December 11 2012
Commentary: With Twitter, reporters too quick to weigh in on coaching drama
See online: In Twitter age, reporters too quick to weigh in on coaching drama
, by John Hoover, Tulsa World
Coaching searches seem just the kind of thing for which Twitter was invented.
Only a notch or two below state secrets on the clandest-o-meter, hiring a new football or basketball coach has become the stuff of high intrigue.
Secrecy is paramount to the coach, his new school and, most of all, his old school. And the coach's agent, of course. That is, unless it benefits someone to leak something that is of an otherwise sensitive nature.
Confidential big business deals have nothing on college football. Both are multimillion-dollar operations trying to boost their bottom line by hiring the right coach/CEO or acquire the best property.
And the Twitter press corps is there, guessing about all the secrets and reporting all the leaks almost in real time.
Unfortunately, in this age of immediacy over accuracy, it's become harder and harder for even the most respected reporters - lifelong journalists, with iron-clad sources and enough integrity to fill a warehouse - to hold off on hitting "send" when they get their hands on even the thinnest lead.
Last week's three-way drama between Arkansas, Tennessee and Mike Gundy was like a microburst storm that left no visible damage, but may have cracked the foundation at Oklahoma State.
A Tennessee reporter asked his Twitter followers at 8:33 a.m. last Tuesday if the Vols' opening had come down to Gundy or Louisville's Charlie Strong. Less than three hours later, Gundy was identified by an Arkansas radio station as Arkansas' next coach.
Then things really got interesting.
A reporter and a columnist at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
, the venerable newspaper that has dominated Razorbacks coverage statewide for decades, posted Twitter messages 17 minutes apart that contradicted each other.
"Our people are saying that unless this falls through, Arkansas has found its man in Mike Gundy," came the first one at 11:54 a.m.
"Hogs have their coach. Not Gundy. Should be announced today," came the second at 12:11 p.m.
Razorbacks athletic director Jeff Long didn't change his mind in the span of 17 minutes.
Long hired Wisconsin's Bret Bielema later that day, a total surprise.
It probably felt a bit embarrassing for the Democrat-Gazette
, but it shouldn't be. A columnist in Little Rock and a beat writer in Fayetteville naturally are working different sources, and to get conflicting information in such secretive operations is not unusual.
Vetting that information, trusting those sources, putting it on Twitter - that's where it gets tricky.
And by the way, Strong stayed at Louisville. A few days later, Tennessee hired Cincinnati's Butch Jones, another relative shocker.
A bit of insight: Although everything about these searches can seem tightly guarded, most of the information leaks usually come from just a handful of sources.
• The coach's agent. Nobody has a greater risk-reward from a coach either moving or pretending he might move than an agent. So leaking the right tidbits to the right outlet can set things in motion, whether said coach is truly interested in taking another job or, such as with Gundy, just making a power play with his current school. Gundy got a significant (and deserved) raise last year after flirting with Texas A&M; who knows what he'll get after a supposed double-dalliance with Arkansas and Tennessee?
• A prominent booster. These are often people of power, sometimes even a regent or trustee, who like getting things their way. If they want a certain coach, it gets leaked to the press that that coach is interviewing. The rumor gets printed - or tweeted, in this case - and off we go.
• Family members who might gain much as an assistant coach or other underling position can call reporters they don't even know to try to push their brother or son or father. Yes, it happens.
• It works both ways. Athletic directors have been known to call trusted reporters with rumors of their coach interviewing elsewhere if only to get them to publicly reaffirm their commitment.
All these sources remain unnamed, of course.
In the past - before Twitter, at least - coaching searches seemed to move much slower, although that's probably more a commentary on the instantaneous, hailstorm nature of Twitter rather than the expediency of the search itself.
Twitter has changed the way reporting happens, for the better and for the worse. Rumors leaked at 8:30 in the morning and disproved by noon used to never see the light of day.
Once upon a time, reporters used patience and prudence to determine a source's motives and double check everything before going on the record. Of course, once upon a time, they had the time to do so.
Not any more.
Now, trust is an increasingly quaint concept. Time stamps are the priority. "Send" is the finish line.
Early Dec. 4, a few Arkansas media members began tweeting that Mike Gundy was the new Arkansas coach. Some Oklahoma media outlets began re-tweeting those reports. However, by early afternoon, focus turned to Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema. Here’s a look at some of the Twitter discussions from 8:33 a.m. to 2:03 p.m. last Tuesday.
— PATRICK PRINCE, World Assistant Editor
“Is UT’s search down to Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong? If so, we should have answers soon.”
Evan Woodbery, Knoxville News Sentinel writer. He has more than 14,000 followers.
“Per @DavidBazzel OK St Mike Gundy next Hog coach.”
Pat Bradley, Little Rock radio host. He has more than 5,000 followers.
“Local Arkansas radio is reporting they’ve hired Mike Gundy. FYI, this is now the 48th reported Razorback coach.”
Clay Travis, writer and radio host. Has more than 60,000 followers. This was re-tweeted 163 times.
“Our people are saying that unless this falls through, Arkansas has found its man in Mike Gundy.”
Thomas Murphy, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writer. He has more than 3,500 followers.
“Was told Mon that Gundy met w Long and had until midweek to make decision. Also Gundy told team he was considering options. Not done yet.”
Bo Mattingly, Arkansas radio host who has more than 17,000 followers.
“Hogs have their coach. Not Gundy. Should be announced today.”
Wally Hall, longtime Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist. He has nearly 9,000 followers.
“Just got it from another strong source that Gundy has NOT been hired at Ark. And from another that Tenn not appealing.”
John Helsley, Oklahoman writer. He has nearly 3,000 followers.
“I’m now told by multiple sources its NOT going to be Gundy.” Mattingly
“Arkansas is nearing its next coach — but it is not Mike Gundy, a person familiar with the search tells @USATODAYSports.”
George Schroeder, USA Today. He has nearly 10,000 followers.
“Yahoo! Sports exclusive: Bret Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas. More to come.”
Pat Forde. He has more than 180,000 followers and is the first to report the story.
“Think about all the names that have been thrown out there for Arkansas — not once, Bielema. Amazing.”
Stewart Mandel, SI.com. He has more than 80,000 followers.