STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — No. 24 Mississippi State knows it is playing in the ReliaQuest Bowl against Illinois on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Florida.
That is one of the few solid things around the football program at the moment following the sudden death of coach Mike Leach on Monday night in Jackson, Mississippi, with what the school said were complications from a heart condition. The third-year coach was 61.
Leach’s death came as his Bulldogs (8-4) look to follow up their most successful season during his tenure with a victory in the bowl game.
Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett will run the team for now, but Mississippi State is facing a potential search for a new coach with the annual signing day for recruits coming up next week and the possibility that some of its players will join the many already in the transfer portal.
On top of that, MSU is already looking for a a permanent athletic director. Bracky Brett is serving in an interim role since John Cohen left to become AD at Auburn.
“Mike’s death also underscores the fragility and uncertainty of our lives,” Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum said. “Three weeks ago, Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory (in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss) in Oxford.”
It has already been a whirlwind year of hirings for MSU. Cohen this spring hired Chris Jans and Sam Purcell to guide the men’s and women’s basketball programs, respectively, so the screening process for its highest-profile sport will be somewhat familiar.
It will just be done with a heavier heart following the stunning passing of a successful, charismatic coach who was continuing his rebuilding process in Stark Vegas.
For now, the Bulldogs can look forward to the bowl game at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, which is home to a pirate ship — something Leach no doubt would have enjoyed given his appreciation of pirates.