#notjustforplayers – College Coaches Are Starting to Figure Out Benefits of TwitterPosted by BHayes on August 20th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
Twitter may be just seven years old, but the social media tool has already found ubiquity in the world of college athletics. Rare is the college athlete (particularly in the revenue sports of football and basketball) without a Twitter handle, and rarer still is the day that passes without a major college basketball or football headline breaking from the Twitter-verse. College hoops recruits and transfers often use their 140-character snippets to announce their first, or next, college destination, while current players are keen to keeping their followers aware of breaking news from their program, summer plans, and even personal injury statuses. Quite simply, Twitter fuels the college basketball rumor mill. But for as much relevance as the platform has found within the game, one group that has failed to universally embrace it has been the head coaches. Coaches have no accepted industry standard to follow on how much to tweet, what to tweet about, or even whether to tweet in the first place. Their wide variety of approaches to the tool prompted The Sporting News to take a deeper look at how the head men in the Power Seven (AAC included) conferences use Twitter. Their findings make for a fun read – and should prompt a follow or two, but also provide an entrée into an emerging topic – how exactly are coaches using Twitter as a tool for growing their program?
Back in 2009, Twitter was considered so toxic that Mike Leach banned his entire football team (Texas Tech at the time) from using it. Four years later, that very same Mike Leach has over 40,000 followers and uses his feed to inform Washington State fans of happenings both relevant (“practice went great in Lewiston”) and irrelevant (“one of my favorite TV shows was Magic City on Starz. Wish they hadn’t cancelled it.”). Leach’s college hoops coaching brethren have made a similar discovery. Leading the way in the Twitter world, as he does in many other categories, is Kentucky’s John Calipari. Coach Cal’s 1.2 million followers are more than nine times as many as the second most-followed college coach (Indiana’s Tom Crean), and he uses his Twitter notoriety in exactly the way a solid front-runner should. Befitting his on and off-court personality, Calipari tweets often and honestly, mostly making sure that UK fans are privy to all the happenings around his program. When you are speaking to a fan base as populous and interested as his Wildcat supporters, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Goal number one should be making program information easy and accessible, and Coach Cal does that as well as any college coach in the Twitter business.
When you run one of the most popular college programs in the country, there isn’t much need for particular creativity. But when you are at the helm of a history-deprived Power Seven conference program, it makes some sense to take a risk or two with a new technique for program promotion. Welcome to Tim Miles’ world. Nebraska’s head coach was hired a year ago away from Colorado State, and more so than any other coach in the country, he has used Twitter to attract attention to his team. Pretty much every power conference program will rank ahead of Nebraska in terms of basketball accomplishments, but according to TSN, only four coaches (Calipari, Crean, Donovan and Self) outpace the Cornhuskers’ head coach in Twitter followers. It isn’t an iconic program or rabid fan base that has built that substantial following base for Miles. The secret ingredient has been his willingness to push boundaries with his feed, going as far as to tweet in-game, with even more adventurous tweeting advertised for the future. Miles is off to a solid start in Lincoln in all regards, but it will be interesting to watch and see if his complete embrace of this Twitter era gives him an edge in the recruitment of social media-savvy recruits.
Calipari, Miles and other college coaches are using Twitter to enhance the appeal of their programs, but not everyone is in on the act. The Sporting News highlighted Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, and Rick Pitino as notable non-users (although Coach K is reportedly a lurker), and needless to say, all those men are running very successful programs. As those legends prove, Twitter proficiency is very much an extraneous element at this point for college coaches. But as we creep deeper and deeper into the Twitter era, it should come as no shock if we watch savvy in the platform become a must for every major-conference head coach, whether they are a historical power or perennial cellar dweller.