Early on the afternoon of Nov. 26, it appeared that Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano was set to become the new head coach of the University of Tennessee football team after coach Butch Jones was fired. But later they were still without a coach.
During the time in between, students and fans came out in protest of the hiring, both in person and on social media. A boulder on the university campus, known affectionately as “The Rock” by locals, was spray painted with the message “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State.”
Somehow, the monstrosity of a story that is the Jerry Sandusky rape scandal made its way into the news during this moment.
The protest and connection to Sandusky was sparked by assumptions that Schiano, during his tenure as an assistant coach at Penn State from 1991-95, knew of and covered up the fact that Sandusky was sexually assaulting minors. Sandusky was the defensive coordinator at Penn State at the time.
These accusations stem from statements made by former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary in an August 2015 deposition. McQueary stated that Schiano went to fellow assistant coach Tom Bradley in the early 1990s after he saw Sandusky “doing something to a boy in the shower.” After this deposition was released in 2016, Schiano denied having knowledge of any of Sandusky’s sexual misconduct at the time.
Since he left Penn State, Schiano has had many stops along his coaching career, most notably a 10-year stint as head coach at Rutgers. This statement by McQueary did not hurt Schiano’s ability to get a job last year, as he was named defensive coordinator of Ohio State before the 2016 season.
Whether Schiano actually knew of any wrongdoing by Sandusky during his tenure cannot be said definitively by anyone, except for those people directly involved. One thing is for sure and that is that no wrongdoing has ever been proven.
Still, the charge that Schiano did know was enough to stop him from a potentially life-changing hire to a huge program in the Southeastern Conference. His reputation is damaged as a result; having McQueary’s comments in the public view is one thing, but having a university’s fan base protest his hiring on the basis of it is another.
The whole situation is a bad look for the University of Tennessee. Volunteers athletic director John Currie, along with other school officials, essentially saw the reactions to the hire from fans on social media, as well as the small protest that gathered on campus, and attempted to distance themselves from Schiano. Bear in mind, this backpedaling was done as the program was reportedly and figuratively handing the pen and paper of the contract to Schiano.
Is that all it takes? A little bit of backlash on social media causes the rescinding of a head coaching hire only hours after announcing it?
Fans chanted “Fire Currie” at a WWE event in Knoxville on the night Nov. 28 in response to Currie’s hiring of Schiano. However, maybe his firing should be done for other reasons, such as allowing his fan base to persuade personnel decisions via angry tweets.
This all boils down to the fact that Tennessee fans are upset – not just about the decision to hire and then back away from Schiano, but also, about the state of the program. It has not been to a National Championship game since it won in 1998. The team has not even been to the SEC Championship since 2007. The program is in search of its fifth coach since legendary coach Philip Fulmer left the program after the 2008 season.
The fans want results, and they want them now. Lane Kiffin was a disaster of a head coach, and so was Jones. It is impossible to know whether the outrage for Schiano was truly fueled by a belief in McQueary’s statements, or whether McQueary’s statements were easy to latch onto for a candidate Tennessee fans already did not like.
Whatever it may be, this whole ordeal has been an embarrassment for Tennessee, and encapsulates the last 10 years of this program.
Matt Ambrose is a journalism major from Exeter, N.H. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mambrose97.