The football world was rocked by the stunning death of Mike Leach, who died from complications of a heart issue on Tuesday, December 13. He was 61.
The longtime college football head coach — who went 158-107 overall at Texas Tech, Washington State and spent his last three seasons at Mississippi State — was an eccentric and popular figure in the football landscape. He wasn’t just known for delivering witty comments to the media that often became trending topics or memes on the internet. He was also an innovative mind with creating the “Air Raid” offense — a system that has produced NFL names like Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield plus back in 2009, gave the San Francisco 49ers a first-round wide receiver in former Leach player Michael Crabtree.
Kyle Shanahan was once a wide receiver for the University of Texas during a time Leach coached the rival Red Raiders. The 49ers head coach joined in on sharing his thoughts on Leach’s passing.
Shanahan Was in Awe of Leach’s Offense
Speaking to the media on Tuesday during a short practice week before their Thursday Night Football contest in Seattle, Shanahan was asked if he ever crossed paths with Leach.
“I never did. I’ve met him before. I met him a long time ago in Indianapolis, just got introduced to him, but he’s been so cool to watch over the years,” Shanahan revealed.
But even before being introduced to Leach in Indy, Shanahan was once on the opposite sideline watching Leach’s Texas Tech wideouts and offense operate from 2000 to 2002 when Shanahan was with the Longhorns.
“When I was at Texas, we always went against him at Texas Tech and he beat us a number of times and I was always so jealous watching that offense, being a receiver,” Shanahan remembered.
One receiver he vividly recalls thriving in the “Air Raid?” Shanahan’s future WR coaching hire with the 49ers Wes Welker, a former Leach pupil.
“Watching [the now Miami Dolphins wide receivers coach] Wes Welker have like 25 targets at the end of the game, I definitely wouldn’t have gotten that though even if I was there, but it was just so cool to watch it,” Shanahan said.
Again, Leach created an offense that began to get a wrinkle or two installed into playbooks everywhere, including the NFL.
“All the people who have followed him kind of done [similar] stuff [Leach did] and I was real sad to hear that this morning,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan Adds More Thoughts Into Leach’s Impact on the Game
Shanahan himself is widely regarded in league circles as an offensive whiz. His style, though, is considered more ground-based with misdirection runs that have frustrated opposing defenses during his time in S.F.
But Shanahan said that Leach’s system had this kind of imprint on everybody.
“I think it just showed everybody that anything’s possible,” Shanahan said. “They used to look, at that time, it looked way different than what everyone else did, I used to always think it was so cool just looking at his call sheet and it just being an index card. Which basically is just the same thing as writing a few things on your hand, but the way he did it, the way he owned it, the way it worked everywhere he went…I think a lot of people tried to be like him and do things like him, but it didn’t seem like everyone did it as consistently or as well.”