May 18, 2024
Washington State head coach Mike Leach runs onto the field before a game against Stanford.

Former Washington State head coach Mike Leach, shown in 2019, died in December.

(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Kelly said Mike Leach would be in his thoughts during the game after the former Washington State coach died in December from a heart issue.

The coaches’ last meeting, in 2019, resulted in one of the wackiest games in Pac-12 history. Down by 32 points in the third quarter, UCLA rallied for a 67-63 victory that defied belief and newspaper deadlines. The teams combined for 1,377 yards and 18 touchdowns in a game that sparked “Dewey Defeats Truman” headlines in early newspaper editions.

“That was one that you think about,” Kelly said.

The same could be said for Leach, the offensive innovator who was also willing to predict who would win a battle of Pac-12 mascots. (“Butch will find a way, there’s no question,” Leach said of the Cougars’ mascot. “Clear-minded and crafty, a combination of stay out of harm’s way and attack when you get your chances.”)

“He was just such a special person,” Kelly said. “He definitely marched to a different beat than most people and [was] truly entertaining, but really, really intelligent, really smart. Always kind of made you think any time you had a conversation with him; he’d bring up some points and you’re like, ‘All right, I haven’t looked at it that way.’”

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