College Football Coaches Who Are Social Media Geniuses
Being a college football coach involves so much more these days than knowing your X's and O's. It also helps to be skilled in hashtags and emojis.
The use of social media by today's coaches has become an essential part of the job. Knowing how to navigate the Twitterverse as well as the worlds of Instagram and Snapchat enables coaches to stay connected with recruits in an increasingly digital age. It also provides a heck of an outlet to spread a message, whether it be one of support and praise or snark and shade.
Not every coach can call himself a social media genius, however. That's a label bestowed on only a select few, as you'll see why in the following slides.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
The coach who once deflected rumors he might leave Arkansas for Nebraska by declaring he was "all Hog" to ESPN's Chris Low, thus establishing a well-used hashtag that's become synonymous with the Razorbacks, Bret Bielema is one to always watch and listen to. His 160,000 Twitter followers get a mix of football-related updates and glimpses into Bielema's off-the-field life with wife Jen.
They're also privy to Bielema's foray into the world of modern technology, such as his first-ever app purchase, and if #WoooPig isn't mentioned, there's something wrong. He also makes use of social media as a filter for future recruits, saying at last year's SEC media days (h/t ESPN), "I've turned down players based on their Twitter handles. I've turned down players based on Twitter pictures."
Bielema has gotten into his fair share of verbal spats with opposing coaches, though he's managed to avoid using tweets and posts to further these feuds. Instead, those wars tend to be fought through press conferences and more traditional forms of media.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
When you live-tweet your own wedding, you know how this whole social media thing works.
Pretty much everything P.J. Fleck has done since Western Michigan hired him in 2013 has worked out splendidly. He's turned the Broncos into a contender in the Mid-American Conference, has won eight games each of the past two years (including a first-ever bowl victory in December) and is running circles around the rest of his league on the recruiting trail.
Fleck also far outpaces other MAC coaches when it comes to social media presence. His “Row the Boat” mantra preaches never slowing down, which is evident in the way he's constantly reaching out to current players, future prospects and even past performers on Twitter. But he also displays the importance of having a life away from football, with plenty of updates on his children and leisure activities.
He might go a little heavy on the use of "elite" in his posts, but otherwise, Fleck is working social media to near perfection.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
We didn't rank these coaches, because there would be no real drama in who was No. 1 on the list. In just over a year on the job, Jim Harbaugh has not only revitalized Michigan's football team but also firmly established himself as the king of social media among his peers.
And it's not even close.
In addition to being seemingly everywhere—WWE matches, golf tournaments, spring training games—while still remaining focused on the Wolverines' offseason workouts, Harbaugh maintains a constant presence online. His tweets include all the usual stuff you'd expect from a coach, including GPA updates and the welcoming of new recruits, as well as fun updates of his overseas trips or his obsession with Judge Judy, but those serve as the complimentary breadsticks before the real meal is served.
That is where Harbaugh reigns supreme, without any close competition. His mastery of subtweeting (which might as well be called Harbaughing at this point) was most recently on display when he threw shade toward Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith in response to Smith's comments about Harbaugh holding spring practice in Florida.
Retweeted or liked more than 15,000 times, this veiled dig finds itself atop Sports Illustrated's list of the top Harbaugh Twitter feuds. Yes, he has an entire list all to himself, which says all you need to know about Harbaugh's social media wizardry.
Tom Herman, Houston
Tom Herman is the hottest name in college football coaching, having gone 13-1 in his first year in charge of a program immediately after helping Ohio State to a national title. His decision to remain with Houston for at least the 2016 season was a major boon for the program—and not just because of his knowledge of the game or ability to draw in recruits.
He's also promoting the Cougars' brand on social media in a way that keeps them relevant and prominent in the most competitive football state in the country.
Buoyed by the #HTownTakeover slogan, Herman goes out of his way to point out how well the Cougars are doing in comparison to other Texas FBS programs. He's tweeted or retweeted more than 5,400 times, a flood of updates that makes it impossible for anyone to forget what's going on in Houston.
Just as he wants it. Houston may find itself ranked in or near the Top 10 when the upcoming season begins, but regardless of what the polls say, Herman is ensuring the Cougars are among the most public programs in the country.
Les Miles, LSU
His Twitter use comes and goes, but more often than not, Les Miles' social media musings are worth the wait. Much like it is whenever a microphone or tape recorder is nearby, the LSU coach is capable of unleashing a bon mot that instantly becomes timeless.
He was quick to deny being at Tom Brady's Deflategate hearing, despite having a striking resemblance to one of the figures in the court sketches. Miles was also among the first to welcome Steve Spurrier to Twitter last March, and he has a habit of including many of his posts with an “LM” tagline in case you didn't know who the author was.
And only a few months removed from a last-minute reprieve by those who employ him, Miles is throwing his support behind LSU's place in proposed state education budget cuts. In early March, he retweeted three posts noting the athletic department's self-sufficiency.
We can only hope Miles shares some pictures from his recent trip to Cuba on his timeline.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.