There’s no denying the effect the late head coach Mike Leach had on the college football world, and that includes Tennessee football. Leach, who passed away last week was Josh Heupel’s offensive coordinator with the Oklahoma Sooners in 1999.
After he passed, a clip was circulating around the internet of Leach telling Heupel in 1999 he was leaving OU to become head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. His emotions were obvious.
Heupel said the event seems like it was “yesterday” and that he remembers how it transpired clearly. He said he was thankful for what Leach “poured” into him that year as they changed what OU did offensively.
“When I got there, that was the last practice that he was at Oklahoma. It hadn’t become public that he was taking the job at Texas Tech yet,” he said of Leach telling him about leaving. “That opportunity to talk to him, excited for him.”
A lot of what Heupel does offensively takes elements from the air raid that Leach introduced to him that year. Leach himself acknowledged Heupel ran a play this past season identical to one he called for Heupel in 1999.
In addition to Leach’s system, Heupel draws on elements of Art Briles’ veer and shoot offense. He said the role Leach allowed quarterbacks to play in his system played a huge role in him wanting to get into coaching.
“From Mike, just being with him every day in the meeting room, just schematically how he thought at that time, there were very few people that were that wide open and thought differently,” he said. “The way the game’s played in space in today’s game, it’s a direct reflection of him and his thought pattern.”
As so many other people who came across Leach would say, Heupel referred to him as one of the most unique people he has ever been around. He also referred to him as iconic.
With about two weeks left in the regular season, Heupel said he was able to have a conversation with Leach. He noted that Leach’s impact went beyond just how the world thinks about the game.
“There’s a million conversations that had nothing to do with football,” he said. “They might have started out with football, but they quickly transitioned into life that you remember with him.”