said. “If we have an injury or two, they might become our starters next week. Regardless of the score, you’ve spent a long time teaching technique and lifting weights, and if there’s some number-three left guard yucking it up, I will rip him. The buses don’t leave until the clock says 0:00. That means attitude and body language and continuing to develop your skills until then.”
Of course, most people will buy the book to read about Leach’s confrontation with Craig James and his son, Adam, when he was head coach at Texas Tech.
“Adam’s daddy, Craig, came around and campaigned for his son,” Leach said. “He talked about how good Adam was. It all started when we beat Cal in the Holiday Bowl. Craig, who was there to announce the game, came up to our hospitality room. He started talking about how great this kid was and how great the bloodlines of the James family were. I later found out that he tried giving the same sales pitch to the Nevada staff after calling their bowl game, too.”
Leach said his biggest regret was not cutting Adam James.
“I kept hoping he’s develop a work ethic. He had two position coaches, first Dana Holgosen, then Lincoln Riley. He didn’t get along with either one.”
To appreciate the whole story, you need to read the book. Believe me, you will appreciate Leach’s stance against the James’ a whole lot more.
I can’t wait to see Leach back on the field. The interesting thing is that Leach’s first game as Cougar coach will be at Brigham Young, the school where he learned a lot of his wide-open offense schemes. I think Leach will be serving as teacher this time around.
To more ultimate delight, Leach accepted the head coaching job at Mississippi State in 2020. To my utter dismay, his sword-swinging was cut way too short.
Eight Concordia Parish football players will be competing in the 2022 Gridiron Football All-American Bowl Game in Orange Beach, Al., on December 30.
From Vidalia are Sema’J Hayes, Jalin Moody, Zion Buck and Brenden McMillan.
“It’s one more chance for these guys to play a football game,” said former Vidalia High football coach Michael Norris, who resigned as Viking coach last week, but will continue teaching through the remainder of the school year. “It’s a chance to showcase their talents, but mainly it’s a chance to play one more football game together.”
Representing Ferriday High are Chavo Thomas, Bobby Sheppard and Shacoby Boxley.
Aidan Ferguson of Delta Charter is also competing in the contest.
The Gridiron Football All-American Bowl Game is in its fifth year. In 2021, the game was played at Southeastern Louisiana University where 112 players from over five states attended. The game had over 3,000 fans in attendance. 96 of the prospects received college offers following the game.
The purpose of the Gridiron Football All-American Bowl Game is to put on a five star event with top prospects from all over the country for one last game. The game gives a salute to players that currently have offers or are committed to play college football while also giving prospects that do not have offers a chance to show their talents on a national stage. To date, Gridiron Football has a 92% success rate at helping young men get college offers from this game.
The 2022 Gridiron Football All-American Bowl Game is also excited to announce that this will be the first year that there will be a JR All-American Bowl. This will give opportunities to 7th and 8th graders from all over the country to get involved as well as see what it takes to be one of the country’s best High School players. This will also give them an opportunity to see what it takes to get recruited to play at the next level.
“I am super excited to be bringing this game to Orange Beach, Alabama,” said Andy Bryson, CEO of Gridiron Football, “We have had so much success over the years in Louisiana that we needed a bigger venue. The city of Orange Beach has been so welcoming and helpful. I am just so thankful.”
for all the Mayor’s office has done so far.” “I would also like to point out that I am grateful to every school and town in Louisiana that has hosted this game and turned it into the success that it has become. The love and support I have received, truly makes Louisiana a special place.”