SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to Twitter, many college football coaches have a pretty good handle of what their players are doing on the popular social media network.
“In this day and age you can’t really try to stifle it, I don’t believe,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But what you can do is try to set some guidelines, which we have done.”
Whittingham explained that Twitter is off-limits to any sensitive material about the team and obvious things like strategy.
“But as long as (the players) keep it above board and respectable we don’t have a problem with it,” he said.
Even so, Twitter feeds are monitored — as they are at many programs.
“We’ve got guys taking a look at essentially everything that our players are putting out and our guys for the most part do a really good job with it,” Whittingham said.
The Utes are reminded all the time, he noted, about the power of one push of the button.
“Once it’s out there, it’s out there, and there’s no taking it back,” Whittingham said. “I’m the furthest thing from an expert on what’s going on multimedia-wise in this day and age, but I know it can be damaging if you don’t think before you put something out there.”
It was a popular topic earlier this summer at the All Poly Camp in Layton.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops addressed it in his opening remarks to the gathering.
“It’s not going away,” he said afterward. “(Players) need to be aware at a young age that people are aware of what they’re putting out there and it can come back to haunt you.”
Stoops added that coaches use social media to communicate with players and make character evaluations.
USC’s Steve Sarkisian agreed.
“Every guy that we’re recruiting I follow because it’s probably the best indicator of their character,” he said. “But sometimes kids don’t really understand the impact that it has, so you have to educate them as well. But it’s a great way to get connected to them.”
Expectations are greater once a player commits to a program.
Utah State coach Matt Wells personally checks things out each day.
“Some head coaches have assistants that do all that and personal assistants and I do it myself. I look at it daily. I think it exposes a kid for who he is and what he’s about — which is not always a negative,” Wells said. “I think it can be a positive, too. So it can confirm some of the things you’re thinking about a young man and it can also raise some eyebrows or some questions about a kid.”
Either way, a Twitter feed comes with great power.
“It’s not a text message. It’s out there for everybody to see. It’s out there for media. It’s out there for coaches to see,” Wells said. “It’s like I talk to our players about, you have two things in this life that you have control over and that’s your name and your reputation.
“You can build your name up and you can build your reputation up over a long period of time or many years in your life and you can take minutes to destroy it,” he continued. “So you have to realize that and be aware of that before you hit ‘tweet.’”
It’s a warning that Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen gives whenever discussing social media to a group of kids. He said his message is quite simple: Don’t push send if you’re not willing to have it go to your mom, or dad, or grandma, or grandpa, or any other mentor.
“Because it’s out there forever,” Andersen said. “We talk about it extensively. We look at it.”
Andersen doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter, personally. He does, however, acknowledge that assistant coaches absolutely need it to communicate with the kids daily.
“Can you learn from kids on Twitter? Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Andersen said. “I hope that kids are continually getting smarter and understanding that it can be an avenue to do some good things for you, but you can also make some very poor choices quickly. We discuss that a lot with our kids and we discuss that a lot with the young men that we have an opportunity to recruit — to really educate them.”