Mike Riley hit the recruiting trail running for Nebraska. With the Dec. 13 deadline for contacting a recruit in mind, the new head coach had no time to lose.
So far, so good for Riley. He made as many stops as he could, re-securing commitments from defensive tackles and twin brothers Khalil and Carlos Davis and defensive backs Eric Lee, Avery Anderson and Aaron Williams.
And as it all took place, Riley gave fans a front row seat thanks to social media. When able, Riley tweeted updates on recruits and his time out on the road. It's something that sets Nebraska's new head coach apart from its previous.
"The biggest noticeable difference has been the use of social media on the recruiting trail," Michael Bruntz of 247 Sports told Bleacher Report. "With the previous staff, there would be a flurry of 'Boom' tweets when a recruit pulled the trigger for Nebraska, but Riley did a nice job of building buzz on the recruiting trail as he was going to see committed prospects. That’s kind of taking a step forward in building buzz and showing the fan base the work that’s happening out on the recruiting trail."
It was clear to fans that Bo Pelini was not keen on social media. Looking solely at his Twitter account, the former head coach tweeted less than 50 times in 2014, with a handful of those coming as retweets from others. Compare that to Riley who tweeted the same amount between September and December alone. Social media just wasn't Pelini's thing.
Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star looked at the negative impact social media could have had on Nebraska's staff in 2013.
"Make no mistake, fan/media negativity concerns Pelini and his staff, especially from a recruiting standpoint, but also because of the way it impacts current players," Sipple wrote.
That's likely what turned Pelini off from social media. As for Riley, he views social media differently, which has been seen quickly since he took the job at Nebraska. Bruntz acknowledged how important that acceptance and understanding is for a head coach.
"The head coach really needs to be the arrow of the spear so to speak on the recruiting trail. James Franklin at Penn State is a great example. That includes setting the tone in both evaluating prospects, the importance of recruiting and on social media," said Bruntz.
"I think you’re seeing that now. Riley and his staff’s approach really shouldn’t come as a big surprise. They did a great job of using social media at Oregon State, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the staff leverage the resources already in place in Nebraska’s digital communications department to take things up a notch."
As Bruntz pointed out, Riley has a lot of resources at his disposal. It would appear that he's already started to use them, which has to get fans excited about what he'll be able to do with a little more time under his belt.
Riley isn't wasting any time, though. As a result, the 2015 recruiting class is quickly taking shape. Some of Pelini's recruits will remain, but Bruntz believes Riley has quite a few additional players that his staff will target.
"This was always going to be a smaller class anyways, so there won’t be too mad of a dash to the finish line to fill 2015 spots, but Riley and his staff already have a couple irons in the fire heading into the dead week," said Bruntz.
He continued, "San Ramon (Calif.) tight end Matt Snyder is currently committed to Oregon State, but officially visited Nebraska on the weekend of Dec. 13. He’s a perfect fit for Riley’s offense and already has an established relationship with this coaching staff. Adrienne Talan, a linebacker from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., had been committed to Riley and his staff at Oregon State, but decommitted in early December. He visited the same weekend as Snyder and the 247Sports Crystal Ball points to him ending up at Nebraska. Not a flip per se, but an important position for Riley’s new staff."
As Riley targets these players, social media looks to be a focus. If nothing else, that will be the biggest difference in his approach at impressing recruits to Pelini's approach.
"Social media is certainly a big part of [recruiting], and this new staff seems to get it," Bruntz said. "Credit part of that to Director of Player Personnel Ryan Gunderson, who is the point man for a lot of that."
It's good that the new staff "gets it," too. Other coaches, like LSU's Les Miles have used Twitter to make news and gain the attention of potential recruits. While there are specific rules about when and how a recruit can be directly mentioned, there's nothing that says a coach cannot "subtweet" a player.
Miles' subtweet may not have sold running back Leonard Fournette on the Tigers alone, but it likely didn't hurt. After all, Fournette is now at LSU and making a name for himself. Riley has shown that he also doesn't mind vaguely mentioning players on Twitter in a similar fashion, either.
Beyond social media, there is one more area where Riley's approach could be different from Pelini's. That is the use of satellite camps.
"Something else to watch going forward is whether Riley and his staff at Nebraska take advantage of satellite camps in the same way they did at Oregon State," Bruntz noted.
"They worked camps in the Houston area that allowed them to get out and evaluate players in person that would have otherwise been difficult to see. That’s one way for northern teams to even things a bit with teams in the sun belt. If you can’t go out on a Friday night and see 25 prospects, do it in the summer and start building those relationships."
Relationships will be key for Riley. Whether it's through social media or through satellite camps, both approaches could bring a lot of talent to Nebraska.
Pelini may have been hesitant to really embrace social media for what it was. Riley is not. Fans have to be excited about this difference in approach.
Recruits have to be, too.
All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.