KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When players hear all week about the importance of playing with passion, sometimes they end up showing too much at the wrong time.
Waiting to catch them is a stadium full of smartphone-wielding fans, and millions of viewers snapping Vines of game broadcasts to share on social media posts.
Missteps are more public than ever before, and that’s a lesson a few players learned the hard way last week. Oklahoma safety Hatari Byrd pointed a middle finger toward the stands, and linebacker Eric Striker shouted foul language while vocalizing his opinions on the Southeastern Conference following the Sooners’ 31-24 overtime victory at Tennessee. BYU offensive lineman Ului Lapuaho was caught punching a Boise State player in the groin during the Cougars’ 35-24 triumph.
They all raised a question: When you spend the entire week amping up for four hours each Saturday, how do you suddenly tamp your emotional level back down once the whistle blows or the final horn sounds?
“There are no excuses,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “But these guys — and you’ve seen it with some NFL guys — they play out there in a controlled rage. I mean, you don’t just go out there and be all mild-mannered and everything works out for you. That’s not realistic. And then immediately you have that rage going on, and all of a sudden there’s everybody, and it doesn’t work sometimes.”
What Byrd, Striker and Lapuaho did all went viral last weekend after getting caught on camera, either by television or a smartphone. Striker said Tennessee coach Butch Jones told him after the game that “you’re a hell of a player, but have some damn class,” though Jones said he meant to compliment the linebacker and that the attention their conversation received was “overblown.”
Coaches note that these types of actions have been going on for years. The difference now is that with every fan in the stands and in front of televisions gripping a smartphone, any potential misdeed is more likely to be seen, over and over again.
“It’s just the heightened level of scrutiny with social media, cameras, with everything,” Jones said. “It’s still a very emotional game. A lot of people invest a lot of emotions in it, but I think there’s just a higher level of scrutiny. It’s technology.”
Players understand. After all, many of them have their own Twitter and Instagram accounts and realize anything they do — on or off the field — could end up online.
“I just know that everywhere I go and everything I do, someone is watching,” Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “And even if you think you’re by yourself or alone, someone is going to see. For me, I just try to stay straight and stay in my own lane and do what’s right.”
In the age of social media, coaches find themselves sending messages that occasionally are at odds with each other. They want their players on an emotional high for each game while carefully avoiding the type of misstep that occurred at Tennessee and BYU.
Arizona State senior associate athletic director of football Tim Cassidy said his school has coaches and administrators on the sidelines helping prevent any potential conflicts between players and fans. Cassidy said Arizona State’s players are reminded that “you can’t focus on the game if you’re chit-chatting or going back and forth with anybody who paid $70 to come watch you play.”
Nebraska coach Mike Riley said it’s really tough not to respond at times.
“But that’s the kind of thing we’re going to have to deal with,” Riley said. “There is so much of it that is so much fun about the passion and emotion of football, and then there is some hard stuff like that.”
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze puts it in simpler terms.
“We live in a glass house — coaches and players,” Freeze said.
And yes, it isn’t just the players who need reminders. Coaches have also been caught in tough situations recently.
Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth said the school was fining coach Brian Polian $10,000 for his sideline behavior, which resulted in two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties during a 44-20 loss to Arizona. Polian was caught screaming and chasing referees along the sideline several times. The school also announced it would place an administration official on the sideline during games.
Florida coach Jim McElwain apologized this week — and noted even his mother was mad at him — after his Saturday night tirade toward Gators running back Kelvin Taylor went viral. Taylor celebrated a touchdown by making a throat-slashing gesture during a 31-24 victory over East Carolina, prompting McElwain to yell, “Look at me! Don’t look down! (Expletive) be a man!”
“I don’t feel good about it,” McElwain said. “As you know, this is a very public job. This is a public thing that we do. I understand that I have a long ways to go and I make mistakes.”
And more often than not, those mistakes will probably wind up on video.