The end of June marked the end of Big 12 DieHards. Even though the site was shut down far before any of us expected, we still believe we had an opportunity to build something special.
Working for DieHards has been unlike any other experience I’ve had in media. When we launched on July 5, 2017, the site drew in just a couple hundred page views in the first day. By the time football season ended, we had built an outlet that changed the Big 12 media landscape.
What really made this site special was the people. Tim Griffin is one of the most respected minds in Big 12 football. John Shinn immediately brought credibility to our Oklahoma beat, which became the most popular on the site. Matt Jennings jumped into the breaking news editor position and built a phenomenal breaking news team.
I’d put our breaking news team of Joe Buettner, Dean Straka, Cody Daniel, Grant McGalliard and David Statman against any group of young writers in the country. Of course, we can’t forget Nathan Ruiz and Hunter Cooke, who were founding members of the site who have moved onto bigger and better things. Hire all of them, if you get the chance.
But more than anything, we must thank you, the readers. Even when we were a fledgling site without any sort of content distribution, you read and shared our work. Getting to interact with passionate fans from every Big 12 fan base was an unforgettable experience. Our only regret is that it had to end so soon.
The good news? The Big 12 is much healthier than it was the day we started. Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff and was seconds away from beating Georgia in the semifinals. The conference produced a Heisman Trophy winner, sent eight teams to bowl games and seven others to the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, the conference is competitive with everyone else from a revenue perspective.
There’s been plenty of doom and gloom about a perceived 2025 expiration date. While there’s plenty of work left to do before then, don’t write off the conference too soon.
Before DieHards shutters for good, we wanted to run through some of our favorite moments from running the site in the last year. We hope that DieHards has been able to bring you as much joy as it brought us. On behalf of the entire DieHards team, thank you for reading.
From the beginning, Big 12 teams were receptive to our venture. The clout that Tim Griffin brings to the table played a huge part. Tim was able to get on the phone and write about quarterback Mason Rudolph immediately. The Oklahoma State SIDs trusted Tim so much that they passed Mason’s number along to call over July 4.
Matt Jennings worked his contacts to get exclusive access with TCU co-offensive coordinator Curtis Luper. TCU is notorious for being close-fisted with access to its assistants, so Matt’s story ended up being especially notable.
These stories, along with a few others that we got to write at Big 12 media days, were tremendously important for building our brand and credibility at DieHards.
Ames Taco Bell fiasco
Easily one of the most memorable moments on the site came from Dean Straka. After Iowa State beat TCU for its second top-5 win of the season, fans converged on the Taco Bell in Ames, Iowa. Within hours, the place was overrun.
Dean contacted the Taco Bell, who told him that the restaurant ran out of lettuce, Doritos Locos tacos, beans, Baja tacos, queso and Mountain Dew. The story was one of our most shared and ended up becoming a national story.
College sports are supposed to be fun. While we were focused on covering the Big 12 accurately and effectively, our staff was perfectly happy to sit back and enjoy the entertaining side of college football, too. I can promise you, the Big 12 DieHards Slack channel was consistently on fire.
Matt went through and compared Big 12 programs to the Avengers, since he’s a big superhero movie fanatic. Hunter Cooke and Grant McGalliard teamed up to write Valentine’s Day poems for each team for some reason. Not to be outdone, Joe Buettner compared Big 12 teams to national pizza brands.
We joked that Baker Mayfield was “Baker the content maker” in our group chats, but it couldn’t be more true. Everything that Mayfield did was electric for our site. Oklahoma drove our Big 12 DieHards coverage, but Mayfield was the conductor.
Mayfield made sure the beat was never boring, from planting the flag at Ohio State to winning the Heisman Trophy. He’ll go down as one of the most memorable players in Big 12 history, and we’re lucky we got to cover it. John Shinn did a fantastic job with the beat.
In my general assignment role, I got the opportunity to tell several untold stories. That was my hope from the beginning. Here’s a few of my favorites from my portfolio:
- TCU backup quarterback Michael Collins gave up a guaranteed starting job at an Ivy League school to travel to Texas and compete with 4-star quarterbacks. I spoke to Collins and the people around him about why he did it.
- Baylor did not allow women to run the Baylor Line until the early 1990s. Before the game against Texas, they let those women run a ceremonial Baylor Line together. I spoke to several women about what ended up being a exciting and emotional day.
- West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills V bonded quickly after arriving in Morgantown, W.Va. I got an inside look at their relationship from their perspective, and with their offensive coordinator.
- Oklahoma State scheduled South Alabama in the nonconference, one of the younger programs in the sport. I spoke to the South Alabama coach and athletic director to gain insight into why South Alabama is so adamant about scheduling tough opponents.