The Shadysider native looks back on his time with Mike Leach | back News, Sports, Jobs

It got to the point last Monday where Manny Matsakis had to stop looking at social media.

The Shadyside High School graduate and former college football coach tried to separate fact from speculation, and he just needed a few moments to gather his thoughts.

It’s totally understandable as he was waiting for official news on the condition of one of his best friends and former bosses – Mike Leach.

“It was hard”, said Matsakis. “Mike and I go way back and were very close.”

In fact, Matsakis and Leach, who died Monday night of a heart attack at the age of 61, spoke to each other just about four days before Leach’s death.

“I had no reason to believe he had anything (health-wise)” said Matsakis. “It’s really a strange deal. Here’s a guy your age who seems to be fine and suddenly he’s gone.”

Matsakis worked for Leach at Texas Tech University for three seasons, which was Leach’s first stint as head coach. In fact, Matsakis was Leach’s first employee when he got the job with the Red Raiders.

“We became very close during this time” said Matsakis. “It’s one of those things where you don’t just stand side by side with a guy as his right hand and don’t approach.”

While they worked together, Matsakis and Leach’s relationship actually began when Leach was an assistant coach under Hal Mumme at Valdosta State. Matsakis ran American Football Quarterly magazine at the time.

“We put Hal Mumme on the cover of the magazine and named Mike our Division II Offensive Coordinator of the Year.” Matsakis remembered. “Hal got the job in Kentucky and I was at Emporia State at the time and they invited me to come to Lexington and meet with them.”

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Basically, the relationship was established.

“Mike and I really got to talk during this time and got to know each other well personally.” said Matsakis. “We kept talking and just kept in touch over the years.”

Matsakis, who had served a Division I stint at Kansas State, left Emporia to serve as offensive coordinator at the University of Wyoming. That same season, Leach was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.

According to Matsakis, the editor of American Football Quarterly Magazine also got involved in helping colleges find coaches, and Texas Tech asked for help in his search.

“Mike and I had become very close during the season he was in Oklahoma.” said Matsakis. “We were buddies, we worked in a similar situation and we helped each other with some things.”

Matsakis and the publisher actually pushed for Leach to get an interview at Tech, which he was granted. However, it followed the Sooners’ defeat at Tech and Leach wasn’t in the mood, if you will, to bring out the best version of himself.

“He actually bombed the interview” Matsakis remembered.

With some persuasion, and after another option turned the job down, Tech decided to interview Leach again. The rest is of course history.

“Mike and I spent a lot of time on the phone in the two days leading up to his (second) interview preparation.” said Matsakis.

Leach was hired and Matsakis was called as the special teams coach and assistant head coach. It was a position Matsakis held until he left to become one of the first branches of the famed Leach coaching tree as Texas State University head coach.

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“Mike wanted guys on his staff who were head coaches.” said Matsakis. “He was able to walk many paths in Lubbock and put together a great staff.”

Some of the other members of the Leach coaching tree are Neal Brown, Art Briles, Sonny Dykes, Josh Heupel, and Dana Holgorsen.

“We’ve all exchanged a lot of text messages over the past few days,” said Matsakis. “No one really felt like talking. We all kind of felt the same and it was really just stunned. It’s one of those things where it hits you and you’re like, “How can this happen?”

Many people who don’t know Leach think he’s whimsical or eccentric when he brings up things like marriage, big foot, etc., based on some of his press conferences.

However, upon hearing these interviews, Matsakis knew that only Coach Leach was Coach Leach.

“Mike just didn’t have a filter when he got these tangents.” said Matsakis. “It was just the way he was. He saw no reason to hold back a thought. He didn’t care where he was. All he cared about was being himself.”

Matsakis actually had an example of this not too long ago. In the early hours of the morning, he receives a call from Leach for information “Do a body cleanse.”

“It really didn’t matter what the subject was…he was so captivating.” said Matsakis. “He really had a way of pulling people in and making them think differently about things. I really think that’s a big part of his legacy. Whatever his profession, he made the people around him play and work at a higher level.”

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Along with Manny, Leach also hired Louie Matsakis, a 1995 Shadyside graduate, as a quality controller and graduate assistant trainer. Louie remains in the coaching profession to this day and was on the staff of the University of Kentucky this season.


MONROE CENTRAL graduate Kalista Friday, a freshman basketball player at Defiance College, had her most productive college outing yet last Thursday when she scored 18 points, made three steals, shared three assists and caught two rebounds off the bench.

HEAR SOME interesting football matchups for the 2023 pre-season. Union Local and John Marshall have agreed to play in Moundsville. Wheeling Central and St. Clairsville play again. The Red Devils also inked Indian Valley, which lost in the regional finals last month.

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