The Mississippi State Bulldogs are playing their first game since the sudden death of head coach Mike Leach.
Leach was 61 when he died in December. He had just wrapped up his third season coaching the program.
University President Mark Keenum and athletic director Zac Selmon presented Leach’s family with a framed jersey with the No. 21 and a signed executive order that all flags on state buildings and grounds would fly at half-staff for a day in his honor.
A tribute video played on the scoreboard and Leach’s signature appeared on the sidelines.
Leach died of complications from a heart condition as the team was gearing up for the ReliaQuest Bowl against Illinois. The Bulldogs won that game, 19-10.
“Coach Mike Leach cast a tremendous shadow not just over Mississippi State University, but over the entire college football landscape,” Keenum said in a statement at the time of Leach’s passing.
“His innovative ‘Air Raid’ offense changed the game. Mike’s keen intellect and unvarnished candor made him one of the nation’s true coaching legends. His passing brings great sadness to our university, to the Southeastern Conference and to all who loved college football. I will miss Mike’s profound curiosity, his honesty and his wide open approach to pursuing excellence in all things.
“Mike’s death also underscores the fragility and uncertainty of our lives,” Keenum added. “Three weeks ago, Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory in Oxford. Mike Leach truly embraced life and lived in such a manner as to leave no regrets. That’s a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family during these days and hours. The prayers of the Bulldog family go with them.”
Leach got his collegiate head coaching start at Texas Tech in 2000 after serving as an assistant under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma in the late 1990s. He was also an assistant under Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan University and moved to Valdosta State and later Kentucky. He also spent time in the American Football Association of Finland as a head coach.
He got his first head coaching gig in 2000 with Texas A&M. He stayed there until 2009 and did not return to coaching until he took the Washington State job in 2012.
There, he put together an offense that saw quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and Anthony Gordon rack up more than 4,000 passing yards a season.
Leach spent eight years at Washington State and led them to an 11-win season in 2018. He was 55-47 with the Cougars and 2-4 in bowl games.
In 2020, Leach moved on to Mississippi State and the SEC, which was already loaded with the sport’s top coaches. He was 4-7 in the COVID-impacted season but went 7-6 in 2021 and 8-4 in 2022.
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report.