NCAA coaches search for coolness

NCAA coaches search for coolness

Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney
Screenshot: ESPN

What is it that made South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer’s TikTok song-and-dance challenge to Soulja Boy seem effortlessly cool (so cool, in fact, that Soulja Boy himself retweeted it), while Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was near-universally clowned on for doing the popular “Griddy” dance (somewhat overlooking the fact that he was raising money for breast cancer in the video)? Why is it that we still make fun of Brian Kelly’s awkward dance video with a recruit who he later lost yet we love Lane Kiffin making a goofy Twitter account for his dog?

With an increasing demand in the social media-centric recruiting scene for coaches to set themselves apart with some sort of “it” factor, we’ve seen our fair share of hits and misses as middle-aged men do their best to figure out what that factor is made of. It’s not just doing the dance or the TikTok trend, it’s doing it right, and no amount of effort can make it so — it just has to be.

What is this intangible, then? Is it age? That could play into it — although Beamer is 45 years old and Dabo is 52, it doesn’t feel like that much of a difference. Is it relatability? When I think “cool coach” right now, I think about Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman. He’s young at 36, but he’s at a totally different stage in his life than the guys he’s coaching, in his 12th year of marriage with six kids at home.

It’s not any particular conference that’s cool, or any particular program, or even any sport. We loved when Roy Williams danced in the locker room with the UNC basketball team a few years ago at age 64. Jim Harbaugh was accidentally cool for a moment when his daughter was posting funny videos on TikTok of him, but that was because she’s in the generation that implicitly understands what type of thing works without necessarily being able to put a concrete explanation to what makes it funny.

And yes, while a coach’s online presence might not make a huge difference to a lot of fans, it’s certainly not overlooked by sports Twitter communities and even young recruits looking to gauge a coach’s personality and program culture. I mean, come on, Brian Kelly explicitly used that weird video as a recruiting tool, so it would be stupid to pretend that social media is irrelevant in the recruiting process, though there may be dozens of other factors, many of which are more important, that play into an athlete’s final decision and commitment.

Without a traditional script to follow in front of them for this sort of thing, flying by the seat of their pants in a world where the Detroit Lions comment on random people’s TikToks and it’s somewhat encouraged for official team accounts to be personable and funny, these coaches are in an entirely new era. Would a football coach ever have done the equivalent of the Griddy when Dabo was in college? Would Bear Bryant have been caught doing the Twist at an official Alabama event?

And the player-centric focus of this new era, with NIL and lax transfer rules, makes some coaches even more eager to please or to prove that they can be the “cool” coach no matter their age. It’s certainly not a bad thing that coaches may be more attuned to players’ needs and interests than they were in previous eras of the sport, but it’s an odd new road to be paving.

So I guess I don’t really have an answer to what makes the “it” factor in these types of online trends and videos and posts. There’s no scientific formula to it. We, as the college football-loving general public, are figuring it out at the same time that these poor coaches are, ready to be hailed or laughed at, with no way of knowing which will come. Is it the willing and excited participation of the athletes themselves in it? That could be it. Is it whether it feels genuine or like a trumped-up falsification? But what could really be genuine here?

And this is still the offseason — it doesn’t matter if you’re “cool” or not if you can’t win games come fall. 

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.