BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Throughout his coaching career, Mike Leach coached against Alabama football teams several times. However, Leach’s connection to the state of Alabama went deeper than that.

Leach, head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, died Monday night after suffering a heart attack in Starkville, Mississippi over the weekend. Through all of the condolences that came from coaches, players and football fans nationwide, one thing that has come out is Leach’s connection to Alabama.

Leach, who grew up in Wyoming and went to Brigham Young University (BYU) for college, at one point attended the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Alabama, graduating with a Master’s of Sports Science degree in Sports Coaching in 1988.

At the time he was taking classes at the USSA, Leach was already working as an assistant coach at California Polytechnic State University and started working with the College of the Desert after graduating from the program.

“I had graduated from law school, but I was really interested in sports and coaching,” Leach said in a press release after arriving at Mississippi State in 2020. “The Academy was a really efficient degree. You can still have a job while taking all these courses that elevate your knowledge base. I have three degrees and of the ones I have, my Academy degree was the most efficient program as far as learning something, then immediately being able to apply it to what I was doing.”

The United States Sports Academy was first started in 1972 and has offered programs on coaching and sports in more than 60 countries around the world.

Throughout his career, Leach kept close ties with the academy, served as its alumni president for a time and was once named Alumnus of the Year.

“I remember the faculty members at the Academy were very sharp. I developed a real closeness with people there. The faculty gave you a lot of one on one time and the interaction was really good,” Leach said of the USSA. “I have a lot of respect and admiration for the Academy because I had a great experience. Everything I learned at the Academy I still use all of the time.”

Following his death, USSA officials offered their condolences to Leach’s family and friends.

“Speaking on behalf of the entire Academy family, we were heartbroken to hear the sad news of Coach Mike Leach’s untimely passing,” Academy President and CEO TJ Rosandich said in a statement. “Mike was a true icon, not only in the world of college football with his innovations such as the ‘air raid’ offense but equally for his persona. You never knew what you were going to get when interviewing Mike. More than that, it was also what people did not see what made him so special. For example, he gave freely of his time to talk to Academy students and alums; something that was uncommon for individuals of his stature. I always looked forward to his visits to the campus and his irreverent sense of humor and all our fellow alums will miss him.”