TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA)–The loss of Mississippi State Head Coach Mike Leach hit the hearts of not just the Bulldogs, but college football fans across the nation.
Joey Gustafson is a senior at Mississippi State University.
“[We’re] going out there for Mike, I think the whole country is riding with us wanting us to go out and win this one for him,” he said.
For Buccaneers fans, it’s nothing new to see the iconic pirate ship at Raymond James stadium, but for Mississippi State fans, it served as a sentiment to Leach’s passing.
“We all know Mike Leach was obsessed with pirates, so the fact we get to play in this bowl game with a pirate ship and honor him–it just means the world to all the state fans,” said Chance Smith who serves as the president of Tampa’s Mississippi State Alumni chapter.
From sword cowbells to Leach’s initials proudly displayed on player’s helmets–it was a moment to remember as the Bulldogs played their first game without their head coach who died last month at the age of 61.
“The best way we can honor Coach Leach is to go out there and play the way he expects us to play,” said Mississippi State Head Coach Zach Arnett. “That’s with tremendous toughness.”
Fans from both Mississippi State and Illinois remember Leach as one of the greats.
“His schemes were unbelievable,” said Illinois fan Bill Karhliker. “That was the whole thing.”
“If it was against the norm he didn’t care, because he knew how to scheme,” Karhliker continued. “Great coach.”
MSU students felt connected to Leach saying he often taught players and students about life outside of the game.
“I really felt like I knew who he was, so losing him was really tough not just on us, but the whole Mississippi State community and everywhere that he’s coached because he’s had such a dynamic impact across all of college football,” Gustafson said.
Raegan Adams is also a student at MSU.
“I started to go to school in 2020 so that was the first coach I ever knew, so it was really sad to see that chapter close,” she said.
Leach was known for his pass-happy offenses, off-the-cuff news conferences and love for pirates.
Fans say whether you were rooting for him or against him, you can’t deny his impact on college football over the last two decades runs deep and will continue for years to come.
“We have a couple guys that weren’t going to play in this bowl game, they were going to enter the NFL Draft, but after hearing the news for coach they knew they had to stay and play in this game,” Gustafson said.”