Technology has always changed the world we live in, even for creatures of habit like middle-aged football coaches.
But good football coaches are usually good recruiters. And good recruiters usually find a way to connect with the latest round of 17- and 18-year-olds, whether it’s 1973 or 2013. Good recruiters have to change with the times, speak the language of youth and form a bond with the players they covet.
TCU coach Gary Patterson became the eighth Big 12 football coach to join Twitter when he signed on April 25. He sees it as a necessary adaptation of being a college coach in 2013.
Although he has slowed down considerably since August camp began, he had kept a steady online presence since his inaugural tweet in April: “To the TCU NFL Hopefuls....GOOD LUCK! #DontBackDown #GoFrogs #FTF”
Much more than the other Big 12 coaches on Twitter, Patterson interacts with fans, answers queries and shares his thoughts on topics beyond Horned Frogs football.
He had 7,577 followers as of Friday afternoon, small compared with other Big 12 coaches who have used the social media application much longer. His most common use of Twitter is retweeting others, especially high-resolution picture threads such as @GoogleEarthPics and @AmazingWorldPics.
“That’s my way to keep sanity,” Patterson joked Thursday in the wake of a pseudo feud between him and LSU coach Les Miles that erupted earlier this week. Patterson said he hadn’t seen much downside to Twitter “until the last two days” as he noticed the mentions from LSU fans.
“I’ve been writing down all the words I’ve been called,” he joked. “They all come with a geaux [hashtag].”
But as others who have yet to join Twitter, including Kansas State’s Bill Snyder and Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, are likely to find out, the social app is at the forefront of changing recruiting methods. Patterson uses Twitter for different objectives, but chief among them is as a recruiting tool.
Changes to NCAA rules allow coaches to send a direct message (a private person-to-person message within Twitter) to high school seniors they’re recruiting. High school juniors can’t be contacted until September.
“To me, Twitter has been so much safer for a head coach because [the recruits] have to follow you and you have to follow them,” Patterson told the Texas High School Coaches Association a couple weeks ago. “If they want to take a picture and tweet out what you said to them, you’re going to see it.
“[Twitter] gave me something that I thought I didn’t have the last couple of years — a way for me to outwork another head coach. I get home at night and it gives me an opportunity to talk to kids as far as direct-messaging and see what’s going on and let them get a chance to know me.”
One of Patterson’s standard Twitter practices is to tweet “recruiting is heating up” just before a recruit announces his commitment to TCU. It happened twice last week when top prospects announced they’re headed to TCU.
Patterson has also found that it helps him keep up with world events. “If you want to really see what the world is doing, you need to get on there from about 11 to 1 a.m.,” said Patterson, who generally follows anyone who asks him.
He follows more than 3,000 people, which includes many of his players who have been using Twitter much longer than he has, allowing him to monitor his players’ messages more easily. Before joining himself, Patterson said he had no problem allowing his players to use the app as long as they kept team-only information private.
“In this day and age, with young people on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, it’s prudent that our coaching staffs be aware of how to communicate with them,” TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said.
Del Conte is not on Twitter and said, at the moment, he’s not “ready to venture into that world. It’s better left to our coaching staff.”
Other coaches, such as Texas’ Mack Brown, follow far fewer people. Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who has more than 19,000 followers, follows 12 people, the fewest among Big 12 coaches. And most of those are members of his coaching staff or other school-related accounts.
For Patterson, Twitter has been a way to show another side of his personality.
“Most people’s perception of me is the three hours they see of me on Saturday. I’m in people’s faces and I’m all over the place and I’m intense and I have laser eyes, I have a passion for the game,” he said.
Twitter allows him to show people a more well-rounded, 53-year-old man, one who likes to write songs on his guitar and loves to scuba dive.
Del Conte, for one, was surprised how quickly and enthusiastically Patterson dove into Twitter.
“I would have never thought that he would have taken to Twitter as he has,” Del Conte said. “And it’s great for young people and our fans to see a different side of Coach Patterson. He also knows that the lifeblood of any program is recruiting and young players and that’s a great mode of communication, and I commend him for his efforts.”
As the season draws closer, Patterson’s Twitter action is likely to slow down, with the exception of his beloved picture threads. He often adds a comment to a picture he retweets, like one he described from earlier this summer.
“I had one of a polar bear on top of an ice cap and I said, ‘Now you know how a head football coach feels after a loss.’ He’s out in the middle of nowhere out in the middle of the ocean,” he explained.
Yes, but now with Twitter, you’re never really alone.