Zach Seidel didn’t have a plan. When he sat down at his computer Friday night, he only had one tweet that he knew he would send — a milestone that UMBC’s star player would likely reach. Even the most confident alumni don’t plan on a No. 16 seed toppling a No. 1.
And then UMBC — that’s University of Maryland, Baltimore Country, and who are you again? — tied the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed at halftime. And then they led by double digits. And then, in one of the most shocking sports results we’ve ever seen, they beat them 74-54, the first No. 16 seed to ever win.
The increasingly surprising score caught the world’s attention, but so did the tweets — and that was all Seidel. Sitting courtside at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, the UMBC alumnus and Director of Multimedia Communications fired off snarky tweet after snarky tweet from the @UMBCAthletics account, roasting anyone who doubted the Retrievers. It looked something like this.
We talked to Seidel early Saturday morning, when he had finally reached his hotel, and asked him all about his experiences. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
So how did this actually work? I’m guessing you probably didn’t have extensive planning meetings or thought that the Twitter account would add 35,000 followers in one night. When did you realize something big might be happening, not just for UMBC but for the Twitter account?
Zach Seidel: I oversee social media, but I’m always doing something. For home games, we do ESPN3 broadcasts. I’m usually in the truck running the replay, or the broadcast stuff. But if I’m around, I’ll help. My boss yesterday, he said, ‘Hey, can you run social media. There’s going to be a lot of media requests today.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll do it.’
I didn’t really have a plan. The only thing I knew was that Jairus (Lyles) needed 15 points to set the (UMBC) single season record, and I knew I was preparing to tweet for that. That was really the only prepared tweet that I had going in
Yeah, I was wondering if you had any prepared tweets for if you lost that fortunately died on the side, but apparently not. But it’s cool that you found a tone really quickly.
ZS: That’s my personality. Anyone who knows me will know that those tweets were me. I saw a lot of people on Facebook, people sent me conversations on Facebook and Twitter, some of my friends were arguing, like, “That’s Zach Seidel on Twitter. We knew that had to be him.” I got texts from some people that I hadn’t spoken to in years. Like, “I know that’s you running that Twitter. I know your personality.” It was one of those things were the moment was all about us now, so let’s have some fun. Let’s show them we’re a fun place.
So to be clear, Seth Davis definitely deserved to be roasted for his “Virginia. Sharpie.” tweet sent shortly after tip off. But you know, there’s a lot of social media accounts out there that are buttoned up and would be afraid to do something like that. What was the different here for you?
ZS: Yeah, my bosses trust me. I never directly attacked UVA. I never directly attacked the opponents, or anything like that. It was more just having a light-hearted thing, and what I told people was that I didn’t have a plan.
And for 10 years, UMBC has always been, “We’re a little brother. We’re a little brother.” You know, we’re finally in the NCAA tournament after 10 years, and Seth Davis goes and tweets, “Virginia. Sharpie.” Right at tipoff. And I see that, and I’m like, “Really dude?” I guess Seth Davis was my muse. That’s what set me off. I’m going to be snarky tonight.
I’m sorry for not saying this sooner, but I want to personally apologize that they ran out of media cookies there at the end. I’ve been in those media rooms. I know how important those cookies are as fuel.
ZS: [laughs] I honestly didn’t even know that there were cookies. I was honestly just trying to make a joke. It was a stressful situation, so let’s do something light-hearted to diminish the mood.
I knew that there were cookies in there yesterday that were pretty good. So yeah, I was like, let’s have fun with it. So actually, I apologize to the people at Spectrum Arena. I do not know if they actually had cookies out, I was making a joke, and if you do have more cookies, they were really good.
What were your honest expectations for UMBC headed into this game? We’ve seen No. 16 vs. No. 1 seeds enough to know it’s nearly impossible — what did you think the best case scenario was?
ZS: I didn’t know what to expect, to be 100 percent honest. I knew that the person in me who had grown up watching sports and college basketball that a 16 had never beaten a 1. But I also knew, and I told it to a couple people, “Hey, this is a good matchup for us. We play defense well and we can score,” and I said, “Virginia has struggled to score. If we can just outshoot them, we have a chance.” I knew the odds were against us, but part of me was thinking, I knew we had a chance here.
Well, you are clairvoyant. Is there anything that you haven’t said yet that the world should know about what it was like to run the UMBC Athletics Twitter tonight.
ZS: What I think makes the best sports Twitter account, the best company Twitter account ... when I graduated college back in the spring of 2012, that’s when the LA Kings got really big into Twitter. I follow them still. I’m a huge Washington Capitols fan, so I love the Kings Twitter and I saw how they made their name for themselves — talking with fans, joking around. And I kind of did that slowly over the years with our account.
The best Twitter accounts, the ones I see, are the ones that have a personality. Are not just tweeting out, “We hit a three. We are up by one point.” Answer people! Make some jokes! Have some fun! Twitter is a place where you interact, so have some interaction. People were coming at us jokingly, so I tweeted back at them jokingly. And that’s what got people to notice. They’re a 16 seed, but they’re having some fun on Twitter.
One more question, and this is quick: out of every tweet you sent tonight, which one was your favorite? You can only pick one.
ZS: Oh man. Oh man.
You can only pick one. There are no copouts.
ZS: There were so many of them! I thought the one that I liked the best was the one at the start of the second half.
‘Cause, I was like, I have the spot, even momentarily. I might as well say, “Hey, we’re a good school.” That was my favorite one.
That was also a personal favorite of mine.
ZS: I was a little pissed that I misspelled “buildings” in that one tweet [a retweet of someone predicting a surge of applications to UMBC]. But I was a little bit excited.
I think that one misspelling is allowed. I have a feeling that your job’s pretty safe.
ZS: Yeah, I would say so. I’ve got some emails from people saying, “Who is this student running your Twitter. We can pay them.” And I’m like, “I’m pretty happy here.”