LOS ANGELES -- Three years ago, this would have been a different story. With Pete Carroll at the helm, the USC Trojans football program sat comfortably at the forefront of the social media movement in college football. Carroll was a media maven, and during his career as head coach at USC he made almost as many breakthroughs with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as he won games.
Among Carroll's prime feats in the social networking sphere was his leadership in the launch of the USCRipsIt blog, PeteCarroll.com and PeteCarrollTV, a YouTube channel designed to give an inside look at the Trojans program. USC fans gravitated to the sites for the in-depth look at USC football, but Carroll knew his product would also make its way to high school recruits. The underlying, core motivation of the sites -- especially with USCRipsIt -- was as a recruiting tool. Through these sites, USC recruits could experience much of what USC had to offer without ever stepping on campus.
When Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks, USCRipsIt remained, but under new management with a different goal. Jordan Moore, director of social media for the USC athletic department, runs the blog and said it is now used by the athletic department as a portal for fans to get a look at all of USC's sports and student athletes.
"It's very different now," Moore said. "It's not really run through the football office in the same way."
Though Lane Kiffin remains one of the youngest head coaches in all of football, the Trojans staff brings with it an old-school mentality, led by Monte Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, John Baxter and Kennedy Polamalu.
"I would not say they push for it," Moore said of the coaches' attitudes toward the blog, Twitter and technology. "They are certainly on board with it and extremely helpful. ... But they don't spend any of their time doing it."
Of course, it hasn't always gone as smoothly for everybody involved.
"Usually anything that has to do with technology and Monte ends with something pretty funny," Moore said, relating a story where Monte Kiffin was being taught how to use his iPad.
"They told him to make sure the button was always on the right-hand side, but one day he called in a panic and said the whole thing was broken," Moore said. "The coaches calmed him down and asked him what side the button was on. There was a little pause before Monte said, '... And we're back in business.'
"But I actually think he does a better job than most people realize."
Many coaches around college football have taken to Facebook and Twitter to aid in recruiting, and the USC staff is somewhat split in that matter. Linebacker commit Jabari Ruffin (Downey, Calif./Downey) said he spoke with USC coach Joe Barry through Facebook, and the Trojans contacted him about as often as any other school. But on the other side, Orgeron, Polamalu, Baxter and Monte Kiffin do not have Facebook profiles and might be extremely slow converts to this new era.
What will be interesting is to see how these styles progress into the future. There is no doubting the recruiting ability of the entire USC staff, and their resistance to growing their presence on social media sites has hardly dented their efforts in bringing in the nation's top athletes. They continue to find ways to relate to student athletes on a personal level, which will always be the biggest selling point in recruiting. But these sites will continue to have more of a presence in the recruiting world going forward, which is something that all college coaches in all sports will need to accept, if not embrace.
Players atwitter over social media
As slowly as the USC coaches have moved toward Twitter, the Trojans players have been just the opposite.
It's almost easier to list the USC players who haven't completely sunk themselves into Twitter. Quarterback Matt Barkley is the highest profile player with a consistent presence on the platform, but Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling, Nickell Robey, Dion Bailey, Anthony Brown, Aundrey Walker, Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, among several others, all stay active.
There was a bit of an uproar last year, when rumors spread that the result of USC's NCAA appeal was the bowl ban having been reduced to one year. Several players took to Twitter with the news, which spread media reports, only to be followed by the news that the appeal had not been granted.
Moore said guidelines have been put in place for the student-athletes on Twitter, but there has been no thought given to banning the practice.
"The way we see it is that this is still a university and there is always an opportunity to learn," Moore said. "We want to give them the freedom to make mistakes with it, but they have to have the power to understand what can come of it."
Moore, like virtually every USC fan, looks to Barkley as the prime example.
"He is obviously the perfect person to use it," Moore said. "He has an understanding of how much power 140 characters can have. He's become a real star in this city, especially as we get back to winning more games."
Barkley said he jumped into the scene early, registering a Twitter account just before his freshman year at USC.
"I've always been a technologically advanced person," Barkley said. "I actually registered the name just so nobody would take @MattBarkley. Then it's just kind of evolved from there, but I embrace it."
Barkley understands the positives and negatives of his ever-present public persona online. His commitment to USC came before he immersed himself in the online world, so he was hesitant to put himself in the shoes of recruits going through the process now.
"I don't know what it would have been like for guys before text messaging, so you can kind of say the same thing," he said. "But it's probably crazy, because there are definitely some fans who speak their mind on Twitter."
So much of the USC football team is active online, with constant messages being sent back and forth. But Barkley quickly shook off any suggestions that it has helped build chemistry and camaraderie by keeping the players in touch with each other.
"No," Barkley said, motioning back toward a recently completed players-only throwing session. "That's what happens out here."
Fans impacting recruiting?
Social media hasn't only made it easier for coaches and recruits to interact. It has also opened an arena for fans to interject in the lives of recruits -- and very early on. Before, with internet message boards, players had to seek out the kind of fan criticism that runs rampant after poor performances or decisions. Now, it's delivered directly to them, and their friends.
After decommitting from USC, defensive end Arik Armstead (Elk Grove, Calif./Pleasant Grove) became one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. He also became one of the nation's most followed amateurs on Twitter. Armstead's father, Guss, said the constant calls from coaches and reporters was a frustration that was easy to deal with. What transpired with his son's Twitter account was not.
"The frustrating part from a parent's perspective is people attacking him on Twitter," Guss Armstead said. "USC fans were calling him everything but his name. People were posting on his Facebook, and that's disappointing for an 18-year-old kid. That part of it has definitely not been enjoyable. These so-called fans and the way they react when an 18-year-old is trying to make the best choice for him. I know those are not true SC fans, but he really got it from SC fans."
Armstead said that some of his son's friends have made a point of making their presence known on his Facebook page for the primary purpose of telling fans to leave the promising player alone.
A similar situation occurred when safety Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, Calif./Grant) professed his interest in USC on his Twitter account.
"I hear USC people were killing Shaq just because he said he was interested in USC," Armstead said. "His mom was so upset about that. It's ridiculous. Kids see that and they talk about it. I don't know to what degree it affects these kids, but I think it does affect them."
Like Barkley, Armstead said Arik is learning that there are positives and negatives to everything in life. Armstead isn't worried about his son being able to shake off the negativity, but said he might be in favor of cutting the problem off at the root.
"I'll probably encourage him to delete it, because once he commits, that will be it," Armstead said. "After he commits, he's a piece of crap to everywhere he didn't go."
Erik McKinney is the recruiting editor for WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 2004. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.