UT football coach Butch Jones savvy in utilizing Twitter for benefit of program

Butch Jones, Tennessee's new head football coach, speaks during an NCAA college football new conference on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. The Vols' introduced Jones on Friday as its successor to Derek Dooley, who was fired Nov. 18 after going 15-21 in three seasons. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Butch Jones, Tennessee's new head football coach, speaks during an NCAA college football new conference on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. The Vols' introduced Jones on Friday as its successor to Derek Dooley, who was fired Nov. 18 after going 15-21 in three seasons. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

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On the morning of Dec. 7, Butch Jones bid an emotional goodbye to his old team in Cincinnati, boarded a flight for Knoxville and at 9:36 a.m. typed out the following words on Twitter: "It is truly an honor and privilege to be part of the Vol Nation!"

The message was forwarded — or retweeted — more than 2,500 times. The number of Jones' followers doubled. Then doubled again.

In the parlance of Twitter, @CoachJonesUC had officially become @UTCoachJones.

If all this is gibberish to you, don't worry. We'll explain the lingo. But if you're one of the roughly 200 million worldwide users of Twitter, chances are you're already following every word "tweeted" by Jones or one of his assistant coaches, all of whom were given UT-branded Twitter accounts shortly after arriving.

"I think it keeps people involved. It generates excitement. It's a great way to reach out," Jones said. "I just want our fans to know I'm one of them, you know? I understand the position I'm in. I don't take it for granted."

UT fans hope Jones' arrival will bring improved recruiting, more wins and a return to SEC prominence.

But from the standpoint of social media, the marriage has already been a roaring success. Few, if any, SEC athletic departments have a more aggressive social media strategy than UT. In Jones, they got a coach who has been tweeting before most people even knew what it was.

Reaching recruits

Four years ago, when Butch Jones was still at Central Michigan, a young staff member named Chris Spognardi told his boss about a new social media service that seemed to be exploding in popularity among teenagers.

It was called Twitter, and its premise was simple: Users could send "tweets" — short messages of 140 characters or less — and follow the tweets of their friends, sports figures or celebrities. It was like Facebook, but removed of any pretense or flash. It was mobile-friendly, it was free and it was growing.

"We started it mainly as a recruiting thing when Twitter first started to pick up," said Spognardi, who followed Jones to Cincinnati and is now his chief of staff at Tennessee. "Then we figured if we were going to sell our program to fans, Twitter was the fastest — and cheapest — way to do it."

The recruiting aspect was an easy sell to coaches who were eager to find any way possible to reach recruits. Most of the 17- and 18-year-olds they were after had cell phones — even smartphones.

But calls were limited by NCAA rules and until recently text messages fell into the same category. Coaches found that Twitter and Facebook had become easiest way to reach kids.

"Twitter and Facebook was their email," Spognardi said.

Connecting with fans

Because social media is so ubiquitous among young people, it's easy to forget that roughly 85 percent of Americans don't use Twitter, and many of those people may have only the vaguest idea what it is.

But the service adds more than 6 million new users each month and Twitter has become a staple of the news, sports and business world. It's still far behind Facebook, which reached a billion users in October, but Twitter's grassroots-fueled growth has created a culture that encourages personal interaction — even with celebrities.

And in college football country, coaches fall into that category.

"I think so much of it has to do access — getting the inside word and hearing it right from the coach's mouth or keyboard or phone," said Jason Yellin, Tennessee's assistant athletic director for media relations, who has spearheaded many of the social media efforts. "It's personal. It's an inside glimpse, an inside look at what they're thinking."

Jones, who had a respectable 10,000 followers at Cincinnati, has now surged to 55,278 as of Sunday night and is on the verge of overtaking Georgia coach Mark Richt for third-most Twitter followers among college football coaches. Only LSU's Les Miles and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly have more.

Tennessee's main football account (@Vol_Football) trails only Michigan, LSU and Alabama nationally.

Spognardi said social media was an effective way to promote the program at CMU without spending a lot of money. Even at a department with a bigger budget like UT, the value is still a selling point.

"You can do a marketing campaign that costs thousands of dollars or you do can a social media campaign and have a direct connection (to fans) that's essentially free," Yellin said.

An online welcome from fans

After a mild backlash when his hiring was announced, Jones' account has generally overflowed with welcomes to Knoxville, encouraging messages and support for his staff.

Under his account, Jones has retweeted uplifting quotes from fans, sent out a photo of his dessert at Ruth's Chris and even announced the signing of a junior college prospect.

