Totally unsocial — new UNT coach keeping team, staff off social media

DENTON, TX - OCTOBER 15: North Texas Mean Green football v Western Kentucky at Apogee Stadium on October 15, 2015 in Coppell, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts)

Deep down, it’s killing him, slowly, one blankety-blank character at a time.

“Oh, it’s really hard,” Mike Canales said, laughing.

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The topic is Twitter, and, more specifically, the North Texas interim football coach’s self-imposed exile from the thing.

“Everybody knows, ‘Coach C, he’s going to put out something to tweet.’ I get parents and people following me and people are asking, ‘What is Coach Canales doing?’ But I think when you make a rule, you’ve got to live by it, too … don’t become a part of the distraction. So I’ve got to be an example.”

So no Twitter. No Facebook. Snapchat? Instagram? Periscope? Banned. A little more than two weeks ago, with the Mean Green reeling from a winless streak and a coaching change — Canales replaced the fired Dan McCarney as the head coach on Oct. 11 on an interim basis — the new boss decided to shake up the pot and circle the wagons. No UNT player or coach was allowed to go on social media — any social media platform — and discuss anything program- or football-related.

“If somebody (on social media) is making a comment like, ‘Why did somebody call that play,’ or is making personal attacks on your teammates — you can’t control what people (say),” said Canales, whose Mean Green (0-7 overall, 0-4 Conference USA) host Texas-San Antonio (1-6 overall, 1-2 C-USA) Saturday night on ASN.

“It’s 2015: People are going to have comments, and if they want to escape and hide behind a computer, that’s what they’re going to do. I’ve had people tweet me different things. I’ll find ways to address them in press conferences or in different ways to do that, just not on social media.”

And to prove he was serious, to underline his point, Canales vowed to go cold turkey himself. Which proved tricky, of course: Social media is the quickest way to the heart (and smart phone) of a recruit, or potential recruit. Plus, Canales built Twitter into his daily routine, posting an inspiration quote or idea every morning.

“They were in shock,” the Mean Green coach recalled. “They were like, ‘Coach, what are you talking about?’ I’ve got two or three (guys), they put their every thought on there: ‘Hey, I’m going to class.’ Like, come on guys, really, let’s be serious about that.

“They know what I’m about, what I’m asking them to do. They truly get what I was trying to get out of it.”

Canales has been through this kind of change before, serving as interim coach for the Mean Green when Todd Dodge was let go in 2010, posting a 2-3 record to finish out the campaign. He’s not playing the dictator card here or casting himself as some kind of Twitter tyrant so much as trying to accentuate team, accentuate focus, and de-clutter things for his kids. When you’ve been outscored by an average margin of 47-16 over the first two months of the season — giving up at least 50 points to Iowa (62), Portland State (66) and Western Kentucky (55) — the last thing those kids need right now is more clutter. Or more chatter. “We have to move forward,” Canales said. “And that was coach Mac’s message to the kids (when he left): ‘You have to move forward. I want you guys to win.’ And he wanted us to come together as a team and just move forward.” That and to think before you press “send.” Which is the core of where Canales is really going with this, the lesson he wants to stick. Social media is the perfect platform for baiting and bullying, two traits he’s challenging his roster to rise above. “Don’t fuel the bad wolf,” the coach said.

Tough love, after all, is still love. A few players haven’t been able to help themselves this month — old habits die hard — but Canales said the discipline there has been handled internally. As you’d expect, the coach and his staff have much better things to do than to police Facebook or Twitter 18-20 hours per day.

“We follow certain guys,” Canales said with a chuckle. “We know which ones to follow. It ain’t hard to figure out which ones to follow. It’s kind of like (going to) class. You know who you have to check for class (attendance).”

Guns are guns, and the coach is sticking to his. Until the Green win a game, social media is officially non grata.

And Canales is even doubling down on game weekends. When the team got together for a movie night on the eve of their showdown with Western Kentucky, the coach said up two long tables in the back of the room and asked each player to put their respective smart phone or comparable device on that table — one for offense, one for defense — and leave it there for the course of the film.

No going back to check. No peaking. A 90-minute tweet-free zone.

“It didn’t hurt them,” Canales said. “That’s what being on this team is about, sacrificing for each other, sacrifice for a greater cause.”

UNT’s upperclassmen said they’re cool with the tradition continuing this week, too. Well, with one teensy caveat.

“They said, ‘Coach, can you make sure the movie’s shorter next week? Can you get one of the shorter movies, Coach?,’” Canales recalled, chuckling again.

“I think they got it.”

Good thing, too; it’s been a long, long, long month in Denton, and Canales is itching to give his thumbs a workout again. The last citation posted to his Twitter feed is more than three weeks old now, a quote from Dale Carnegie that, in hindsight, reads almost like a plea:

In other words, actions speak louder than tweets. Whether the Canales can get that particular message to stick, too, we’ll find out soon enough.

Above: Interim UNT coach Mike Canales has put a total ban on social media for the Mean Green – including on himself. (Rick Yeatts/UNT Athletics)