First-year Mississippi State coach Mike Leach's love of social media and memes has gotten him into trouble in the past, including late last week when he posted an offensive tweet that caused a stir across the nation. The Clarion Ledger reported last week that Leach tweeted a meme featuring a picture of an elderly woman with knitting sticks in hand working on a noose. The caption reportedly read, "after two weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf."
Amid the continuing backlash, Mississippi State released the following statement on Tuesday.
"No matter the context, for many Americans the image of a noose is never appropriate and that's particularly true in the South and in Mississippi. Mississippi State University was disappointed in the use of such an image in a tweet by Coach Mike Leach," athletic director John Cohen said in a statement. "He removed the tweet and issued a public apology. The university is confident that Coach Leach is moving quickly and sincerely past this unintended misstep and will provide the leadership for our student athletes and excitement for our football program that our fans deserve and that our students and alumni will be proud to support."
Cohen also said that Leach will participate in listening sessions with student, alumni and community groups to provide the coach with opportunities to expand his cultural awareness of Mississippi. He will visit the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson as part of those sessions.
The controversial tweet has also resulted in player attrition. According to the Clarion Ledger, Mississippi State defensive lineman Fabien Lovett has opted to transfer out of the program after Leach tweeted, then deleted, an offensive meme amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking with the paper, Lovett's father expressed his discomfort with his son playing for a coach who says "whatever whenever."
"I didn't feel comfortable with my son being down there with a guy like that from a leadership standpoint — that you can just throw anything out there," Lovett said. "I feel if he can do it, the kids are going to feel like they can do it."
This is far from the first meme that Leach has shared on his official, verified Twitter account, and not even the first related to social distancing in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. However, Leach's noose meme got the attention of several Mississippi State players, including Lovett, and was met with incredulousness. Leach deleted the tweet and shared an apology on Thursday.
"I sincerely regret if my choice of images in my tweets were found offensive," Leach said in the tweet. "I had no intention of offending anyone."
This is the second time since his hiring at Mississippi State that Leach has deleted controversial messages from his verified Twitter account. In February, Leach deleted messages critical of Utah senator Mitt Romney following the vote in the impeachment trial for Donald Trump.