Mike Leach was introduced Friday in Starkville as Mississippi State’s 34th head football coach.

The most bizarrely interesting six weeks in Mississippi football history began late in the fourth quarter of the Nov. 28 Egg Bowl when Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore scored a touchdown and celebrated by getting on all fours, hiking his leg and acting like a dog peeing in the end zone.

Moore’s ill-advised actions resulted in a 15-yard penalty, a missed extra point and a 21-20 Mississippi State victory that, at least in part, instigated an amazing chain of events. To wit:

• Matt Luke, the Ole Miss coach, was fired.

• Mississippi State qualified for a bowl game, for the moment saving Coach Joe Moorhead’s job.

• Lane Kiffin was hired to replace Luke.

• Louisville drilled State in the Music City Bowl.

• Joe Moorhead was fired.

• And now Mike Leach has been hired as head coach at Mississippi State.

With Kiffin at Ole Miss and Leach at State, the rest of the football nation surely will take a closer look at Mississippi football. The Magnolia State leads the USA in lightning rods as head football coaches. We do not know how successful they will be, but we do know this: It will be interesting. The 2020 Egg Bowl just became must watch TV.


Rick Cleveland

So my goal today was to write something different about Leach, about what makes him such a maverick, such an intriguing character – and to tie it in with all that has happened in the last six weeks.

And then I remembered reading his book “Swing Your Sword” when it came out in 2011 and he was out of football. And I remembered the first chapter about his early years and how it told a telling story about Leach and what makes him different.

Leach spent his formative years in Wyoming with Daniel Boone as his hero and a neighborhood Golden Labrador, Pepe, as his tormenter. Pepe terrorized Leach, stealing his beloved baseball glove, running away with it, chewing it and then leaving it in someone’s yard all covered in dog spit.

Worse, with Leach in pursuit, Pepe would taunt the young boy, dropping the glove from time to time and staring at Leach as if to say, “What are you going to do about it? You can’t catch me.”

But that wasn’t the worst…

One night, Leach and a friend were going to have a Daniel Boone night, replete with a campout in backyard tent with sleeping bags and all. Young Leach couldn’t wait.

The tent and sleeping bags were set up, and Leach went back into his house for some more supplies. He returned to find that Pepe had peed all over his tent. So back into the house he went to get some cleaning supplies to try to clean up the mess, which he did as best he could. But then he took the cleaning supplies back into the house, only to return and find that Pepe had re-peed – all over the tent.

This happened one more time, causing a teary breakdown. Leach’s mother tried to explain that the dog couldn’t help his actions, that he was instinctively marking his territory.

Leach wasn’t so sure. Indeed, he believed Pepe was maliciously tormenting him. After his breakdown, the boy calmed down and considered his options for revenge. He couldn’t run over Pepe because he couldn’t drive. He couldn’t whip Pepe because he couldn’t catch him.

So Leach, the future maverick coach, came up with a different plan. He went to the refrigerator and found some meat scraps. He went back outside and called to Pepe, offering the meat. Sure enough, Pepe came over and begin to eat the scraps.

Leach then grabbed Pepe by his collar with one hand and dragged him to where nobody could see them. Holding the dog’s collar with one hand, he used to his other to unzip his pants.

Wrote Leach: “I proceeded to pee all over his head and face. I aimed for his eyeballs, nostrils and mouth … I drenched his whole face. Pepe struggled frantically until he broke free and ran off. He never messed with me again.”

In effect, Mike Leach had marked his territory.

Wrote Leach, “I’m not sure if this says more about animal behavior or my own.”

No matter, in this crazier-by-the-minute world of Mississippi football, it says plenty.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.