STARKVILLE, Miss – On December 12, the iconic football coach Mike Leach passed away at age 61 due to heart complications.

Eight days later, many from the college football world traveled to Starkville, Mississippi to attend Leach’s public memorial service.

“Coaches, colleagues, current players, former players, friends and fans from all around the country are here today because they loved Mike and they respected him,” said Dr. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University (MSU).

Leach’s coaching tree includes numerous prominent names. One of those is current University of Southern California (USC) head coach Lincoln Riley who was a walk-on quarterback and student assistant under Leach at Texas Tech University (TTU).

“Just an unbelievable tree that he has,” Riley said. “An unbelievable family of players, coaches, so many people that were influenced, and so many of those people have become some of my best friends in the world and people that we’ve been able to share so many memories together and it all traces back to Mike Leach.”

13 speakers took the podium at Humphrey Coliseum to celebrate the life of a national treasure. 

Former University of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops took a chance on Leach, hiring him as his first offensive coordinator for the Sooners in 1999.

“I told Mike hey, look, if we really do well here, I think you’re gonna have a chance maybe to be a head coach in three or four years,” Stoops said. “I was hoping no one was looking or noticed. Our offense went from 11th in the Big 12 in 1998, to 1st the next year under Mike, and Texas Tech noticed.” 

Even 20 years later, pieces from Leach’s Air Raid offense can still be seen today from high school all the way to the NFL.

In just one season under Leach at Washington State University (WSU), Gardner Minshew threw for almost 5,000 yards with 38 touchdowns. That’s just one example of the magic behind Leach’s Air Raid system.

“It was only six months I had with coach Leach, but he really changed my life and changed how I saw myself, changed what I thought was possible for myself,” Minshew said. “I really just couldn’t be more grateful.”

Leach spent more than three decades coaching college football — 21 of those years were spent as a head coach at TTU, WSU and MSU. 

No one worked as long or as close to the pirate as Dave Emerick who was by his side for 18 of those years.

“No matter when you were introduced to coach Leach, whether it was a fellow coach, a friend or as a fan, one thing’s for certain. You’re on one hell of a ride,” Emerick said. “We’ll miss you coach.”

Could Leach be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame?

According to the National Football Foundation’s (NFF) website, a “coach becomes eligible three years after retirement or immediately following retirement provided he is at least 70 years of age. Active coaches become eligible at 75 years of age.”

Another rule by the NFF states, one “must have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.”

As a head coach, Leach had a career record of 158 wins and 107 losses – a .596 winning percentage. That leaves him just .004% away from being eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame.

There have been public calls for NFF to issue a waiver.

There is also a petition on Change.org to honor Leach in the Texas Tech Hall of Fame and/or Ring of Honor.