MIAMI — We have good news and bad news for Mississippi State football players as the Mike Leach era in Starkville, Miss., begins.
The good news is two current NFL quarterbacks, one being the most decorated player in Bulldogs history and the other being a QB who played for Leach as recently as two years ago, are expecting the new Mississippi State coach to take the program to new heights offensively.
"The quarterback history at Mississippi State isn’t exactly one of the richest there is," Cowboys QB Dak Prescott told Sporting News during Super Bowl week in Miami. "But being able to go over there and have the success I did and seeing some of the guys after me, I’m excited about what Mike Leach is going to come in and do with that."
Added Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew: "Leach is a stud, man. He’s won everywhere he's been. He's the best at taking programs that aren’t traditional powers in their conference and turning them into just that. I think Mississippi State got a good one."
The bad news: Bulldogs players — especially the quarterbacks — might be in for some long meetings if they don't take Minshew's advice.
Minshew, of course, enrolled at Washington State for the 2018 season as a graduate transfer from East Carolina; the former Pirate wanted to play for the coach nicknamed "the pirate," and it was a good call. In Leach's famed air raid offense, Minshew led the nation in yards per game (367.6). His 468 completions, quite a jump from the 174 he completed the year prior at ECU, also ranked No. 1 in the country. The previously unknown passer on a national level finished fifth in 2018 Heisman Trophy voting, and the Cougars completed their first 11-win season in school history.
Yet the production under Leach, Minshew said, came with an unwelcome time commitment.
"In meetings, his favorite thing is to have a captive audience," Minshew explained. "So if he’s telling a story and he locks in on you, you’re going to be there for about 30 minutes listening to a story about Key West (Florida) or some animal that nobody’s ever heard of.
"In the quarterback room, when he walks in, everybody just has to turn away, and at some point he’ll realize, 'OK, I’m not talking to anybody. We gotta keep going.' Because otherwise you’ll be in there an extra hour."
The storytelling is just part of the viral wonder that is the 58-year-old coach. His unique character, seemingly drenched in a couldn't-care-less-what-anyone-thinks mentality (which is sometimes good and sometimes bad), is part of the reason we're excited to see him in the high-profile SEC West.
Another source of eagerness is the fact that Mississippi State hired Leach about a month after rival Mississippi hired Lane Kiffin, another coach who's prone to viral moments. Now all of the sudden the Egg Bowl is must-watch TV on a national level.
"That’s a state that cares so much and football is so deeply rooted," said Prescott, who as a senior at MSU in 2015 became the second QB in school history (Billy Stacy, 1956-57) to earn consecutive All-SEC first-team honors. "In a state without an NFL team, it’s divided. You’re either Mississippi State or Ole Miss, and it means so much to the state and both schools.
"With Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin, everything that they’ve done, being part of that game is going to make it more special."