In this edition of 16 for ’16, we take a look at the college football coaches who are winning Twitter. These 16 FBS coaches have the largest followings.
While there’s no more important measure than wins and losses for a college football coach, it’s not the only barometer for success in the profession. He can also be sized up by his ability to recruit, raise money, graduate players, prepare kids for the NFL … and build a brand on social media.
Save for a dozen or so, every FBS head coach is now utilizing Twitter as a critical communications tool in the arm’s race to get in front of fans and potential recruits. Use it well and you could gain a soft, yet important, edge on the competition. While it might guarantee little when games begin in two months, no one right now is doing a better job of amassing a Twitter following than these 16 coaches.
*Followers are as of 7/1/16
16. Charlie Strong, Texas
Strong has a love-hate relationship with Twitter. On the one hand, he’s used it successfully as a communication tool for the past seven years. On the other, it’s been the vehicle for some embarrassing moments, like when DB Kris Boyd retweeted a suggestion he transfer to Texas A&M … at halftime of a 50-7 loss to TCU. Strong might want to keep that mute option handy if he’s unable to get the Horns out of neutral following back-to-back seven-loss seasons.
15. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Stoops has almost as many followers as big brother Bob, impressive considering he doesn’t possess nearly the track record, reputation or resume of his more accomplished sibling. The baby of the Stoops clan has never had a problem generating energy, buzz or brand awareness. He’s got the magnetic personality needed to draw a crowd. Now, as the least accomplished member of the 100,000 follower club, it’s time for Stoops to start delivering, say, with the school’s first winning season this decade.
14. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Consistent with his steady, no-frills personality, Stoops pretty much uses Twitter for the barebones basics—attaboys, well-wishes and the occasional retweet. If you’re looking to be entertained with a steady flow of edgy nuggets, he won’t be that guy for you on social media. Still, Stoops has done well in four years to amass more followers than any other Big 12 coach, a testament to his popularity and the unwavering support of the Sooner fan base.
13. James Franklin, Penn State
Franklin is one of the top salesmen in the game, and that’s not as derision. The coach made Vanderbilt relevant, so he knows how to build a brand from the ground floor up. At his core, he’s a skilled communicator, and social media represents just another way to broaden the outreach to future recruits and the community. Franklin stands fourth in the Big Ten, with room for growth if his team starts winning. Penn State fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of college football.
12. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Muschamp has had the luxury of tapping into two really passionate fan bases since joining Twitter after being hired by Florida in December of 2010 to succeed Urban Meyer. Muschamp built his social media audience in Gainesville, though the tone of the dialogue became untenable over the final two seasons with the Gators. Now, the coach is at South Carolina, another program that loves its SEC football. That Muschamp ranks this high says as much about where he’s coached as how he coaches.
11. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
That Fedora, a relative unknown outside the region, ranks this high at a storied basketball program shows that he truly gets the importance of social media. The guy is one of college football’s top offensive innovators, the impetus for last season’s ACC Coastal Division title. But he’s also a savvy marketer, with mentions and graphics of his “Fedora Freakshow” football camps easily picking up a couple of hundred likes. Fedora is a 21st century coach, which will help keep him popular among ADs at prominent football powerhouses.
10. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Since coming to Oxford in 2012, Freeze has elevated the Rebels by just about every measurement, including social media footprint. As the coach’s win total has risen in each successive year, so has his legion of Twitter followers. Freeze is a frequent tweeter, often dispensing inspirational quotes and words of wisdom. He’ll engage his audience, even challenging it when it’s warranted. And unlike many coaches, when you follow Freeze you get a genuine feel for the man and what makes him tick.
9. Mike Riley, Nebraska
How engaged are Husker fans in their team? Well, there’s the incomparable home sellout streak that dates back to 1962. And then there’s Riley surprisingly pulling in at No. 9 among FBS coaches in followers. No. 9 for a coach who’s been in Lincoln for just one year and didn’t amass a warchest of social media backers during his days in Corvallis. Once Riley was hired as the surprising successor to Bo Pelini, Big Red wanted to know its new coach, and Twitter provided the conduit between coach and the fan base.
8. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
There’s simply being on Twitter, and then there’s being active on Twitter. Kelly is more of the former than the latter, though he will fill his timeline with interesting photos of he, his family and his players that offer a glimpse into the personal side of the coach. Obviously, at Notre Dame Kelly has access to one of the biggest and most passionate fan bases in college football. And if he ever decides to up his social media game, there’s no reason why he can’t climb into the Top 5 of this ranking.
7. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn has more followers than all but a half-dozen college coaches mainly because he works at Auburn. And because Auburn is home to some of the most rabid and participatory fans in the sport. Malzahn has been on Twitter for more than four years, yet he’s tweeted less than 500 times. Following the coach is more about showing school allegiance than getting closer to the coach or inner workings of the Tiger program.
6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema may be No. 6 in total followers, but he sets the bar for entertainment value and candor. For better or worse, the totality of Bielema’s personality is going to shine through on social media, which results in some rather lively—and unedited—banter in both directions. Plus, Twitter is a family affair in the Bielema household, including outspoken wife Jen and even Yorkie Lucy. The coach doesn’t do a lot of filtering, and that’s a good thing for anyone reading his tweets.
5. Les Miles, LSU
Miles isn’t especially active on Twitter, with a little more than 800 postings in more than seven years. Parody accounts of the coach tweet more routinely, so if you want to appreciate the many quirks in his personality, you’ll need to meet him face-to-face rather than on social media. Still, this is Miles and this is the LSU fan base, so it should come as no surprise that the coach boasts almost a quarter of a million followers.
4. Mark Richt, Miami
Georgia fans are the reason Richt has almost 250,000 followers. But can Miami fans maintain and even grow the following? Richt was extremely popular in Athens, among the locals and the players, so it’s no wonder he was equally well-liked in social spaces, such as Twitter. However, the coach has moved on to Miami, where support has been sporadic and a source of criticism. Richt will continue to expand his base, though not as exponential as he did in Athens.
3. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Well, surprise, surprise. Raise your hand if you guessed Jones would be this close to the top, and this far ahead of the competition in the rear view mirror. The coach has reshaped the Volunteers over the last three years, from expectations and personnel in the locker room to social media reach. Jones has also grown the brand, which has had a direct impact on recruiting. And he’s an interesting follow, flashing personality and even drawing the Twitter ire of Jim Harbaugh this past spring.
2. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Harbaugh wants to win at everything he touches, including Twitter. Despite being relatively new to the site, joining in January of 2015, he’s already ahead of everyone except Urban Meyer, ironically enough. He’s a strategic tweeter, making the most of every opportunity to engage his growing audience. And he’s certainly not afraid to lock horns with anyone he feels has crossed his path, putting SEC coaches Nick Saban, Butch Jones and Kirby Smart in his Twitter crosshairs earlier this year.
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Meyer sets the standard by which other tweeters are measured. But can he remain on top now that Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh has gained a serious head of steam? While Meyer hasn’t been a prolific poster over the past three years, he has had a steady presence that’s helped to consistently grow his audience. He provides the standard fare of props and encouragement for his kids and his community, with the occasional injection of his own personal feelings and beliefs. That the Ohio State coach is trying to hold off the social media charge of the Michigan coach has a poetic, albeit modern-day, feel to it.