COLLEGE STATION — Mike Leach is still new to the Southeastern Conference as a head coach, but he’s a familiar face to one of the league’s 14 members: Texas A&M.
“Big, bold, stark and loud,” Leach said of an opponent’s impressions of A&M’s Kyle Field. “One time I referred to it as the Carnegie Hall of stadiums.”
Leach draws the No. 11 Aggies (2-1) on his new turf, however, as Mississippi State (1-2) tries snapping a two-game losing streak that had the former Texas Tech coach declaring a possible roster “purge” leading to Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
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The occasional off-the-wall declarations and observations of Leach, 59, are nothing new to longtime fans of the Aggies, even if he hasn’t coached against A&M in more than a decade.
Leach’s first college head coaching job was at Texas Tech from 2000-09, and the Red Raiders’ 12-0 victory in Lubbock in 2001 was the most memorable collision of the A&M-Tech series with Leach in charge — primarily because of the collision that occurred immediately after the game.
Boisterous Tech fans tore down a goal post at Jones Stadium and began shoving it into the A&M fan section. One of the A&M player’s fathers, Mike McKinney, was among the fans taking the brunt of the red-clad onslaught — and McKinney also served as then-Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff.
“It was like the Alamo,” an incredulous McKinney said at the time. “They were coming up over the walls.”
McKinney wound up with a gash above his eye that required eight stitches in the A&M locker room.
“The worst fans and the worst place to play,” McKinney said then, “is in our state.”
A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC in the summer of 2012 and hasn’t played Tech since. What made Lubbock so rambunctious — especially when A&M or Texas came to town — is one of the things Leach loved about the place.
“Our stadium, of course, was loaded and fired up,” Leach recalled this week. “Our stadium developed a tradition where the students would camp out, and at first it was a night or two before the A&M game. Then it got to where they would camp out for a whole week. They were loyal fans, but let’s be honest: If you’re in college, it’s fun to camp out, build fires and eat stuff with your friends.”
Tech also began having loads of fun, routinely beating the Aggies with Leach running his high-octane offensive show in Lubbock. Leach was 7-3 against the Aggies, including winning his last two games against R.C. Slocum and at one point three straight against Dennis Franchione.
Leach’s final game against A&M in 2009 also was memorable — again for what happened afterward. Minutes after A&M and then-coach Mike Sherman stomped three-touchdown favorite Tech 52-30 for the Aggies’ first victory in Lubbock in 16 years, Leach earned national attention for partially blaming his players’ love interests for the loss.
“We pound on Kansas State, so A&M looks at the film all week,” Leach said in the postgame press conference. “(The Red Raiders) strut around and laugh — and listen to their fat little girlfriends.”
In an era before social media had really taken off, Leach boldly refused to back off the “fat little girlfriends” line and repeated the phrase at least three times the following Monday. Outside of his memorable and occasionally over-the-top witticisms, Leach along the way has earned a reputation as an offensive genius.
“I don’t know him (personally), but I have great respect for him as a guy who’s been successful wherever he’s been,” said A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who will face Leach for the first time with both as head coaches. “He’s won, and he has his style and way of doing things.”
Leach, who has the second-best winning percentage of any coach at Tech, was fired following the 2009 season for what the university labeled insubordination and a muddled incident with then-receiver Adam James.
Leach then coached Washington State from 2012-19, leading the Cougars to a school-record five consecutive bowls over his last five seasons in Pullman, Wash. Before his Mississippi State hire, he led 16 of his 18 teams to bowls, and his passing offense led the nation in 10 of his 18 seasons, including six at Texas Tech.
Leach’s SEC debut was one for the record books. Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello threw for a league-record 623 yards in the Bulldogs’ 44-34 upset of reigning national champion LSU on Sept. 26. Leach and Mississippi State have since hurtled back to earth at warp speed with a 21-14 home loss to oft-woebegone Arkansas and a 24-2 loss at Kentucky last weekend.
“You have to be talented and diverse,” Fisher said of trying to slow a Leach offense. “Can you pressure the quarterback? Can you cover? Can you play man-to-man? Can you play zone? … He’s also very sneaky with how he plays in the running game. He’ll lull you to sleep with those quick screens, so you have to play disciplined, hard, tough football and tackle in space very well.
“Against Kentucky, their great tailback Kylin Hill had 15 catches as a running back, so the ball goes all over. You can’t be weak in any points.”