Thousands gather to honor Mike Leach at MSU memorial service

Contact: Allison Matthews

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Thousands of Mississippi State friends and college football fans gathered Tuesday [Dec. 20] to remember and honor the university’s head football coach Mike Leach, known as one of the sport’s greatest offensive innovators.

A memorial service at Humphrey Coliseum included stories about Leach, who will be remembered for his larger-than-life personality, humor and love of conversation as much as for his coaching legacy and signature “Air Raid” offense.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum speaks during the memorial service for Mike Leach
MSU President Mark E. Keenum speaks during the memorial service for Mike Leach. (Photo by Grace Cockrell)

MSU President Mark E. Keenum said Leach was a “humble and caring individual” who “positively impacted the lives of many, many people.”

“As I got to know Mike, I came to realize his passion for education and for life-long learning. Mike was always ready to learn something new—and to share it with anyone who would care to listen. And there were always a lot of people who wanted to hear what he had to say,” he said.

Keenum said Leach’s passion for learning meant “he could have been successful at anything he wanted.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks during the memorial service for Mike Leach.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks during the Dec. 20 memorial service. (Photo by Grace Cockrell)

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey recalled Leach describing the values learned from difficult situations and how football presents many adversities that have to be overcome—and how this challenge also presents the “fun” of football.

“I also watched him talk with intent about the value of education and the importance of graduating people who are part of a college football team,” Sankey said. “I am grateful that Mike chose to be a part of the Southeastern Conference these past three years.”

The list of distinguished speakers paying tribute to Leach included former and current football coaches Hal Mumme, Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley; players Gardner Minshew, Gabe Marks, Will Rogers and Nathaniel Watson; longtime friend and agent Gary O’Hagan; USC senior associate athletics director Dave Emerick, who formerly served in that role at MSU and worked with Leach for 18 years; as well as Voice of the Bulldogs Neil Price.

MSU football players Will Rogers and Nathaniel Watson listen during the program at Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU football players Will Rogers and Nathaniel Watson, who both also gave remarks in tribute to Coach Mike Leach, listen during the program at Humphrey Coliseum. (Photo by Grace Cockrell)

Dr. Matthew S. Holland, Elder and General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke of Leach’s faith and love for others.

Elder Holland said, “Mike could, in an instant, cut through the pressures and limelight of his high-profile life and address someone, often a stranger in need. For Mike, this was not just a personality trait, it was an exercise of his faith.”

Leach was named MSU’s 34th head football coach in 2020 after leading the football programs at Texas Tech, Washington State and Iowa Wesleyan universities. He compiled a 158-107 record, guided his squads to 19 bowl games, had seven seasons with nine or more wins, won two conference division titles, became the winningest coach in TTU history and set records for bowl appearances at both TTU and WSU. During 10 of those 21 seasons, Leach’s passing attack led the FBS—six at TTU and four at WSU.

Leach died on Dec. 12, 2022, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. He was 61.

For more on remembering Mike Leach, visit and

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at