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John Reitman

By John Reitman

We all can learn from Leach

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Mike Leach celebrates with his team after a win over Texas A&M this year. Leach died Tuesday at age 61. Mississippi State University Athletics photo

By his own admission, Mike Leach hated golf. He called it "boring," and said it is for people "who do not swear effectively enough, or need practice at it."

Given that, he added: "So, I mean there are those that need golf, and I don't think that I do."

Regardless of how Leach felt about golf, there is much that we, including golfers and non-golfers alike, can learn from him. The head football coach at Mississippi State, Leach died Tuesday morning at age 61 from, according to his family, complications related to a heart condition.

Leach was a revolutionary coach, however, he will be remembered for his eccentric and comedic personality off the field, not for wins and losses on it.

Leach was a one-of-a-kind personality. He was not consumed by his trade, nor did he let it define him. The architect of the Air Raid offense, Leach revolutionized college football and forever changed its trajectory. But he never liked to talk about X's and O's or his own contributions to the game. Press conferences or encounters with sideline reporters were more likely to end in discussions about history, politics, pirates or Apaches than they were post patterns or flea flickers.

When he was introduced as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 1999, rather than discuss his offensive philosophy with the media, university administration and fans during the news conference, he went on for several minutes about one of his favorite topics - Geronimo.

When one of his Washington State teams was on a bus headed to the stadium for a date with USC, tension and stress worked its way through the bus among players and assistant coaches. Leach was seated at the front of the bus wearing headphones and working on something with pen and paper. When an assistant asked what he was working on, Leach removed the headphones and told the coach that he was listening to Spanish language lessons on Rosetta Stone.

Leach enjoyed a great deal of success as a coach. In his 21 years as head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State, he guided 19 team to bowl game appearances.

An eccentric and curious lifelong learner, Leach's interests extended far beyond the football field. He was a lawyer by trade, and his interests were much greater than just football and he wore those interests and his personality on his sleeve for all to see. 

That irreverence coupled with what by all accounts appeared to be a genuine caring for others arguably made Leach the most beloved personality in the history of college football. His quick wit and dry humor endeared him to many, including coaches and fans from other schools like no one else college football had ever seen.

When it was announced Monday that he had been transported from Starkville, Mississippi to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson because of a medical emergency, his health and hope for a recovery dominated social media and sports talk TV and radio for two days, and only intensified upon news of his death.

No other coach would have commanded such attention for accomplishments on the field, much less for his personality off it, because no other coach is so widely accepted outside his own team's fanbase.

Within hours of the news that Leach had died, the SEC Network aired a two-hour special dedicated to his memory. The show was packed with commentary from college administrators and coaches and media personalities expressing how Leach impacted them.

This for a man whose head coaching resume included stops at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State, all respectable jobs, but they're not career destinations like Texas, USC or Alabama.

He was passed over for other jobs, including Tennessee, and the inability to land what would be considered a top-tier position left him bitter and feeling incomplete.

The reality is he did not need a job like Tennessee to leave a lasting mark on college football, or more importantly, on others. In fact, he made his impression on countless people across the globe because of the type of person he was, not for any of his success at plying his trade.

Everyone can learn from that.

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