Elder Matthew S. Holland calls Mike Leach a 'man of faith'

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Many will remember Mike Leach as a unique, colorful, quirky, pirate-loving college football coach.

A comparison with the Old Testament’s “sincere and bold” prophet Enoch might not be too far off — “there is a strange thing in the land, a wild man has come among us” (Moses 6:38), said a smiling Elder Matthew S. Holland , General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“As many of today’s tributes suggest, this could easily have been said about the Mike Leach we knew and loved. It also stands to reason that this is what the angels in heaven are saying about him right now,” joked Elder Holland. “We shouldn’t assume for a second that Mike’s famous ‘Air Raid Offense’ was developed just for competition here on earth.”

Elder Matthew S. Holland, General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Holland was among a number of speakers who shared memories, offered words of comfort and paid tribute to Leach Tuesday at a memorial service in his honor on the campus of Mississippi State University. The ceremony, which was attended by family, friends, coaches, players, managers and many more, was well attended and broadcast nationally.

Leach coached 21 seasons at the highest level of college football, including Texas Tech (2000-2009), Washington State (2012-2019) and Mississippi State (2019-2022), compiling an overall record of 158-107 before dying at 12 December after complications from a heart condition. He was 61 years old.

No, Leach was not a prophet, said Elder Holland, “but he was fearless in defying convention and passionate about striving for excellence, even as he refused to take himself too seriously.”

Leach and her family are also members of the Latter-day Saint faith. Along with his success as a football coach, the Mike Leach Elder Holland knew was a “man of faith” who always read the scriptures, prayed, and served others.

“Like all of us, he was imperfect. But on his own and that of his children, Mike read the scriptures every night,” said Elder Holland. “Mike also prayed and, above all, loved – believing that any true follower of Christ must actively watch over and care for the lost and lonely, the broken and forgotten.”

Many individual lives were “transformed” because Leach “could, in an instant, remove the pressures and spotlight from her high life and approach someone—often a stranger—in need,” Elder Holland said.

“For Mike, this wasn’t just a personality trait. It was an exercise in his faith. It was what someone who believed what he believed should do,” said the Church leader. “And Mike did it again and again and again.”

Elder Holland concluded his brief remarks with a prayer that included a blessing on the Leach family and all who will miss him, as well as his testimony of the life, Atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Because Jesus lived, died and rose again, He broke the bands of death for us all. We are deeply grateful for how He rescued this moment from complete tragedy – giving us bright hope that we will see our dear friend again,” prayed Elder Holland.

“Although Mike passed away, we are so grateful that he survived. He was a unique and endearing character who made us think, gave us wisdom, helped us laugh and inspired our best efforts – on and off the field. We loved him because many times he loved us and lifted us up first. With gratitude to Thee and to him, we ask that what he has come to mean to us be indelibly engraved on our souls. … May we all be strengthened in our determination to make the best of Mike Leach’s remarkable life, character and faith, and to do the same”.

People line up early to get into a memorial service for Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach.

People line up early to enter a memorial service for Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach, who died on Monday, Dec. 12, at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, December 20, 2022.

Elder Holland was one of 12 speakers at the memorial service, held at the Humphrey Coliseum on the MSU campus. Speakers included Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University; Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference; Bob Stoops, former head football coach at the University of Oklahoma; Lincoln Riley, head football coach at USC; Gary O’Hagan, Leach’s agent; as well as former players, colleagues and friends.

President Keenum said Leach was an outstanding member of the Mississippi State University family.

“Anyway, Mike was a very humble and thoughtful individual,” said the president. “During his life’s journey, he positively impacted the lives of many, many people. He made a difference in this world as part of God’s plan for his life.”

Stoops hired Leach as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma in 1999. He came to appreciate him for more than his coaching skills and abilities.

Former Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops shares a few stories about the impact of his relationship with the late Mike Leach.

Former Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops tells a few stories about the impact of his relationship with the late Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach during his memorial service in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, 20 December 2022.

“Mike was so much more than a great coach to all of us here. He was a sensitive and caring husband, a loving father and a caring friend,” said Stoops. “We can get caught up in the pain and sadness of loss. God does not promise tomorrows. As hard as it is to look to the future without Mike. I think it’s comforting to reflect and be grateful for the time we spent with Mike because he made us better. It was better that we were with him.”

Riley, who began his coaching career as an assistant to Leach at Texas Tech, believes his mentor’s legacy will go far beyond his offensive creativity, victories, press conferences, sayings and stories.

“He really invested in other people. It’s a great reminder for all of us that if you take a little bit of your time and invest in other people and get to know them and reach out to help them, it’s amazing how you can change a person’s life,” said Riley. “He certainly did that for me and I am forever grateful.”

USC coach Lincoln Riley reflects on some stories about his relationship with the late Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach.

Southern California head football coach Lincoln Riley reflects on some stories about his relationship with the late Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach during his memorial service in Starkville, Mississippi, Tuesday, Dec. 2022.

Gabe Marks, who played Leach receiver at Washington State from 2012 to 2016, delivered a moving tribute that included several life lessons he learned from his coach.

  • Self-authenticity.
  • Freedom from fear and judgment.
  • If you seek the truth, you can always find treasure in any situation.
  • Be the best at doing your job.
  • If you make the routine moves of life, you have a good chance of winning in the end.
  • Always play the next piece.
  • When adversity strikes, be sure to strike back.
  • Never look at the scoreboard in life.

“I will carry these lessons with me for the rest of my life, a lifestyle I strive for every day,” said Marks.

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