BILLINGS — The college football world has lost one of its quirkiest characters. Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach died Monday night due to complications from a heart condition. He was 61.
Fans came to love Leach’s unique interviews from stops at Texas Tech and Washington State before MSU. But many don't know the Legend of Leach started in northern Wyoming.
"He’s a special friend, and you’ll never have another one like him," said Nick Siddle.
Siddle — a Sheridan County Commissioner in Wyoming — has memories with Leach that span nearly 50 years, from the pair's visit to Leach's childhood home in Sheridan this past summer to their time together at Cody High School in the 1970s.
"He was quite a practical joker," Siddle said. "We did some pranks together."
They’ll never forget this one.
"We had a friend who was brilliant and a valedictorian of our class, but not much of a ladies man," Siddle said. "So we set up a thing at the ski resort in Cody, and he was pretty disappointed when he figured out it was us and not a beautiful girl that he was meeting up there."
Leach spent most of the rest of his life helping people, especially kids. Leach’s former Cody football coach and longtime mentor John McDougall said Leach’s first coaching gig started in high school with the Cody 15-year-old all-star baseball team.
"Nobody wanted to coach the Cody kids," McDougall said. "They had those guys from Oregon and all over the country that came (to Cody) for the tournament, so Mike coached those kids."
And he had the heavyweight out-of-towners shaking for at least a little while.
"He did a shadow infield," McDougall said. "(Mike) would throw up an imaginary ball and hit to third, and the third baseman would make a great catch and throw it to first, and around the horn it would go.
"These teams from Oregon and all over are looking at those guys thinking, 'Jesus. What are we into?'"
Leach always spoke fondly of the Cowboy State. In a 2020 interview, a Mississippi State reporter asked him about the most interesting buildings he’s ever been in.
"When I was a kid, we had one mansion in Sheridan, Wyoming, and it was the Kendrick Mansion," Leach said. "And it was quite a thrill to go take the tour of the Kendrick Mansion."
One memory that sticks out to Siddle? A road trip to Cooke City during Leach’s visit for the pair’s 40th high school reunion in 2019.
"He had a rental car, and his wife Sharon said, 'Mike, you need to drive because you have the insurance,'" Siddle said. "And Mike threw me the keys and said, 'No, Nick’s going to drive because he knows where we're going and he knows the country better, and if we wreck the car, Sharon, I’ll just buy it."
A unique solution for a unique man.