Honest winds, calm seas to soccer’ ‘pirate’
Printed 8:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2022
- Sid Salter
By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE — Having a possibility to spend slightly time with Mike Leach and expertise the world by way of his filters – or lack of them – was a privilege for which I’ll all the time be grateful.
The storied coach’s premature demise from issues of coronary heart illness Dec. 13 at College of Mississippi Medical Heart in Jackson introduced a jumble of photos to my thoughts. I genuinely appreciated Coach Leach and loved my encounters with him a fantastic deal.
From the day of his arrival on the Mississippi State College campus in January 2020, I used to be nervous each time Leach was in entrance of an open microphone or in sight of a cellular phone video operator – which was nearly fixed. By popularity, he was brash, unpredictable and given to freely sharing his opinions.
And he lived as much as his billing – Leach was all of these issues. I spent elements of each good days and dangerous days with him. On each ends of that continuum, he held quick to who he was and what he believed and let the chips fall.
His social media choices once in a while drew criticism. He shared a Twitter meme meant as a commentary on COVID isolation and the notion that “familiarity breeds contempt” that depicted an previous woman knitting a noose for the husband with whom she’d been cloistered.
Leach was deeply saddened that some Black voices – together with some enthusiastic MSU followers – took offense to the noose picture as an insensitivity to lynchings within the South. However afterwards, Leach took half in a teleconference with a few of those that took offense and sincerely apologized.
It was a troublesome dialog. Frankly, the Mike Leach I knew didn’t have a racist bone in his physique. He was variety to youngsters, particularly variety to these with particular wants, and was maybe probably the most approachable and affected person man with followers I’ve ever seen. He was an exceedingly “common man” for somebody along with his mind energy.
Leach’s intelligence was palpable. He was not solely capable of focus on nearly any topic, however he did additionally so armed with the product of his voracious curiosity. As one would count on of a lawyer, Leach was actually good at argument and was fairly unflinching in debate.
A superb day I spent with Leach got here at my hometown Neshoba County Honest in 2021. The establishment invited all three coaches from Mississippi’s largest soccer applications – MSU’s Leach, Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin and USM’s Will Corridor – for a roundtable dialogue on the Founder’s Sq. Pavilion earlier than a big reside crowd and a statewide radio viewers.
Leach and Kiffin had an apparent friendship primarily based in mutual respect and familiarity. Each have been beneficiant to the youthful Corridor within the look. However Leach made the rounds at Neshoba as a result of the entire vibe of the place match him. He positioned the Minchew cabin and was embraced by the household of his former Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew, now the backup quarterback of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
On the day, Leach indulged an inordinate variety of photographs, handshakes, and impromptu visits. When the time got here to go away the fairgrounds, he didn’t need to go. I drove him to the Philadelphia municipal airfield and as he exited the automotive, he mentioned: “Can you’re taking me again on the market after this alumni factor tonight is over?”
Significantly within the first yr on campus, Leach walked quite a bit. I might see him coming in cargo shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and a ball cap with a cup of espresso. He talked to college students, school or workers and often not about soccer.
Like numerous Bulldogs, one of many saddest features of Leach’s sudden demise to me was the truth that after a extremely robust 2022 schedule, 2023 appeared to vow extra alternative for a particular season – a season that may see Leach start to obtain the popularity his profession deserved within the nation’s premier soccer convention.
The “Air Raid” had confirmed efficient within the Southeastern Convention. Leach had confirmed efficient within the SEC and was as individually fascinating and iconic as he had been within the Large 12 and the PAC 12. The “Pirate” had discovered protected harbor in north Mississippi – and right here he might be missed.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org