clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Without Mike Leach, the Chiefs might never have had Patrick Mahomes

Mississippi State’s head football coach died on Tuesday.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” — Pericles

It was Saturday, August 26, 2000. Mike Leach stepped onto the sideline in Lubbock, Texas and looked out over the field. It was the first game of the season — and it was Leach’s first game as a head coach of a college football team.

Leach and his former boss Hal Mumme had spent the better part of the previous decade developing the Air Raid offense — first at Valdosta State University and then at the University of Kentucky, where quarterback Tim Couch rode the success of their system to the first overall draft pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. That same year, Leach and Humme parted ways. Leach jumped to the Big 12 to serve as offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Sooners.

After just one season with the Sooners, Leach was named head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

On that Saturday 22 years ago, Leach watched his sophomore quarterback warm up. He was a lanky kid with an infectious smile named Kliff Kingsbury. This was the guy who would run Leach’s high-powered Air Raid offense against the New Mexico Lobos.

The Red Raiders defeated the Lobos 24-3 that afternoon — but for the most part, the air assault fell flat. Kingsbury connected on only 21 out of his 47 passing attempts for a paltry 186 yards and two touchdowns.

But the following week against Utah State Aggies, there was an offensive explosion. Kingsbury connected on 33 of 47 attempts, collecting 450 yards and three touchdowns. The Red Raiders routed the Aggies 38-16.

Elsewhere in Lubbock, a young sports science student named Adam Cook watched Leach’s new offense — and began taking notes. He would later implement his knowledge of Leach’s scheme — first as offensive coordinator and then as head coach of the Whitehouse Wildcats High School football team in Tyler, Texas.

Cook, however, turned out to be lucky. In Tyler, he had the perfect quarterback to run the Air Raid scheme. The progeny of a former major league baseball player, his name was Patrick Mahomes II.

Mike Leach passed away on Tuesday due to complications related to a heart condition.

Leach spent the last three seasons coaching the 24th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs — including this season, in which he coached them to an 8-4 record. Former Bulldogs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and defensive tackle Chris Jones — now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs — both took to social media, offering up prayers for Leach and his family.

During his Wednesday press conference, head coach Andy Reid spoke of Leach’s influence on the sport.

“I knew Mike,” said Reid. “[He was a] good guy — and very creative. He didn’t visit here, but he spent some time with us in Philadelphia during training camp a couple of different times.

“Just a good guy. It’s a sad deal. He left a nice legacy behind him.”

Reid then recalled a story Leach once told him about a time he was walking past Trump Tower in New York City — back when Donald Trump was simply a millionaire celebrity. Leach told Reid he simply walked into the building, talked his was past the security guards, walked up to Trump and introduced himself.

“Like it was no big deal,” laughed Reid. “He was just a unique, unique guy. And that’s the way he coached — and that’s why everybody loved him.”

Among NFL players that Leach never personally coached, it’s likely that none have been more influenced by his offensive philosophies than Mahomes. On Wednesday, the Chiefs’ quarterback acknowledged that the late coach has been a “huge influence” on the way he plays the game.

“My coach in high school went to Texas Tech, so he kind of had that same style of offense.” said Mahomes, “I went on visits there. I was trying to learn what they were doing to add it into our offense. It’s a great offense to run — especially when you want to score points — and I wanted to score a lot in high school.”

But Leach’s influence has gone beyond high school coaches like Cook in Tyler. Now that Mahomes’ Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury is the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, his philosophies have found their way into the professional ranks, too.

“I feel like a lot of his schemes — and type of how to play — has kind of infiltrated the NFL,” said Mahomes. “Obviously, head coach Kingsbury — [Leach] was his coach. That was Leach’s first quarterback — and [Leach] influenced him to become a coach.

“I learned from Coach Kingsbury, so I feel like I’ve learned from Mike Leach himself... [It’s] obviously a sad deal, but his impact will be known for a long time around the NFL — and around college football as well.”

After he brought a pirate sword into a team meeting during his time at Texas Tech, Leach became known as “The Pirate”. In his book “Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and in Life”, Leach recalled the speech he made in that meeting.

“Your body is your sword. Are you going to swing your sword aggressively, or really out of control like you’re out there playing street ball?” I said as I began to haphazardly flail the sword around. “If you’re frantic, without being clear-minded, you put yourself into a vulnerable position. Are you going to duck your head and swing it timidly? Or are you going to have great technique and swing it without any hesitation?” Some of ’em nodded their heads. Some laughed watching me flail around with the sword. Some couldn’t wait till I stopped talking just so they could come up and touch the sword. But the point was made. We were pirates, and the next time we went into battle, our swords would be ready. “Swing Your Sword” became a battle cry for us. We won our next two games, then lost on a last-minute touchdown pass at No. 6 Texas. We finished the season beating Navy 38-14 in the Houston Bowl. I know the pirates speech was unconventional, but you can’t be insecure or let fear rule your life.

Mahomes has often talked about finding the right balance — to be aggressive without going too far and turning over the ball. It’s an approach that fits very well with Leach’s swing your sword ideology.

It’s a good reminder for all of us: live life fearlessly — and chase that which truly makes you happy.

It’s also a good example of Leach’s indirect influence on one of the game’s greatest players. Here’s another: a play that was lifted from Leach’s Air Raid playbook by our sister SBNation site CougCenter, which covers Washington State University. Leach was the Cougars’ head coach from 2012-2019.

Move the right-side Y receiver to the innermost slot position on the left — and have him run a deep slant. Now you have 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp — the famous third-and-15 play during Super Bowl LIV that set up the first of three consecutive Kansas City scores to win the game.

Swing your sword, Chiefs Kingdom. And if you are lucky enough to have loved ones in your life, then hug them a little tighter today — because even though he has moved on, “The Pirate” still has a lot to teach us.

NEW: Join Arrowhead Pride Premier

If you love Arrowhead Pride, you won’t want to miss Pete Sweeney in your inbox each week as he delivers deep analysis and insights on the Chiefs' path to the Super Bowl.