But does Jones actually take out his cell phone and do the tweeting himself? That's difficult to answer definitively. Much of the allure of the medium is the idea that the coach himself — not a publicist or assistant — is personally communicating with the reader. Spognardi is adamant that Jones is the one directing the personal interactions.

"I just help him manage it," he said.

Even so, many are understandably skeptical that a head coach could possibly have enough time to be tweeting regularly.

"It will never become a distraction at all," Jones said.

His assistants — "encouraged but not required" to have accounts, Spognardi says — have embraced Twitter with varying degrees of zeal.

Tight ends coach Mark Elder, the youngest staff member at 35, tweeted regularly even before he was hired. Other coaches interviewed by reporters this week seemed to search for the right buzzwords in their answers, but didn't always seem completely confident in what they were saying.

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney, who has tweeted twice, was almost apologetic about his lack of savvy.

"You know, we're going 100 miles an hour right now," he said. "I'll do whatever we need to get the word out. But I guess you could say (tweeting) is a bit of a team effort. That's the best way I can answer that."

Filtering out the negative

Even as Jones and his staff enjoy a honeymoon in their first few weeks on the job, there are occasional reminders of the demanding and often irrational nature of SEC football fans.

On Twitter, there's no filter for the loudest fans, and no way for a coach to avoid hearing them.

Take for example new receivers coach Zach Azzanni. Although he's already adopted a new UT Twitter account, Azzanni is committed to coaching his old team — Wisconsin — through the Rose Bowl, a sensible and fairly standard move in the coaching business.

"The only coach hired that isn't 100% Vol," one fan tweeted at him. "Makes me wonder."

Azzanni quickly responded: "Wrong! VFL," using the acronym for "Vol for Life."

Spognardi said he tells Jones to avoid reading most of the tweets sent to him directly.

"I try to show him the good stuff, not the bad stuff," Spognardi said. "You have to have a thick skin. It's easy to hide your name and be anonymous on Twitter."

Yellin said he tries to be proactive about responding to fans on the official football account, but it's often easier to let fans vent on game days rather than getting into a back-and-forth.

"You have to not let it bother you," Yellin said. "Twitter can be a very impulsive medium."

Then there are the bizarre requests, like one fan who implored in a message sent to Jones, "Why will you retweet everyone else, but not me?"

The fan may not have considered that a coach who had just been hired to the most visible position in the state of Tennessee, given a $3 million annual salary and been tasked with a major rebuilding job, had better things to do than selectively choose congratulatory messages to retweet.

So why deal with all this? Is the interaction worth the effort? Jones believes that it is.

"It's the age we're in," Jones said. "It's just another way of communicating with fans."Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

Tennessee football coaches on Twitter

Coach Butch Jones: @UTCoachJones

Defensive coordinator John Jancek: @UTCoachJancek

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian: @UTCoachJake

Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen: @UTCoachThigpen

Secondary coach Willie Martinez: @UTCoachMartinez

Running backs coach Jay Graham: @UTCoachGraham

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney: @UTCoachMahoney

Tight ends/special teams coach Mark Elder: @UTCoachElder

Receivers coach Zach Azzanni: @UTCoachZA

Tennessee football can be found at @Vol_Football

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Comments » 24

OrangePsyched writes:

3rd in the country baby! We're ranked high in something. I'm not being sarcastic. I don't have a clue how twitter works but I'm glad we have a HC that does. If this is what it takes and an occasional tweek with the uni's then go for it. I'm for whatever it takes to bring the swag and get some of these athletes to The Hill.

manning_berry_special_player1614 writes:

not into tweets....but tweets your heart out coaches if it brings us the young men that we need to get back to being the beast of the east,,,go vols

VOLtage writes:

I am so warming up to this hire.

pingkr62 writes:

I think this guy is light years ahead of the last guy. I'm expecting big things from Coach Jones. G.B.O.!!!

3holenones writes:

Come on guys. I'm 57, joined a few years ago, and have never tweeted anything, but I do follow others. Join and make UT and CBJ #1.

