Posted: Monday June 28, 2010 2:20PM ; Updated: Monday June 28, 2010 5:10PM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>INSIDE RECRUITING

Decoding Jim Harbaugh, master of the cryptic recruiting tweets

Story Highlights

With cryptic tweets, Harbaugh skirts the rules that prohibit commenting on recruits

Maybe Cardinal compliance officer told him to get cute; maybe he just got bored

What else would we expect from the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football?

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Jim Harbaugh's cryptic tweets have allowed him to walk the line between benign recruiting updates and NCAA rules violations.
Jim Harbaugh's cryptic tweets have allowed him to walk the line between benign recruiting updates and NCAA rules violations.
Daniel R. Harris/Icon SMI

I almost gave up. I thought he'd finally stumped me.

For the past few weeks, I've followed Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's Twitter feed the way Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen followed Lost. Just as Jensen did each time a book surfaced in Sawyer's tent or an ancient Egyptian fertility goddess statue popped up on the Island, I scour the Web every time Harbaugh steps out of his $50,000 office bathroom and blasts a 140-character-or-less missive into the ether. Usually, a few Google searches allow me to understand the man who has the school with some of the toughest academic standards in the FBS poised to compete for the Pac-10 title, but I spent the weekend pondering this Harbaugh tweet from last Friday. It wasn't until I'd written three-quarters of this column that I finally discovered the true meaning behind it.

I was reminded this week on a warm summer evening that there is nothing I appreciate more than AC. Must have!

Harbaugh wrote this at 2:28 p.m. eastern time on Friday, June 25. To the untrained eye, it appears the coach simply expressed gratitude to Willis Carrier for inventing a way for us to keep from boiling in our own skins in the summer. But if you believe that's all it was about, you haven't been following Harbaugh.

For the bulk of his 13-month Twittering life, Harbaugh has walked right up to the line that separates benign recruiting updates designed to excite fans and violations of NCAA rule 13.11.2, which forbids coaches and other university personnel from commenting on recruits other than a simple confirmation that the player is being recruited. For example, nine days after he joined Twitter, Harbaugh offered his first recruiting update. "More good news for Stanford football coming soon," Harbaugh wrote on May 29, 2009. "We just got a call."

Anyone who checked Rivals.com shortly after the tweet could figure out that the call came from Denton, Texas, offensive lineman Cole Underwood, who committed to Stanford on that day. Harbaugh's recruiting updates remained similarly obvious for almost a year, but then something changed.

Either Harbaugh's compliance officer asked Harbaugh to get a little more cryptic, or Harbaugh simply got bored. Because in April of this year, Harbaugh began having more fun with his commitment tweets. Take this one from April 27:

So glad for the phone call I just received. Big news & big addition for the Cardinal. The history books will judge April 27 better than OK.

A quick check of Rivals.com revealed that Salisaw, Okla., offensive lineman Garrett Gladd committed to the Cardinal on April 27. Get it? "So glad ..." Gladd. Better than "OK." Gladd lives in Oklahoma, where the thinly veiled tweets come sweeping down the plain.

Harbaugh probably realized quickly that he made that one too easy. On May 7, he left a little more to the imagination with this tweet:

I received a Big call, Strong news that leaves the Cardinal riding Tall in the saddle tonight!

The first two unusually capitalized letters tell us the commitment came from a Big, Strong player -- and possibly that Harbaugh read a lot of Hunter S. Thompson in his formative years. So we should assume the Cardinal received a commitment from a lineman on May 7. The third (Tall) and a check of Rivals reveals the mystery man to be 6-foot-5 Parker, Colo., offensive tackle Brendon Austin, who at the time of his commitment was the tallest member of Stanford's 2011 recruiting class.

Of course, some tweets are more mysterious than others. On May 25, Harbaugh fired off these two:

4:43 p.m.: The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead...

4:45 p.m.: Does anyone know where the love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours.

