Starting this week I will introduce a new series on the history of Texas Tech sports. This could entail games, people, or events that have happened along the way. For some of you, this series will bring back memories of years past. For others, this will be a great way to learn about Texas Tech athletics. Either way I hope that you enjoy reading this series as much as I will enjoy writing it!
The 1999 football season was the end of an era. Under head coach Spike Dykes, the Red Raiders had 8 winning seasons in his 13 seasons commanding the Red Raiders. Twice he fielded teams that finished in the Top 25 in the polls. Ultimately, his success at Tech led him to being inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. However, this article is not about the Spike Dykes legacy, it is about the man who succeeded him.
Mike Leach’s stock was on the rise. In his 2 years (1997, 1998) as offensive coordinator at Kentucky, his Wildcats broke many SEC and NCAA records. His successes at Kentucky caught the attention of the new head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, Bob Stoops. 1998’s Sooners were dreadful in the offensive department, finishing 11th in the Big 12 and 101st in the overall NCAA. Under Leach’s offensive schemes, the Sooners vaulted to the top Big 12 offense and the 11th overall offense in the nation. Leach was nominated for the Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in the nation. It’s safe to say he had turned some heads.
In December of 1999, Texas Tech announced that Mike Leach had agreed to become the 13th head coach of the Red Raiders football team. Prior to Leach’s arrival Tech had never been a team that consistently was more than a game or two over .500, and did not have a lot of postseason success. One of Coach Leach’s goals was to make Tech a consistent winner.
As we all know, he accomplished that goal. In his 10 seasons as head coach for Texas Tech, he won 66.1% of the games he coached and won a Tech head coach record 84 games. In 2008, he led the Red Raiders to a #2 national ranking during the season, which tied for the highest ever ranking in Tech history. That season led to a Cotton Bowl berth and a top 25 finish in the polls. One of 5 season ending top 25 finishes for Tech during Leach's reign. He is also one of three Tech head coaches with a winning postseason record, the others being DeWitt Weaver and Kliff Kingsbury. He won numerous national coaching awards, and he and his "Air Raid" took the Texas Tech offense to places no other collegiate offense had been.
Beyond all the wins, Mike Leach was an ambassador for Texas Tech unlike ambassadors before or since. Coach Leach’s personality was one that the majority of college football fans, not just Tech fans, enjoyed. He was a coach that would give more than just the typical "coach-speak" responses to questions, would try to fit in pirates in conversations, and gave reporters his personal phone number. He brought consistent national attention to a West Texas town 5 hours away from a major city. There are not many coaches out there that can do that.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. In 2009, with a bowl game still to be played, Mike Leach was fired for alleged mistreatment of one of his players. Regardless of which side of that story you believe, one thing is crystal clear. When Mike Leach left the building, the most successful, and entertaining era of Texas Tech football left with him. For that, all Tech fans are eternally grateful for that pirate having swung his sword in Lubbock.