Orangeblood64 writes:

I guess it's time to upgraded my phone and get a tweeter account. lol, Go CBJ, you the man

pms151 writes:

Maybe U should have mentioned the basketball programs, the baseball and softball programs, track, volleyball, golf, swimming, ROTC etc. How is twitter being used?

gillblog writes:

Sorry to divert from the subject piece, but I just watched an ESPN re-run of the 1997 SEC Football Championship game- UT v. Auburn and I had forgotten and I am AMAZED in memory to see once again both how poorly the Vols played (chalk that one up to Fulmer coaching even though the Vols won with Manning prevailing) and how incredibly, blatantly, personally biased Keith Jackson was against Peyton winning the Heisman trophy. It is stunning, absolutely stunning, to listen to Jackson self-consciously struggle to come up with objective reasons why he voted against Peyton in the face of all the overwhelming body of work he had produced in his FOUR YEARS at UT. Jackson could NOT justify what he did on any substantive grounds despite being confronted on national TV by the likes of Lynn Swan and Bob Greise (who, unlike Jackson, were intelligent ex-football players) both of whom directly challenged Jackson to make a case for an alternative to Manning. That slob Jackson had NOTHING to say. Nothing. And, he categorically rejected any possibility of debate on the matter with a self-betraying, cowardly; "I refuse to discuss it".
Vol fans, if we have forgotten or if we ever will forget why an excellent but unexceptional defensive back gained a Heisman trophy rather than Peyton Manning, here, above everything else, is the reason;
Keith ("IadmitIdontknowmuchaboutfootballbutIsureamengagininglyfolksywhenIcallTVgamesandbythewayIhavehadenoughdrinkswiththeHeismancommitteetoearnvotingstatus")
Jackson is IT.
What a travesty! What a dolt of a sportscaster ! What a transparent glob of prejudice !
I can't talk about this anymore. I need a beer.... @#$@)&u%@%&)(!

allvol32 writes:

in response to gillblog:

Sorry to divert from the subject piece, but I just watched an ESPN re-run of the 1997 SEC Football Championship game- UT v. Auburn and I had forgotten and I am AMAZED in memory to see once again both how poorly the Vols played (chalk that one up to Fulmer coaching even though the Vols won with Manning prevailing) and how incredibly, blatantly, personally biased Keith Jackson was against Peyton winning the Heisman trophy. It is stunning, absolutely stunning, to listen to Jackson self-consciously struggle to come up with objective reasons why he voted against Peyton in the face of all the overwhelming body of work he had produced in his FOUR YEARS at UT. Jackson could NOT justify what he did on any substantive grounds despite being confronted on national TV by the likes of Lynn Swan and Bob Greise (who, unlike Jackson, were intelligent ex-football players) both of whom directly challenged Jackson to make a case for an alternative to Manning. That slob Jackson had NOTHING to say. Nothing. And, he categorically rejected any possibility of debate on the matter with a self-betraying, cowardly; "I refuse to discuss it".
Vol fans, if we have forgotten or if we ever will forget why an excellent but unexceptional defensive back gained a Heisman trophy rather than Peyton Manning, here, above everything else, is the reason;
Keith ("IadmitIdontknowmuchaboutfootballbutIsureamengagininglyfolksywhenIcallTVgamesandbythewayIhavehadenoughdrinkswiththeHeismancommitteetoearnvotingstatus")
Jackson is IT.
What a travesty! What a dolt of a sportscaster ! What a transparent glob of prejudice !
I can't talk about this anymore. I need a beer.... @#$@)&u%@%&)(!

I hear ya gillblog - I too watched that rebroadcast recently. TN eeked out a win but they did not play a good game. Listening to Keith Jackson's prejudice just made it that much more painful to watch - I don't remember Jackson calling any TN game where his dislike for TN didn't come blatantly shining through - I'm glad the old dude has retired and we don't have to hear that malarky any more.

Bob Davie is another one who was horribly biased in his broadcast comments during TN games.

born2ride writes:

It is safe to say, Coach BJ is a better tweeter than Dooley.

nocleats writes:

Hopefully he can send a few tweets to J Cheek and get him to get off his arse and give Tennessee the same options as the other SEC schools have and use. Allow Tennessee's coaches to recruit any player who meets NCAA and SEC academic requirements and stop this BS!

LibertyVol writes:

Jackson=Bammer/Bryant lover, Bryant hated TN (could not beat Neyland) therefore Jackson hated TN. Merry Christmas to the Orange Nation

sameolvolalum writes:

in response to LibertyVol:

Jackson=Bammer/Bryant lover, Bryant hated TN (could not beat Neyland) therefore Jackson hated TN. Merry Christmas to the Orange Nation

Tweet this Jackson: Peyton will be voted NFL MVP this year AGAIN and you can't vote against him. Merry Christmas LibertyVol, and everyone else......including you whining trolls!

rockytopwestone writes:

in response to pingkr62:

I think this guy is light years ahead of the last guy. I'm expecting big things from Coach Jones. G.B.O.!!!

