Southern Miss, social media … after midnight

By Bart D.
FWAA Member
On Twitter @Bart_CFN and College Football News

Southern Mississippi didn’t make the NCAA tournament. If that opening line didn’t just grip you to read the remainder of this, I can’t help you.

I’ll start over.

It was like 1-something in the morning yesterday (or today, I guess) and bed was giving me the old siren sound, letting me know I’m about 3 hours late watching Big West basketball, because I can’t get enough of the stuff even when I probably should. Was about to turn off the computer and then I noticed something. Someone on Twitter re-Tweeted something about a coach from USM, a coach named Justin Phelps (@CoachPhelps) that I’ve never heard of prior, selling his team to one of those bracketology guys and getting snarky commentary back from him (Jerry Palm).

I rolled my eyes, because I knew I was going to stay up for another few minutes with this one. I looked into USM’s basketball season a bit. If it was like, 10, I might have looked for film, but the ole eyelids have bricks in them at that time.

First thought was “Phelps is brilliant.” And I’ll tell you why.

Jerry Palm, whom I honestly don’t know at all other than the 30 seconds of research I did on him … said something snarky to him like “it’s not my job to get your message out,” when earlier Tweets that day show him obviously supporting Tennessee … and I didn’t look back any farther than that because I didn’t need to. Burden of proof lifted.

But I liked what Phelps did, even if it didn’t work. It was savvy use of social media by a coach in an industry that often times treats social media and athletes like seasoned beer drinkers treat Miller Chill. And it worked. It made me, someone who saw it retweeted by someone else … look at it. If I did that, I’d imagine someone who actually matters probably might as well. It’s worth a shot, right?

On one hand, just like college football, it sucks that lobbying for team inclusion to certain bowl games, tournaments, BCS pairings, and so forth exists, but it exists because in theory, it works in the convoluted, behind closed doors game of college sports and their selection processes.

Phelps, though, should probably get a raise tomorrow for his thoughtfulness, and it wouldn’t surprise me if recruits took any notice. If they didn’t, I hope one or two do because of this article. Which would mean that of the 7 people that read it, 1 or 2 are being recruited by D1A basketball schools, so I don’t like the odds.

Social media is how kids communicate, and it’s too easy to say “Twitter ban” and expect that to do it. Social media is much more than reading articles about yourself or interacting with friends. It’s how news is broken, sports and otherwise. Television, digital newspapers capable of updating articles 10 minutes after anything happens … those are old hat, to say nothing of print press. Social media is immediate, and if you’re not a part of it, you’re falling behind whether you like it or not.

Coaches like Phelps are the new breed, even if it takes some real wrangling to get everyone on board. But a coach publicly on social media past midnight supporting his athletes and their quest? That gets noticed.

If athletes would like anything out of their coaches, it’s 1. support even when they might be wrong, even if it has to be discussed behind close doors later, and 2. put as much into it as I am, and don’t ask them to put in the work you’re not willing to do.

Phelps seemed to do both here. He was also right about Palm’s “influence,” because in college sports, the media often drives the cart because of the high nature of subjectivity in how champions are crowned. In college football, it’s almost all opinion with reality sprinkled in just enough to salt the meat to give it flavor.

Countless college coaches say that they’ve stopped recruiting kids because of what they’ve seen on social media from them. Heck, I’ve had discussions with kids about it and how when you put things on there that might not be a great reflection of your character, it can have adverse affects when being recruited.

Heck, one kid I coached, I saw he was going through something that he was posting on Twitter and I’d have never otherwise known about it, and it helped me rationalize why he’d not had good practices recently. If you can figure out social media, it can make your life harder and easier all at once.

Right or wrong (and probably someone else can psychoanalyze the details), social media is how communication is done, and it is the main vehicle that suddenly gives fans access to celebrities, readers to journalists, fans to fellow fans.

And in one fell swoop just past midnight when hardly anyone was noticing … in a stunt that would end up not achieving the desired result … Justin Phelps of USM took a fresh air step forward in how coaches can support their student-athletes.

Phelps showed he and that program will stand up for their players, and that’s the type of place guys will want to play and will want to work, not the arcane “in the dark, Twitter ban” world that refuses to acknowledge moving forward whether you like it or not. Heck, it made me want to dive out of bounds for a loose ball down 20.

Who says nothing good happens after midnight, anyway?