These are lyrics from The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. They do not appear to have any connection to a recruit. The Cardinal didn't receive a commitment from anyone between May 15 and June 2. Stanford doesn't have a verbal offer outstanding to anyone with Edmund or Fitzgerald in his name. The closest connection to Lake Superior -- where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank on Nov. 10, 1975 -- is a commitment from Mendota Heights, Minn., defensive tackle Anthony Hayes on May 6, but Mendota Heights is a suburb of the Twin Cities and a solid 150 miles from the shores of Lake Superior.

For now, I can only conclude from those tweets that Harbaugh is a big Gordon Lightfoot fan. But I'm still searching.

It was much easier to make the connection for the tweet Harbaugh sent at 9:18 p.m. eastern time on June 16:

We have seen his star in the East. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

At first glance, I thought this one might not be about recruiting. Maybe Harbaugh pulled from the Book of Matthew because he wanted a six-month head start on memorizing lines so he could audition to play one of the Magi in his local church's live nativity. But then I read this post from the indefatigable Spencer Hall of EveryDayShouldBeSaturday.com. Indeed, Harbaugh's tweet referred to the commitment of Tucker, Ga., linebacker James Vaughters, a 6-2, 233-pound tackling machine whose home is most assuredly east of Palo Alto. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution interview with Vaughters the next day erased any shred of doubt. "Vaughters ... said he actually has had his mind made up a while," the AJC's Chip Towers wrote. "He said he called Coach Harbaugh to inform him about 9 o'clock Wednesday night."

Let's hope Vaughters can handle pressure. Because a few minutes after he committed, Harbaugh essentially told his 332,261 Twitter followers that he'd received a pledge from the second coming.

Hall's post didn't stop Harbaugh. In fact, it may have emboldened the coach, who sent me scrambling for my dog-eared copy of Edith Hamilton's magnum opus with this tweet from June 23:

I sense opportunity in the air today. I saw the Greek god Kairos racing swiftly across the Stanford field in my dream last night. Be ready!

Rivals.com told me the commitment came a night earlier from 6-4, 220-pound Flushing, N.Y., receiver Devon Cajuste, who pledged to play for the Cardinal after a standout performance at Stanford's camp. This handy list of Greek deities told me that Kairos was the god of opportunity, or, more specifically, of the opportune moment. It also told me the god's name can be spelled Caerus. That version looks a little more like the mystery recruit's name. But Harbaugh hadn't dreamt it; Cajuste had made the most of his opportunity at the camp.

With that tweet, Harbaugh truly hit his stride. Kairos is the kind of arcana I expect in my cryptic tweets from a man who isn't the Stanford football coach, but the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.

That brings us to Harbaugh's tweet Friday about the AC. I went through all the usual procedures to identify the target of the tweet. I clicked on Rivals.com and sorted the Stanford class of 2011 list by commitment date. I saw that a quarterback from the District of Columbia named Kevin Hogan had committed on June 25. But nothing about the tweet seemed to connect it to Hogan. His initials didn't appear anywhere, and there were no deities referenced. I checked to see if Hogan was a descendant of Carrier. No luck.

It wasn't until I was researching another name that I noticed a player committed on June 24. In 2009. His name is Amir Carlisle, and he plays running back for Kings Academy in Sunnyvale, Calif. Amir Carlisle. AC. Apparently, Harbaugh can't live without Carlisle, who has given a few interviews lately hinting that he might be considering Stanford's hated rival, Cal. Whether communicating with Carlisle through encrypted tweets is a violation of rule 13.11.2 is something Stanford's compliance office may have to discuss with the NCAA, but if I'm Harbaugh, I cop only to loving air conditioning.

And even if Carlisle doesn't respond to coded tweets and bolts for Berkeley, Harbaugh still has one white whale, at least according to his Twitter feed. Despite the fact that his target is listed at a generous 5-9, Harbaugh brazenly pitched to this recruit in one of his earliest tweets on May 21, 2009.

"Jack Bauer," Harbaugh wrote, "we are checking to see if he has eligibility."

Maybe. But a skilled agent such as Bauer would respond only if Harbaugh communicates in code. Fortunately, Harbaugh is eminently qualified.

 
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