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June 19, 2013

Controversy over Manziel's tweet overblown

Four days later, I'm still not sure exactly why the Twitter account of Johnny Manziel continues to be such a lightning rod for Texas A&M fans and media.

Before I go any further, I apologize in advance for not understanding the ramifications of a 20 year old's comments Saturday night that he "can't wait to leave College Station" over something that made him tweet something out of frustration, leave it up for about a minute, and then take it down and try to undo whatever damage was done with another tweet.

It's hard for me to understand because it had absolutely nothing to do with anything that happens on a football field nor did it involve an off the field incident that performance in any way. In addition, Manziel didn't turn on A&M fans, players, coaches, or even make derogatory comments about the people of College Station…just that he couldn't wait to leave because of frustrations about something that happened Saturday night.

Since that time, I've tried to come to grips with people's perceptions of the negative impact of Manziel's tweet because the tweet is all that there is to go by. There's been no real world impact on Texas A&M's football program, at least that I can tell, nor should there be. However, people want there to be some kind of impact because it's the off season and quite honestly we don't have anything else to talk about. More than anything else, that's the real issue… something happened, and we've got to spend an enormous amount of time on this subject. Let's face it, we wouldn't dedicate this same amount of time to a similar tweet a few hours after A&M beat a SEC opponent by four touchdowns and Manziel accounted for 400 yards total offense and another Top Ten moment on Sportscenter.

But since it's the off season…which means it's the silly season…and we have the time, let's break down what possible impact Manziel's behavior had on A&M's program and the fans.

First, we have established that it had nothing to do with anything on the field. In fact, let's also run through a list of off field items that might negatively impact Manziel's ability to produce on the field.

Did he get arrested as he did last summer? No.

Is he in danger of losing eligibility due to NCAA compliance issues? Apparently not.

Is he academically eligible? Apparently yes.

Did he personally attack teammates, coaches, or the fan base as whole…in other words, the people that support him, help make him the player that he is, and idolize him? No.

Did he make up a fake girlfriend or get involved in some way with one because of the pressures involved with A&M's season? No. (Sorry, I couldn't resist).

If you look at everything that Manziel has done since his arrest last summer…which he has admitted was a turning point for him…here's a list of the positives: coming from behind to win the starting quarterback job, lead the Aggies to a 11-2 season, beat the national champions on their home turf, elevate A&M's perception nationally to levels it hasn't been accustomed to in years, win the Heisman Trophy, be gracious enough to have his picture taken with A&M fans everywhere, and become Kirk Herbstreit's best friend…and all of this happened within a six month time frame from a time when no one knew who he was.

In my opinion, the most underrated aspect of what Manziel has done occurred just prior to him winning the Heisman Trophy last year. Underclassman are generally not allowed to talk to the media at most schools but if Manziel was going to win the award, then he was going to have meet with the media, not just those of us who cover the team but also national writers and broadcasters who voted on the award or shaped the thinking of those who did. This meant that A&M was going to have to teach him how to handle the press, that Manziel was going to have to absorb and apply those lessons, and all of it was going to have to happen on the fly…and the youngest Heisman winner in history just 18 months out of high school pulled it off. For someone who could be totally unpredictable on the field, Manziel turned out to be gratifyingly predictable off of it in his relations with us.

Since that time, Manziel has been castigated for taking on line classes or popping up at NBA Finals games in Miami because of the perception that these things negatively impact the A&M program or more importantly should negatively impact his team…and yet they don't. In fact, his last tweet prior to the one that gained so much notoriety was a picture of him fishing with some of his teammates who supposedly shouldn't want to block for him any more because he can't wait to get out of College Station and leave them behind.

Overall, there's nothing tangible that we can point to that says his behavior should have negative consequences for the Aggies on or off the field.

Second, some people have said that his comments will negatively impact A&M's recruiting for years to come since he appears to dislike College Station and can't wait to get out of there.

Well, having followed college football recruiting for nearly 40 years, covered it actively for over a decade, and having interviewed hundreds of high school prospects about why they choose schools that they sign with, I can tell you that such a premise is unrealistic. Prospects sign with winning coaches, preferably in programs that are close to home. They may talk about academics and facilities but in the end the coach that wins big can sell anything to a recruit because that coach is successful and has credibility with prospects because he wins.

When a recruit comes to A&M for a visit (whether officially or unofficially), they may get to hang out with the Heisman Trophy winner. They may even tweet about it. But during the recruiting process, A&M coaches are the ones who build the relationships with these kids and their families and stay in consistent contact with them with cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, and email. Manziel gives these coaches credibility because he makes A&M a winner on the field but it's up to those coaches to sell that because they are the ones involved with the prospects, not Manziel.

In fact, just ask any of our subscribers who followed A&M recruiting from the late 1990's who watched prospects visit A&M, rave about every aspect of the program, and then accept an offer from Texas or Oklahoma who were busy competing for national titles. They can tell you the same things I can because they've read the articles we've written. They know the score.

If a prospect ever references Manziel's comments as a reason he's not coming to A&M, don't fall for that. One prospect in the 2014 class who tweeted about Manziel's comments in the past few days also expressed concerns after the Cotton Bowl about the way his position was used during the game. It's no coincidence that A&M has offered several other prospects at his position long before the prospect's tweet went out this week.

Finally, we all want our heroes to be as responsible as we are and care about the games as much as we do. Manziel's frustrations boiled over Saturday night but keep in mind that he's a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Those same emotions make the best football player in the country because they fuel his competitive fire. I remember interviewing him at the Cotton Bowl and asking him about his performance in the spring of 2012 when he was throwing interceptions and making mistakes. His voice dropped when answering the question and it didn't pick back up for another two or three questions. The memory tormented him. He's a competitor and if you want him to play quarterback for you, you as a fan are going to have to deal with that aspect of his personality.

Even so, those emotions mean that when it's time to play football, he puts else everything behind him and focuses on the task at hand. He had a whirlwind December in which everyone wondered about how he would handle the distractions associated with winning the Heisman and proceeded to put up 41 points and over 500 yards of total offense in the Cotton Bowl.

Overall, Manziel's simply a member of a generation who uses social media as an outlet both for their triumphs and their frustrations. That's both good and bad depending on your feelings about the medium. You'll probably see Manziel tweeting less in the future because of the incident but in all likelihood that's the only tangible outcome that's going to come from the incident. Otherwise, nothing has changed…he's still the greatest player in A&M history and a great ambassador for the university. As long as you accept him for what he is and are willing to come along for the ride, it should continue to be fun for you too.



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