After bad tweet, here are some other things Mike Leach should know about coaching in the SEC
Let me guess. You don’t think Mike Leach’s tweet was offensive, and you’re sick of snowflakes.
You saw nothing wrong with the new Mississippi State coach’s tweet that showed a meme of a woman knitting her husband a noose with the caption, “After 2 weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf.”
You’re entitled to your opinion. So are Mississippi State players, multiple of whom shared their not-so-indifferent opinions on the tweet.
That didn’t include MSU defensive lineman Fabien Lovett, who entered the transfer portal a couple of days after the tweet surfaced. Lovett’s father confirmed that while it wasn’t just the tweet that played a part in his son’s decision, yes, the tweet was a factor. We found out Monday via AL.com that offensive lineman Brevyn Jones also entered the transfer portal.
To recap, multiple MSU players publicly shared their disagreement with Leach’s tweet and multiple MSU players entered the transfer portal in the days following Leach’s tweet.
If you want to say they only transferred because they weren’t going to play, or that they just want immediate eligibility elsewhere, again, you’re entitled to your opinion. If you want to say the “the media” is just bored and looking for something to talk about, you’re entitled to that opinion. Well, that’s the wrong opinion because the second you have multiple players share their not-so-positive feelings about something a high-profile coach tweets, including a senior captain like Erroll Thompson, that’s news.
And for what it’s worth, his own athletic director, John Cohen, came out with a statement saying that it’s “never appropriate” for a tweet with that subject matter:
“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. 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.”
Even if you think there was nothing wrong with Leach’s tweet, you can at least admit that it did more harm than good. A player’s parent citing a tweet as a reason their son transferred is always a bad look, as is an athletic director using the words “disappointed” and “misstep” when referencing something a coach did on social media. Clearly Leach still has some learning to do.
Perhaps he could learn a few things about coming into a new region of the country from his predecessor, who never got in trouble for anything he posted on social media. Had Joe Moorhead tweeted about nooses, you can bet the farm that the “this Yankee just doesn’t get it” takes would have been out in full force.
So because Leach has some learning to do with more eyes on him now than ever, I thought I’d try to help him avoid future negative headlines with a few SEC lessons.
Let’s have a conversation, Mike:
Just use that big brain of yours to generate social media content
In other words, don’t rely on memes you ripped off from Facebook or Reddit. Why? This might not be obvious to those who spend hours doing this exact thing every day, but when you’re a head coach getting paid $5 million a year, shooting from the hip probably isn’t the best social media strategy.
Sharing other people’s comedic content in 2020 should be treated like trying not to step on a land mine. You might avoid it with 1,000 steps, but the 1 time you don’t, it can blow up and have a greater impact than those 1,000 steps. You’d tell your players the same thing.
That’s the thing. More times than not, Leach shares funny stuff. His Twitter account is at an absurd 360,000-plus followers in part because of that.
But if you’re worried that this would “censor” you, tell me how many times you said something viral in a press conference that came from something you saw on Facebook or Reddit? Those viral thoughts come from your big brain. When you talk about pirates or wedding planning, it’s all you. That’s when you’re at your best. There’s still a place for that.
Speaking of that …
Timing is everything
I said this before and I’ll say it again — the biggest question I have about Leach is how he is going to handle the low points of the season. Lose 3 consecutive conference games and unlike in Pullman, the fan base won’t laugh off a long-winded answer about the American Revolution if it avoids answering something about the team’s struggles. Like, turning the question “what do you need to do to get Kylin Hill more involved” into a 7-minute rant about how dumb “The Bay of Pigs” was won’t fly at MSU.
If you want to sneak in those references, do that in spring or fall camp. Better yet, do it after a 59-0 beatdown of Alabama A&M. Pick your spots in the SEC. This conference doesn’t embrace weird quite like the Pac-12. It embraces wins and bowl games that aren’t played in Shreveport.
Again, this isn’t totally unfamiliar to you. When your program gets a big win, it’s totally fine if your star quarterback wants to come stick a fake mustache on you.
Mike Leach on Gardner Minshew’s mustache: pic.twitter.com/OvdfOSEFEv
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) November 10, 2018
Those moments can still be there in the SEC. People want to see this side of you.
Treat your new fan base like you’re back in your 20s and you’re meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time. You don’t need to wear a tux or act like Eddie Haskell. But read the room. Don’t let out a post-dinner burp, and avoid telling them “what you like about their daughter’s body.”
After all, this is the SEC. This is the conference where a coach can win a national title and be fired 2 years later. More specifically, this is the school that just fired a coach 2 years in despite the fact that he went to bowl games and won the Egg Bowl in consecutive years. Public perception can change in a hurry.
Or, you know, when the entire country is in quarantine with nothing to do but look at social media, maybe don’t share a joke about nooses 3 months after accepting a job south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Start using y’all
Because “you all” is just a waste of time.
Don’t ask players about ring sizes
I remember asking Moorhead at SEC Media Days about what he infamously said after he arrived in Starkville. You know, when he got off the plane and told MSU players to learn their ring sizes. A year later, he said that regretted it. Why? It lacked historical context. It didn’t take into account some basic information that MSU fans knew. That is, this is a program that hasn’t won a division title since 1998.
Should you talk about low expectations? No. The masses don’t want to hear, “I told players to get new bathing suits because we’re gonna be going to a bowl game somewhere by a beach this year.” But just remember that if you’re going to talk about expectations, do so by understanding that MSU has 1 winning season in conference play in the 21st century.
These things can all be goals. They just need to be talked about in the right way. If you want to come out and say, “I think K.J. Costello can lead the country in passing,” that’s fine. You’ve done that before, and you can do it again. Maybe just avoid saying something like “I told K.J. to get a spot on his mantel ready for his Heisman Trophy.” Again, Moorhead admittedly made that mistake.
You don’t have to lose your confidence. You just need to express it in the right way. This is the SEC West, where you can play in a Playoff elimination game as a top-4 team in early-November and be stuck on 8 wins at season’s end (see: 2014 Auburn or basically any Kevin Sumlin Texas A&M team). This league has a tendency of humbling those who publicly set the bar at unprecedented levels for their respective programs.
And when you’re losing public favor, just rip SEC officials
If there’s one thing everyone in the SEC can agree on (besides “It Just Means More”), it’s SEC officiating. It’s the default punching bag, and understandably so. Want people to forget that your team allowed 28 unanswered points at home? Talk about how a certain blown call totally shifted the momentum of the game. Chances are, you’ll have plenty of choices.
Use a postgame press conference as a “Ted Talk” on how awful the targeting process is. That’s not ducking a question in the aforementioned manner I referenced about turning Kylin Hill touch issues into “The Bay of Pigs.” SEC fans can get behind official bashing any place, any time.
Better yet, you know what will really go a long way? Tweet at the @SECOfficiating account with a screen shot of a missed call. SEC fans eat up that content like postgame Waffle House (that’s another thing you should get familiar with).
Will it hurt the bank account a bit? Sure. That league fine will be inevitable. But hey, you’re getting paid $5 million with this gig. That’s a small price to pay if it means doing something to win public support to keep your job.
That’s what this is all about. Winning is the cure-all in the SEC. It’s a daunting, often-uphill climb. But there’s at least 1 thing you can do to make sure there’s still a path to that.
Avoid stepping on land mines.