Looking back on it now the last guy may have had his lights on but there was nobody home !

sk1015#219933 writes:

in response to gillblog:

Sorry to divert from the subject piece, but I just watched an ESPN re-run of the 1997 SEC Football Championship game- UT v. Auburn and I had forgotten and I am AMAZED in memory to see once again both how poorly the Vols played (chalk that one up to Fulmer coaching even though the Vols won with Manning prevailing) and how incredibly, blatantly, personally biased Keith Jackson was against Peyton winning the Heisman trophy. It is stunning, absolutely stunning, to listen to Jackson self-consciously struggle to come up with objective reasons why he voted against Peyton in the face of all the overwhelming body of work he had produced in his FOUR YEARS at UT. Jackson could NOT justify what he did on any substantive grounds despite being confronted on national TV by the likes of Lynn Swan and Bob Greise (who, unlike Jackson, were intelligent ex-football players) both of whom directly challenged Jackson to make a case for an alternative to Manning. That slob Jackson had NOTHING to say. Nothing. And, he categorically rejected any possibility of debate on the matter with a self-betraying, cowardly; "I refuse to discuss it".
Vol fans, if we have forgotten or if we ever will forget why an excellent but unexceptional defensive back gained a Heisman trophy rather than Peyton Manning, here, above everything else, is the reason;
Keith ("IadmitIdontknowmuchaboutfootballbutIsureamengagininglyfolksywhenIcallTVgamesandbythewayIhavehadenoughdrinkswiththeHeismancommitteetoearnvotingstatus")
Jackson is IT.
What a travesty! What a dolt of a sportscaster ! What a transparent glob of prejudice !
I can't talk about this anymore. I need a beer.... @#$@)&u%@%&)(!

The Trailer Park Frenzy continues for 15 years!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

A twitter, a twollar, a 9:36am Holler!

SevenT writes:

Jones has 55,000 Twitter followers? That is pathetic! Do people use computers in Tennessee?

Coach Calipari has 800,000+ Twitter followers.

iowavol writes:

in response to gillblog:

Sorry to divert from the subject piece, but I just watched an ESPN re-run of the 1997 SEC Football Championship game- UT v. Auburn and I had forgotten and I am AMAZED in memory to see once again both how poorly the Vols played (chalk that one up to Fulmer coaching even though the Vols won with Manning prevailing) and how incredibly, blatantly, personally biased Keith Jackson was against Peyton winning the Heisman trophy. It is stunning, absolutely stunning, to listen to Jackson self-consciously struggle to come up with objective reasons why he voted against Peyton in the face of all the overwhelming body of work he had produced in his FOUR YEARS at UT. Jackson could NOT justify what he did on any substantive grounds despite being confronted on national TV by the likes of Lynn Swan and Bob Greise (who, unlike Jackson, were intelligent ex-football players) both of whom directly challenged Jackson to make a case for an alternative to Manning. That slob Jackson had NOTHING to say. Nothing. And, he categorically rejected any possibility of debate on the matter with a self-betraying, cowardly; "I refuse to discuss it".
Vol fans, if we have forgotten or if we ever will forget why an excellent but unexceptional defensive back gained a Heisman trophy rather than Peyton Manning, here, above everything else, is the reason;
Keith ("IadmitIdontknowmuchaboutfootballbutIsureamengagininglyfolksywhenIcallTVgamesandbythewayIhavehadenoughdrinkswiththeHeismancommitteetoearnvotingstatus")
Jackson is IT.
What a travesty! What a dolt of a sportscaster ! What a transparent glob of prejudice !
I can't talk about this anymore. I need a beer.... @#$@)&u%@%&)(!

Seriously, this is what you are going with on Christmas Eve? Swallow hard and learn from Peyton..."every interception has a story. It's over, not worth discussing and move on"... Good words to live by.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to SevenT:

Jones has 55,000 Twitter followers? That is pathetic! Do people use computers in Tennessee?

Coach Calipari has 800,000+ Twitter followers.

How many did Joker have??

volunteer_cowboy writes:

Can someone tell me or does anybody know anything about JR Sandlin?
http://www.footballscoop.com/the-scoop, Alabama recruiting assistant JR Sandlin has accepted the director of recruiting position with Tennessee
.....

utvolfan1955 writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

who?

BigOrangeSports writes:

in response to Orangeblood64:

I guess it's time to upgraded my phone and get a tweeter account. lol, Go CBJ, you the man

I do most of my tweeting on my computer. You don't have to have a smart phone.

6972 writes:

I am thinking that some wins will help the program also. But then, that's just me.

pcorange writes:

in response to 6972:

I am thinking that some wins will help the program also. But then, that's just me.

I agree, but I think we've got the man for the job. No championships for a while, but I think we'll start building back. Dooley was in over his head, I don't think Jones is.

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