Along with counterintelligence agents and UFO conspiracy theorists, football coaches rank among the most paranoid people on the planet. They shred game plans, sweep their offices for bugs, look for spies lurking behind trees and the wheel of the team bus, close practices and refuse to talk about injuries. They are especially wary of mainstream media, viewing its representatives as shape-shifting chuckleheads out to subvert all that is good in their universe. The blogosphere is another toxic stew of uninformed opinion that football coaches would be elated to do without.
Much as they abhor it, coaches cannot control free speech in the general population, but they can act as the thought police when it comes to their own programs.
The latest leak in their fiercely guarded world is Twitter, simultaneously a fascinating and inane information tool that enables users to share whatever inspires their muse, provided their remarks are 140 characters or less.
Washington State’s Mike Leach is the most recent coach to go gulag and ban his players from using a personal Twitter account, doing so Tuesday. Leach’s Cougars are also bumbling along at 2-5 and have just about eliminated themselves from bowl eligibility, which may or may not have something to do with his sudden personal war on social media.
Leach would not explain exactly why he banned his players from using Twitter, other than to say, “I decided.” But he did elaborate on his decision: “ Quite frankly," Leach said, “if after today you see anything on Twitter from our team, and I don’t care if it says ‘I love life,’ I would like to see it because I will suspend them.”
Leach isn’t the first college coaching to root out Twitter, nor will he be the last. Boise State’s Chris Petersen officially goes down in social media annals as the first to do it (2011). Petersen has since been joined by the likes of Turner Gill, Steve Spurrier and now Leach.
We wouldn’t be surprised if Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, growing more paranoid with each passing season (he’s reduced media access to practice and recently banned all injury talk), is next.
South Carolina’s Spurrier recently explained to radio talker Dan Patrick why he disallows Twitter.
“There's no reason for them (players) to tweet anything out there. I don't see how it can do any good for anybody. We had a couple of guys put some nasty stuff on Twitter in the summer. So we just said you don't need to do that anymore. Let your girlfriend or pal down the road do all your tweeting, or whatever it is."
Whatever it is? Spurrier is so 1966, isn’t he?
WSU athletic director Bill Moos said he agrees with Leach’s decision to trash Twitter.
“I would endorse what Mike Leach has done,” Moos said. “We’ve got some areas that we continue to clean up and this is apparently one as well. I’ve got kids myself and they have Twitter and Facebook and all of that. And there is a lot of stuff that comes across there. It would not be approved by the Parent Teacher Association.
“Some tweets do not portray the image of what I want our athletes to portray,” Moos added, “so we’ve got to learn that and adhere to it and keep our focus on the task at hand, and that’s getting things done academically and building this program.”
We assume Leach is on board with that sentiment. But it’s ignorant and unfair. I’m not a big fan of Twitter – mainly because of the vast amount of inanity it pumps into cyberspace -- but it can also be a useful tool. Every student, including every “student-athlete,” should have the right to individually market his or her own personality as long as it’s responsible and doesn’t unfairly embarrass the school.
Leach would be well within his authority to reprimand Twitter abusers, but to pre-emptively ban the entire team from using social media is Stalinesque.
Coaches such as Leach see no upside in Twitter, and that’s understandable given their historic bent for top secrecy. But Leach should consider the possibility that his players will see a significant downside without it, and that maybe future Cougars recruits won’t like Leach’s anti-Twitter policy at all.
If Leach is going to issue his own absurd fatwa against Twitter, he should at least set an example and close his own Twitter account, which currently has nearly 40,000 followers.