Mississippi State announced Tuesday that they will still play in the ReliaQuest Bowl game against Illinois on January 2, a day after head coach Mike Leach was pronounced dead from complications related to a heart condition.
“The players are 100% behind playing this bowl game and doing what Coach Leach would expect them to do,” Bulldogs interim athletic director Bracky Brett told ESPN on Tuesday. “We all know that’s what Coach Leach would want, and it’s what we should do.”
Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett, who was placed in charge of the football program when Leach entered the hospital on Sunday, will also coach the Bulldogs in the bowl game.
“Coach Arnett has made it clear that we’re going to finish what we started and honor Coach Leach,” Brett said.
Mississippi State officials said the Bulldogs will play in ReliaQuest Bowl vs. Illinois on Jan. 2
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 13, 2022
The ReliaQuest Bowl is played in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s pirate-themed Tampa Bay Buccaneers, something not lost on those who know Leach’s affinity for pirate-related items.
“It’s only fitting that we play this game and honor Coach Leach in a stadium that has a pirate ship,” Brett said.
Leach was 61 and in his third year as head coach at Mississippi State, where he was 19-17 and had garnered back-to-back winning years in his last two seasons.