“Show them who you are, and then teach them what you know.”
The words of legendary coach Woody Hayes still apply to today’s college football, even though it's a drastically different game that is still evolving. For Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand, this saying carries incredible worth. It’s helped shape his coaching style, and it accurately encompasses his approach while navigating the ultra-competitive recruiting world of the SEC.
From two wins in 2010 to a nine-win season in 2012, Hand has helped lead one of the nation's most dramatic college football turnarounds. As part of an ambitious staff led by head coach James Franklin, he has helped bring life—as well as heightened expectations—to a long-dormant football program.
Much of this success can be attributed to a boost in team talent, especially at a time where the norms and practices for landing premier football players are undergoing an overhaul. The overnight emergence of social media—in particular Facebook and Twitter—has created a new world in recruiting, one without a defined blueprint.
For assistant coaches, it’s created a situation (and a lifestyle) in which they are never truly off the clock.
“The access is 24/7,” Hand said regarding how social media has changed recruiting. “The toughest part is that you can have constant contact with kids, staying up all night sending messages if you like. It’s a challenge to balance football, recruiting and, of course, your family.”
Between the cooking, scuba diving, family dinners and even the dance moves—yes, dance moves, and he’s happy to showcase his repertoire every now and then—Hand, like other assistants looking to maximize their success, is using social media to connect with talented players around the country.
Hand can be seen at the 20-second mark below. He has 5-star worm talent.
Coaches aren’t just flocking to their computers because their competitors are on it. Instead, college assistants are flocking to social media because everyone is on it.
“Our target group is kids who are the ages 15 through 18, and social media is where they are communicating,” Herb said. “You can’t sit around and hope they’ll find you. You need to meet them where they are.”
Many assistant coaches have jumped on social media strictly for their job, but Hand is a different story. He is the exception, the rare breed that genuinely enjoys interacting with family, fans, players and even media members.
Unlike most coaches, who come off as a constant, emotionless public service announcement, Hand has a personality. He’s active, honest, approachable, funny and willing to discuss more than just the happenings at the school or the game he coaches.
He balances his usage on the device much like he balances his life: There’s plenty of football talk, certainly, but it’s not all football. It doesn't have to be, even when he’s dealing with recruits.
“I don’t want it to be just about X's and O's, because that’s not the type of relationship I have with my players,” Hand said. “You have to make your decision on the school and the fit, but coaches are very important.”
The coaches tasked with establishing these relationships are doing much of this work behind a computer screen. No longer a game of official visits, snail mail literature and phone tag, the text messages have trended more toward social media.
Twitter and Facebook have quickly become the best networking devices. In the world of collegiate athletics, coaches, players and the NCAA are still trying to determine how (or if) you can balance the usage.
ICYMI Prospect #RealTalk - You have an opportunity with social media to begin creating YOUR personal brand - What are YOU saying about YOU?— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) June 18, 2013
Unlike other communication mediums in the recruiting world, there’s no cap, no limit to how much contact a coach can have with a player. This creates a difficult lifestyle for coaches, who are now pressured to recruit at all hours, and the players on the other end of this pipeline.
There's also confusion on a variety of fronts because of the sheer lack of guidelines in place.
As a compliance reminder to all prospects.Unless you are currently a junior,I cannot send you a DM,even if you message me 1st. #NotBeingRude— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) May 31, 2013
“You have to embrace it but also have to manage it,” Hand said. “You can legislate all you want, but there’s no way someone will be able to put a lid on social media when it comes to access.”
The perception is that an assistant coach will only use these devices to fire off countless tweets, messages and direct messages to potential players, although that’s not the case, at least not for Hand. His activity on these outlets—particularly on Twitter—includes simply seeing what players have to say.
High school players take note: Your tweets are being monitored. The interest works both ways.
“We’ve dropped kids because of what they’ve posted on social media,” Herb said. “It may not be just because of that, but it can create a red flag. It’s another valuable piece of information.”
Although it may not feel like it, social media is still very new. In the recruiting world, it’s still in its infant stage, and coaches are still searching for the appropriate way to manage it. The search for equilibrium—if such a thing exists—is on.
Unlike perhaps any other coach in the country, Hand appears to have found a balance—both on and away from his computer. There’s no outline to follow, no checklist to run down. Hand’s success on social media, which has translated to recruiting triumph, has come naturally .
He will continue to recruit using these devices, cook with his family, reach new depths undersea and—hopefully, for our sake—break out the worm every now and then.
Adam Kramer is the lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.