In season four of the critically acclaimed NBC series Friday Night Lights, the television adaptation to H.G. Bissinger's 1990 non-fiction novel, Dillon East head coach Eric Taylor is trying to build a football program that is poorly funded.
He sits at a gas station, taking it all in and collecting his thoughts, when out of the blue a question comes Taylor's way, "Hey! Do you know how to get to Lubbock?"
The question was asked by Mike Leach, who quickly recognizes Taylor as Dillon East's coach and realizing he is going through the wide array of emotions through a difficult grind, Leach tells Taylor, "You've lost your inner pirate."
As I rewatched that scene, I feel as a college football community, we lost our inner pirate and someone who embraced the role as a vagabond who went place to place like his pirate heroes of Blackbeard and Calico Jack and steal the establishments treasure in victory.
Leach's beginnings in football almost ended before it began.
An ankle injury prior to starting his football career at Brigham Young University forced Leach to transition from football to rugby, but the itch for football didn't go away. Instead of playing on the field, Leach would partake in the film studies with legendary BYU coaches LaVell Edwards and Norm Chow and that is where Leach gained his desire to coach.
After completing his law degree at Pepperdine University, Leach began his coaching career at Cal Poly. But it was an opportunity two years later that would change Leach's approach forever.
In 1989, Leach would become the offensive coordinator Iowa Wesleyan under head coach Hal Mumme, the innovator of the Air Raid. Over the next decade, Mumme and Leach were college football's version of Lewis and Clark as they took the Air Raid and won big at three different levels.
At Iowa Wesleyan, the Air Raid led the nation at passing in 1989 and 1991.
Valdosta State achieved its first No. 1 ranking in program history in 1996 and appeared in two NCAA Division II playoffs with Mumme and Leach.
Their final act as a tandem came at Kentucky, where they coached Tim Couch to the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft and led the Wildcats to an upset of Alabama, its first win against the Crimson Tide in 75 years. That remains the last time Kentucky defeated Alabama.
Leach moved on to Oklahoma with Bob Stoops for a season in 1999, and Mumme quickly noticed things were different at Kentucky.
“I can remember standing on the sidelines at Kentucky the year after he went to go to Oklahoma...Walking up and down the sidelined and thinking, something was different, it’s not right. And it took me awhile to figure it out, but what it was, I missed Mike in my ear telling me, ‘Don’t stop attacking, don’t stop attacking.’”
But it was in Lubbock at Texas Tech where Leach would come to national prominence. His approach of don't stop attacking in the Air Raid was put on full display for all to see.
Leach's quarterbacks shattered NCAA records year after year whether it was Kliff Kingsbury, Sonny Cumbie, B.J. Symons, or Graham Harrell, they raised the bar every single year.
The 'magnum opus' of Leach's coaching career came in 2008 in a game against No. 1 Texas, Texas Tech rallied back and as time was expiring Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree scored the game winning touchdown to secure the upset.
While Leach's time in Lubbock was cut short with the treatment Adam James, it didn't deter him at all.
Leach wrote the autobiography Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and in Life that reached The New York Times Best Sellers list.
He then moved to television where he seemed to naturally fit as an analyst for CBS Sports. During his time away from the sidelines he was rumored for vacant jobs across the country, including Penn State, Miami, Ole Miss, Minnesota, UConn, and Arizona.
Much like his swashbuckling image, Leach ended up where you least likely suspected him to be. That would be the Palouse, at Washington State.
While Leach never got to the Rose Bowl or won a Pac-12 Championship, he made Washington State relevant again and found quarterbacks in Gardner Minshew and Connor Halliday who were able to find great success in his system.
As Leach progressed in his career, he began a relationship with the media that was unique. Most coaches treat press conferences and interviews very seriously and build walls around the program. Leach was the opposite, he spoke his mind and no subject was off limits.
Leach would give advice on weddings.....
...on players 'fat little girlfriends' being distractions.....
....his love for candy and his vehement disdain for candy corn...
........Bigfoot and aliens.....
...and the College Football Playoff Committee wasn't off limits.
Leach eventually returned to the SEC and joined Mississippi State to get the Bulldogs back to the levels previously achieved by Dan Mullen.
Unfortunately for Mississippi State fans, Leach's opportunity was cut short after suffering a heart attack and suffering a seizure that caused irreversible brain damage that led to his death.
Mike Leach won't just be remembered for the games he won or lost, his football intelligence, or a coaching tree that consists of Sonny Dykes, Lincoln Riley, Josh Heupel, and many more who will continue his legacy on the field.
Leach will ultimately be remembered for bringing humility and personal authenticity to a sport where coaches seem to be carbon copies of one another. He swung his sword with bravado in whatever endeavor he personally took on and always left an impact.
At the end of his scene in Friday Night Lights, Leach tells Taylor, "Things just happen for a reason, we don't know why God wants it that way. But you cannot make the best of it until you get back your inner pirate. You might be the luckiest man alive and not even know it."
We don't know why Leach was abruptly taken from us, but as a community we were all fortunate and lucky to have Mike Leach in our lives.
College football will now have to regain its inner pirate.