Something had to change. That’s not to say the Class of 2013 wasn’t a strong one for Oklahoma. Several freshmen came up big this last season for the Sooners and several more appear to be impact performers for the future.
But OU coaches started to look around and wonder what was going on and how they could improve on the recruiting trail. They didn’t want to be that old fossil that couldn’t keep up with the times.
It started with a bit of housecleaning with the departures of former coaches Jackie Shipp, James Patton and Bruce Kittle. New blood came onboard with Bill Bedenbaugh coaching the offensive line, Jerry Montgomery the defensive line and Jay Boulware handling special teams and tight ends.
OK, step one of the process was complete. However, OU coach Bob Stoops realized the program needed to have more of a recruiting presence. The No. 1 way you do that in 2013-14 is through social media. All the OU coaches created official and legit Twitter accounts, another positive move.
“If you’re stagnant, you’re behind,” running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Cale Gundy said. “You have to adapt. There’s no way around it.”
When you’ve been so successful for so many years doing what you have done, that’s not always easy to admit things have to go through an overhaul.
Gundy even mentioned it that he has been around the college coaching scene for almost 20 years, and it’s all about evolving so you don’t get left behind.
“The world is changing all the time and you better be willing to change and adjust and I think we’ve always done that,” wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “Recruiting is the same way. Social media is changing the world, and it’s certainly changing the world of recruiting.
“You’re seeing the effect that it’s had on kids. It’s almost like something out of control at times, but you have to be aware of it.”
The last part of that statement is key. You obviously just cannot recklessly use social media or else it’s going to backfire. Norvell said they looked at different strategies to figure out what works best for them. His message has always been clear – it’s about being in tune with what today’s high school kids are reacting about.
You also have to let the kids be kids. Part of that has meant some recruits seeing it as their mission to help recruit other players to the school. When you talk OU’s 2014 class, the obvious name that stands out is five-star running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon committed in early January and spent the entire month recruiting other prospects to come join him in Norman. OU was already in a great spot with some of them, but it didn’t hurt the Sooners land four-star safety Steven Parker, four-star offensive tackle Kenyon Frison and four-star wide receiver Michiah Quick with Mixon pushing for their additions.
“Players recruit players and Joe did an awesome job of connecting with a great number of players and that he either knew or got to know,” Stoops said. “There’s so much more with the all-star games. I think they are familiar with each other so there is more of that happening.”
But using social media isn’t just for the incoming class. The biggest usage for it now is to reach out to kids earlier than ever before. Build the bond during the freshman and sophomore years so that there aren’t any unanswered questions by junior or senior year.
In that regard, it is a whole new ballgame for the coaches, and one Gundy said they’ve all had to adapt with.
“It helps with everybody,” said Gundy about using Twitter. “That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m talking to younger kids about 365 day from now. Recruiting has changed so much. If any recruiting took place your sophomore or junior year, you went down to a game on a Saturday, but you really didn’t do anything else.
“Recruiting never started until December and January. I took four of my visits in January. Kids nowadays are done in January. Times have changed, and you have to work with it every single day. The good thing right now is that us coaches, we’re not traveling, but we’re still on it 24 hours a day.”
Add in the social media impact with what OU has been able to do with Headington Hall, and the Sooners are no longer playing from behind. The hard work, the changes have helped put OU back in the spotlight.