LAWRENCE — On a winter day back in January, David Beaty clutched a cell phone and pulled up the Twitter account of a mostly unknown high school quarterback from Florida. In another era, Beaty may have needed to draft an official recruiting letter on KU stationary or pick up the telephone at the properly designated time. Instead, Beaty just hit one button. “Follow.”
We can assume that Beaty, the first-year football coach at Kansas, does this a lot — pulling out his phone and connecting digitally with a cache of football recruits from across the country. We can assume this, in part, because Beaty says he does, spending so many hours on the social media site that if he were a teenager, his parents might be a little concerned. But we also know this particular story because the quarterback was named Carter Stanley, and in the days after Beaty followed him on Twitter, he gave Kansas a non-binding commitment and divulged the details of his digital recruitment.
“I’ve spent a lot of nights on that Twitter,” Beaty says, “watching that thing all night.”
Not all recruiting stories go like this, of course. But enough do that Beaty has made crafting his social media presence a priority during his first months at Kansas. It’s not just recruiting, either. Take a closer look, and Beaty’s Twitter exploits provide a window into his entire philosophy as a coach.
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“The truth of it is,” Beaty explains, “I hired guys that have energy, that have passion, they have enthusiasm. And I think when you’re taking over a program that needs to go in a higher-level direction, you gotta have that.”
Beaty, 44, believes that a football program should be built on genuine enthusiasm and unbridled energy, not the rigid Army Basic Training atmosphere that permeates many programs. This is evident at practice, where members of his young staff fly around the field, sprinting from drill to drill as music ranging from hip hop to country blares from an expensive sound system left over from the Charlie Weis years.
But for Beaty, the enthusiasm also manifests itself in another place, on Twitter and online, where members of his staff are free to be themselves. This perhaps is the most revealing thing about Beaty and social media. Nearly every major-college football program in the country utilizes social media to some degree. But few staffs have the freedom and leeway to be themselves like Beaty’s assistants.
In recent weeks, members of the Kansas coaching staff have tweeted about spring practice (a lot), Tiger Woods at the Masters, Easter Sunday, seeing former KU player Darrell Stuckey at practice, Chipotle, the death of former Knicks forward Anthony Mason, Vine videos of Royals manager Ned Yost, and, of course, more updates from practice, among other things.
“(It’s about) building excitement about your program,” said offensive coordinator Rob Likens, who also cultivated an entertaining Twitter account while at California. “Because the kids (recruits) are on Twitter nonstop — I mean nonstop.”
It helps that Kansas has a staff that slants young. Offensive line coach Zach Yenser is 30. Receivers coach Klint Kubiak is in his late 20s. Linebackers coach Kevin Kane graduated from Kansas in 2006. Even Likens, one of the staff’s veterans, said he’s not surprised by how much time he must spend on Twitter.
“My wife is surprised how much I’m on it,” he joked.
When Likens was a receivers coach at Cal, the football staff was introduced to a research study that showed how much high school kids were online. Likens can’t remember the exact number or study, but a Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010 found that teens used electronic devices for an average of 7 1/2 hours per day.
“Astounding,” Likens remembers thinking. “If they’re reading it, then somebody is putting their stuff in front of their eyes and it might as well be us.”
The use of social media sites — the popular ones being Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — also allow coaches to circumvent NCAA rules on phone calls to prospective recruits. Depending on the time of year, it may be against NCAA rules to pick up a phone and call a recruit. The rules for Twitter and Facebook are a little more lax.
“In recruiting, you’re allowed to direct message guys when you’re not allowed to call them on the telephone,” Likens said. “And you’re able to Facebook message when you’re not allowed to call. So that’s a way of communicating with recruits. But it has completely changed college football.”
Some of this is not new — even at Kansas. Weis, who was in his mid 50s during his time at Kansas, used to brag about spending all night on Facebook, messaging with recruits.
“Honestly, if you’re not doing that in this day and age, you’re losing,” Beaty says.
In the months after he took the Kansas job, Beaty traveled across the state, meeting KU fans and introducing the tenets of his forward-thinking program. Conversely, he learned something about the state of the program and fan morale. It’s no secret that the KU football brand is in crummy shape. Time and again, Beaty says, fans told him that they simply wanted to see competitive football.
“We need to make ourselves relevant,” Beaty says. “How do we do that? We got to market ourselves, and we got to use the tools that we have available to market ourselves.”
This is partly why Beaty has taken to Twitter this spring, tweeting out his players of the day, sending out the program motto (#EarnIt), and trying to rebuild the Kansas brand, one tweet at a time. It is also why Likens was on Twitter back on Feb. 28. It was a Saturday, and Likens was doing some recruiting. He wanted to send out a message, but NCAA rules mandated that it would have to be done through the coded language of social media. So he tapped out the following tweet and pressed send.
“Due to NCAA rules,” the tweet said, “I am prohibited from retweeting pictures of me with some very important people. However, I am retweeting on the inside.”