Richard Davenport covers recruiting for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He appears weekly on The Red Zone w/ JB on 92.1 FM Fayetteville, The Morning Rush w/ Tye & Tommy on 95.3 FM in Fort Smith; 96.3 FM in Hot Springs; 104.3 FM in Harrison/Mountain Home, 99.5 FM in Fayetteville and The Zone w/ Justin & Wess on 103.7 FM in Little Rock.
Musselman sets Twitter standard
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is shown during an NCAA Tournament press conference Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in San Francisco.
University of Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Eric Musselman has dominated Twitter interactions and other statistics associated with the social media form among college basketball coaches since his arrival in Fayetteville. And it’s not even close.
Musselman has led college basketball head coaches 12 of the 16 months for Twitter interactions since January 2021.
Since his hiring on April 7, 2019, until this Tuesday, Musselman had accumulated 2,993,372 interactions and 2,779,202 likes, compared to Kentucky’s John Calipari, who was second with 2,201,527 interactions and 2,056,347 likes.
SkullSparks, a Tulsa company founded in 2016, partners with more than 185 colleges on digital strategy. The company’s Twitter account often posts analytics showing the top performing college teams or coaches on social media.
“Since he was hired of April of 2019, he’s tweeted on average of about six times a day, which is by far the most,” SkullSparks director Jason Matheson said of Musselman. “Coach Cal, for example, is right at two. Coach [Jay] Wright at Villanova is almost at three. He’s [Musselman] doubling up or tripling what even the most active coaches in men’s basketball [are] doing on Twitter.”
In a report provided by SkullSparks earlier this week, Musselman’s tweets had produced 214,170 retweets, while Calipari, who has 1,586,049 followers on Twitter, had 145,180 retweets.
Michigan Coach Juan Howard and Wright, who recently retired, came in third and fourth overall in SkullSparks analytics. Howard produced 1,165,129 interactions and 1,096,432 likes while having 103,828 followers. Wright, who has 109,503 followers, had 1,157,682 interactions and 1,093,590 likes.
“We look at interactions generated because we feel like coaches use this to basically inspire an action,” Matheson said. “He’s [Musselman] trying to get recruits to pay attention to Arkansas to maybe drive up interest. Get them to make an official visit. Sign on the dotted line. He’s trying to get fans fired up to buy tickets to come to the game. Trying to get donors fired up to write a check for facilities or whatever they need.”
Matheson, who worked in athletic departments at Oklahoma, Auburn and Miami for 20 years, marvels at Musselman’s activity on Twitter.
“For us, it’s really interesting to see a coach to be as consistent as he is, to lead those numbers,” Matheson said. “We don’t see that on the football side of things. I think Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss is kind of a similar vein as Coach Musselman on the football side. He understands Twitter and he uses it.
“Coach Kiffin really uses it to show his personality and I think Coach Musselman does that, too. That, to me, is recruiting. That’s what the kids are looking for.”
Musselman’s activity on social media has aided the Hogs in reaching heights in recruiting not seen at Arkansas since the recruiting service era. The Hogs’ 2020 signing class, headed by Golden State Warriors guard Moses Moody, was ESPN’s No. 5 class nationally. The 2022 class featured three 5-star and three 4-star prospects and only trailed Duke in the rankings.
The Hogs rarely have been a serious contender for out-of-state 5-star prospects in the past, but two of the three 5-star signees in the 2022 class — Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black — were from beyond the borders of Arkansas.
Michael Musselman, Arkansas’ director of recruiting who recently added the title of director of basketball operations, said while social media isn’t solely responsible for landing a recruit, it does play a role.
“I would say pretty much every kid it factors in some way, shape or form,” Michael Musselman said. “It doesn’t necessarily get a kid outright, but anytime you can spread information about not just your university or your basketball program, but some of the things you’re going to do, some things your staff or team is involved in. Anytime you can spread that and share it with recruits and their families, it’s impactful.”
Matheson praised Eric Musselman for using social media to show his personality and behind the scenes of the Arkansas program.
“That’s what we think is critical,” Matheson said. “We really feel like this is something that Coach Musselman recognizes and does really well. He has fun with it.”
Information about college programs posted on social media can be consumed by recruits at all hours of the day.
“I think these kids get bombard with information all the time, and Twitter and Instagram kind of allows them to receive the information at their own pace,” Michael Musselman said. “So it’s a little bit different than all the texts and calls they’re getting from all the coaches every day. It’s kind of a different way to put the stuff out there and let them digest the information.”
Twitter debuted in July 2006 and Instagram began in 2010 and several others followed, so prospects have been raised with social media.
Not all coaches understand the importance of Twitter.
“A lot of coaches aren’t on Twitter, and they roll their eyes,” Matheson said. “You know it’s 2022 and you fish where the fish are. That’s our motto. It doesn’t matter what you think, if that’s where the kids and recruits are and where fans are, that’s where you go.”
Eric Musselman’s and other Twitter accounts associated with the Arkansas program often celebrate individual achievements or honors, which helps prospects know they’ll be heavily promoted once they get on campus.
“We never shy away from it,” Michael Musselman said. “There’s some people that think it takes away from the team, but we really believe in individual accolades and promoting the individual.”
Marketing is in Eric Musselman’s blood. He learned from his father, the late Bill Musselman, a longtime college and coach in the ABA and NBA and also when he himself coached in the NBA. Eric’s first job in professional basketball was selling tickets for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Razorback staff meets daily to brainstorm for social media.
“He very rarely ever says no to an idea,” Michael Musselman said of his father. “He’s the guy bringing up ideas. Whether it’s me or someone else on staff, we’re the ones telling him, ‘No, I don’t think we can do that. I think it’s a little bit too outside the box.’ When you have a head coach that’s supplying ideas and he has the over-willingness to want to participate in things and post things on social media, it makes our job of promoting the program a lot easier.”
Matheson said SkullSparks points out Musselman’s success on social media to other clients.
“He’s an example we point to for other coaches and programs we work with,” Matheson said. “He’s a salesman. Add the charisma he displays, you could probably parachute him into any situation. Selling cars or whatever and he would be successful at it. Right?”
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