Social media lends its hands to UMass’ recruiting process



Last modified: Sunday, February 21, 2016

AMHERST — Shane Waldron was sheepish, but honest.

While he sat on the beach in Saint Lucia during his late December vacation, the UMass offensive line coach did what any coach would do when faced with weather that perfect and scenery that beautiful.

He checked Twitter on his phone for recruiting information.

“I was the sucker that paid for the international data plan,” Waldron said. “It’s nonstop.”

He checked Twitter on Christmas. And Thanksgiving. If he wakes up in the middle of the night, he’ll check Twitter en route to the bathroom. On nights when he’s home, his wife likes to challenge him.

“She’ll say ‘see if you can make it to 8:30 without looking at your phone,’” Waldron said. “Inevitably, I’ll lose that bet. I can’t go an hour without looking at it. I won’t lie. I’m slightly addicted to it.”

Waldron (@Coach_Waldron) is not alone. Social media, especially Twitter, has become essential for coaches as part of recruiting.

“You have to adapt with the times and social media is part of that adaptation,” he said. “It’s an easy way to break the ice and start the process.”

Spencer Whipple (@CoachSWhip16), UMass’ recruiting coordinator, agreed.

“It’s almost become the biggest part. That’s how these kids communicate now. At the end of the day it’s about your relationship with these kids and selling your program and your university,” he said. “The things you can push out about your university and things we’ve built here are things they see on their phone when they’re scrolling through. If that’s the way we need to communicate, that’s the way it’s going to be. I think it’s been a great tool. Guys on staff have used it tremendously.”

Whipple said he gets unusual glances when he’s on the road.

“I feel like a weirdo when I’m travelling on recruiting trips,” said Whipple, who said he hasn’t gone a single day during his coaching career without being on Twitter. “I have two phones and my iPad. I’ll be clicking on one and working on the other. That’s what it’s become. As much UMass as we can get out in front of them the better.”

Assistant coach Steve Costello (@CoachStello) is one of the team’s most active tweeters and enjoys the interaction with recruits.

“It lets kids know you’re not a robot. You’re human. You talk about different things. I’m not always on their trying to give Knute Rockne speeches or always talking about football,” he said. “There’s more to life than football. When they see you it’s an easier connection.”

Since head coach Mark Whipple arrived, UMass coaches and athletic staff members have been adding #FiretheMusket to a lot of their tweets. New athletic director Ryan Bamford added #Wintogether, a play off of #Swarmtogether, which was used at his old job at Georgia Tech.

Coaching staffs around the country have themed hashtags for their recruiting efforts. Penn State uses #DaPride16. Arkansas uses #WoooPig. Texas uses #LetsRide. Costello thought UMass should have one and suggested #OptimusPrime, the leader of the Transformers. It’s been in use since November.

“It was something to have fun with on social media. The meaning of it is to build something that’s indestructible,” Costello said. “I just threw it out there and Coach Spencer (Whipple) thought it was cool and I kept running with it. It really caught on. We’re just having fun on Twitter. I just felt like we needed a slogan. Other universities have their own hashtag and we wanted to come up with our own.”

Several recruits adopted it and used it when tweeting about their trips to UMass.

As the recruiting season progressed, the staff adjusted it to #OptiMass16 for obvious reasons and even named Wednesday’s signing day online broadcast #Optimass16.

Waldron said the UMass coaches monitor recruits’ social media to learn about their interests to better connect with them and to look for warning signs.

“For every kid, it’s a 30-second background check. You get a sense of a kid based on what he said and how he said it. Whatever is on a kid’s Twitter is just the surface of what he is. If he is willing to put negative things out there, it’s not something you’d want. It’s the tip of the iceberg.”

There’s no way to know how big a role social media played in UMass’ recruiting success, but hours after #Optimass16 was complete, Costello was back on Twitter:

“The class is set! Learned a lot thru this process! The bar has been raised! Next up.....#OptimusPrime17”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


 

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