Coded commitment tweets bringing new publicity to recruiting
Unless Miami recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll had the letters queued up in his clipboard this past weekend, his thumbs are probably pretty sore. Carroll posted the hashtag #WelcomeToTheU seven times between Friday and Sunday. Twitter-savvy Miami fans know exactly what that means, because the Hurricanes' staff has joined a growing group of coaches across the country who have found a way to alert recruiting-obsessed fans to a new verbal commitment without breaking the NCAA's rule against publicizing individual recruits.
When Carroll tweets "#WelcomeToTheU," it means the same thing as when Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin tweets "YESSIR!" or a member of the Ole Miss -- or Kentucky -- staff tweets "Yahtzee!" or a member of the Nebraska -- or Texas Tech -- staff tweets "Booooom!": A recruit has offered a non-binding verbal commitment. In the case of Miami -- which had such high volume because it hosted a camp this weekend -- we know the identities of six of the #WelcomeToTheU club. A perusal of the recruiting services tells us that Miami defensive end Mike Smith, Orange Park, Fla., linebacker Darrion Owens, Norcross, Ga., tight end Chris Herndon, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., athlete Dennis Turner and Miami athlete Trayone Gray committed for the class of 2014, while Royal Palm Beach, Fla., linebacker Charles Perry became the Hurricanes' first class of 2015 commitment. (Carroll wasn't done tweeting, either. After Miami Northwestern High offensive coordinator TY Conyers revealed Bulls receiver/cornerback Ryan Mayes had committed to Miami late Monday night, Carroll lit the Twitter lamp again.)
For years, coaches publicly pretended recruiting didn't exist. Privately, they treated it with life-and-death importance, and with good reason. Their continued employment relies on their ability to bring in the best players. But coaches and their schools' compliance officials were so terrified of the NCAA's anti-publicity rule that they barely acknowledged recruiting. Now, most coaches have embraced social media because Twitter and Instagram are the way today's teens communicate. What do we tend to tweet about? The things we do on a daily basis. What do college coaches do for most of their waking hours? They recruit. Voila, a new window into the recruiting world.
The NCAA rule is pretty clear. It only bans talking about specific prospects. There is no rule against a coach announcing a commitment -- provided he doesn't name the player. Back in 2009, when those of us who use Twitter were still trying to figure out the difference between an @ reply and a retweet, then-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin broke this rule because of course he did. Kiffin blamed a football staffer who was running the coach's Twitter page. The recruit in question, J.C. Copeland, never went to Tennessee. He can currently be seen battering defenders as LSU's 272-pound Sherman Tank-back.
For the hundreds of coaches who can follow this relatively simple rule, the Twitter commit codes liven up the otherwise dull months between spring practice and preseason camp. Usually, arrests and scandals dominate the news cycle at this time of year. These coaches have found a way to work some good news into the mix. Of course, no one working in college football today can hold former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's iPhone when it comes to coded tweets. For a brief period during his time on the Farm, Harbaugh fired off masterfully disguised 140-character missives that either tipped off recruiting news or actually served as subtweets aimed directly at recruits. Harbaugh doesn't have to recruit as an NFL coach, so, sadly, his Twitter account has gone silent.
Today's current college coaches have tried to follow in the master's footsteps. Harbaugh's former conference rival, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, was among the first to assign a code word to a commitment. For the past two recruiting cycles, Sark has tweeted "Woof" or "Woooof!" or "Wooooooooooof!" every time a recruit has committed to the Huskies. Now, Sark has plenty of company. Hugh Freeze and his staff at Ole Miss began using Yahtzee late last year, but Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and his staff grabbed the dice and started rolling this spring. When an NC State coach tweets about "the red light," it means the Wolfpack have a new member.
The most creative recruiting announcements on Twitter have come from Butch Jones' staff at Tennessee. When Jones put together his staff this offseason, he mandated that every coach must tweet. He also made this year's offseason theme "brick by brick," which serves the dual purpose of celebrating the staff's hot recruiting start while tempering fan expectations for once the games actually begin. Basically, Tennessee has been torn down to the slab and must rebuild. Those nine-star recruits who keep promising to come to Knoxville? They aren't there yet. But Jones and his assistants make sure to remind fans that the cavalry is on its way. Every time a player commits for the class of 2014, Tennessee coaches add another brick to the wall they've erected next to the Volunteers' 1998 national title trophy, snap a photo and tweet it out.
The photo element could add some spice to other coded recruiting tweets. Since Kentucky has co-opted Yahtzee from Ole Miss -- in much the same fashion that Ole Miss tried to co-opt "Win The Day" from Oregon -- it's time Freeze and his staff changed things up to offer a more original look for their high-powered recruiting operation. Last week, Freeze posted a bass-fishing photo that would have made noted Tennessee fan Bill Dance proud. Alert reader Beck Barnes suggests the next time Freeze nets a recruit, Freeze should post only a photo of himself holding a bass. If he lands an offensive lineman, attach a photo of a nine-pounder. If he lands a cornerback, attach a photo of a three-pounder.
The other option is to go completely in the opposite direction and mimic flash-free Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who addressed Monday's commitments from Fort Worth, Texas, tailback Daniel Gresham and Greenville, S.C., All-Name Team nominee Zykiesis Cannon with the following tweet: "Great day to be a member of #CardNation! The future of our program continues to get brighter!"
Yessir. Boom. Yahtzee.