Coaches irked by bashing of Michigan punter online

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, October 21, 2015

DES MOINES — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz banned his players from Twitter once he realized the potential pitfalls of social media.

Some of his Big Ten colleagues might start thinking that Ferentz is on to something.

The downside to social media again became apparent last weekend. Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett released an open letter on Sunday urging fans to avoid “thoughtless comments” following Michigan State’s last-play 27-23 win over the Wolverines.

Email newsletter signup

Much of negative online chatter focused on Michigan punter Blake O’Neill, whose fumble led to the game-winning touchdown for the Spartans.

“It’s very disappointing. But it’s the world we’re living in right now, too. People tend to attack other people via social media,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s just one play. It should not define a person.”

Unlike Ferentz, most Big Ten coaches have accepted social media as a fact of life for themselves and their players.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is one of the more active Big Ten coaches on Twitter. Fitzgerald said he uses social media to “spread the good news” about the Wildcats and interact with fans. Fitzgerald said dealing with “trolls” is part of his job.

But Fitzgerald had some strong word for what he dubbed “haters” who took to their computers and phones to bash O’Neill.

“I feel sorry for those people. I really do,” Fitzgerald said. “Every young man is trying to go out there and make a play and do what’s right. When that doesn’t go right, nobody feels worse than that young person. As a coach, that’s where you try and step in and give them everything you can and try to be supportive of them.”

First-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley had to deal with the dangers of social media earlier this season from the other side.

Cornhuskers offensive lineman and team caption Alex Lewis, after committing three penalties in a heartbreaking loss at Miami, lashed out on Facebook at fans who blamed him for the defeat.

Lewis posted that he was going to prove to himself and his family that he’s “better than these fair-weather fans.” Riley talked to Lewis about the posts, which were quickly deleted, but he didn’t punish him.

Riley said he’s spoken at length with his players about being smart on social media, though he acknowledged that it’s a “tough world that way.”

“If I could shield it from them, I would. And when they use it, I always encourage them to use it in some way to build up their school, their team and their teammates — and certainly don’t get into anything that’s a response or try to defend. Because it really doesn’t do much good,” Riley said.

Dantonio mirrored the thoughts of many in the league who are frustrated by those who take things to “an extreme” on social media.

“That’s a shame. I feel bad for him. I feel bad for his family that they had to go through that stress. The kid dropped a punt, all right? I understand that,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. “But nobody should need to go through death threats, if that’s really what’s happening.”