By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- Talk about best laid plans.
With the SEC Championship Game in our rearview mirror, the Digital Network reverted to its normal routine, planning coverage for the league's upcoming news. This week's schedule seemed small compared to last week's #SECATL monstrosity, so I laid out a release plan based on the event cycle.
Four days worth of awards were on the docket, as AP writers and the conference's coaches would release All-SEC teams and individual awards. Each day signaled a new article, all leading up to the Heisman Trophy presentation Saturday night.
After Monday went as planned, Tuesday's calendar featured one main item. The release of the Coaches’ All-SEC teams was set for this particular day, as the league's head men voted on the top players from the 2012 season. This news release takes several steps to compile, and has to be coordinated at both the school and conference level. After the ballots are sent out (by SEC Media Relations), there is a deadline for them to be returned.
Once they are sent back, the SEC's staff tallies up the results and the final teams are assembled by vote total. There are special rules, such as coaches not being able to vote for their own players, and once all the leg work is done the story is sent.
With that complete, the final draft was ready. We had a set release time (2 p.m. CT), and everything was in place for the news to go live.
So much for plans.
At 1:38 p.m. CT, just 20 minutes before our announcement was to be sent out, Yahoo's Pat Forde tweeted a bombshell. Forde, Yahoo’s national college football writer, broke that Arkansas had hired Wisconsin's Bret Bielema as their new head coach. While rumors are rampant during the coaching carousel, Forde's in-depth report (and his stature) set Twitter ablaze. In just an hour, those 140 characters had been re-tweeted 1,238 times, and consumed the minds of many SEC fans.
Our policy at the SEC Digital Network is simple. We do not report on any speculation or rumors until news is officially released by our schools. So while others basked in the possibility of a Razorback head coaching hire, we at the Digital Network continued as normal.
Here we (the SEC) were 20 minutes away from releasing our big news of the day, and it quickly became a distant memory. On talk radio, callers often use the phrase, "the last guy stole my thunder". That was what was happening to us in real-time. Despite the fact that no official word had come from the Arkansas athletic department (and wouldn't for several hours), the news was spreading like wildfire.
After what seemed like an eternity, 2 p.m. finally arrived, and the All-SEC release was posted on the conference website and sent out on our various social media platforms.
The All-SEC teams gained traction, and web traffic rose in the opening moments. While Arkansas fans (and other SEC ones too) were engrossed in Bielema's bio, media and several others clicked to see the recognized teams. The news window was open, but it shrunk faster than anyone could have imagined.
After the apparent Arkansas breaking news, the prevailing thought was the SEC's coaching landscape was done for the day. But, just 14 minutes after our story went live, and less than 45 minutes since Forde's tweet, the carousel turned once again.
This time all eyes shifted to the Plains, as Auburn University had apparently hired their head coach (via @AStateNation). While Arkansas fans might have been shocked to hear their new head coach's name, Tiger faithful were very familiar with who Athletics Director Jay Jacobs had reportedly chosen
Gus Malzahn, whose up-tempo offense was key in Auburn's 2010 National Championship run, appeared to be coming home, returning to the Plains after a year in charge at Arkansas State. Known as an offensive mastermind, Malzahn was just one year removed from being Auburn's offensive coordinator.
The twitter buzz grew even louder, as those talking about Arkansas quickly shifted to Auburn. While the news had less shock value than Arkansas, there was still immediate discussion on Malzahn's offense, and how it would fit with the current Tiger roster. If you were an SEC fan at work hoping to not be productive, this afternoon was your dream scenario.
Two apparent coaching hires and the conference's All-SEC teams were all released in the span of 36 minutes. During times like this the internet can be become so overwhelming that you can't navigate fast enough. The SEC Digital Network was caught in the middle of that virtual storm.
Once official word came from Auburn's athletic department, the Malzahn fever reached another level. Jacobs' tweeted out a picture "welcoming home" Malzahn, an image that fired up the Tiger fan base. Auburn’s press conference was set for 8 p.m. CT, and in that short time the Tigers had a new man to lead their program.
A couple of hours later the Arkansas athletics department announced Bielema's hire, putting a nice Razorback bow on the day's activities. Bielema, who was referred to as an "exceptional leader of young men and an outstanding football coach" by Director of Athletics Jeff Long, has a long track record of success, including three straight trips to the Rose Bowl.
By the time the night ended, much had changed in the Southeastern Conference. Two coaches, one old and one new, joined the league, and 54 players were named All-SEC performers. Plans for one big event turned into a breaking news cycle, and for 36 minutes the SEC’s fans were treated to intense drama and emotional swings.
As Robert Burns once said, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry".
Today was case and point.