Over the weekend, we were treated to a fiasco of a college football hiring process, as the University of Tennessee made a job offer to current Ohio State defensive coordinator and former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, only to retract its offer following an online uproar from Tennessee fans, alumni, and even politicians. Schiano has sought compensation for his ordeal, while Tennessee administrators have maintained that the agreement they reached with Schiano was an unsigned memorandum of understanding.
The impetus for the backlash to Schiano’s hiring is a mixed bag. On one hand, the dominant storyline on Saturday was Schiano’s tenure as an assistant coach at Penn State in the early 90s, when convicted child sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky was the defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions. A bulk of the Tennessee faithful defended their opposition to Schiano’s hiring by citing his alleged knowledge of Sandusky’s actions. Court documents released in 2016 allege that Schiano knew of Sandusky’s predatory behavior before he was arrested, but these documents based off of hearsay. On the other hand, some have countered that the Volunteer fan-base’s negative reaction to the hiring was due to Schiano’s pedestrian winning percentage at Rutgers, and that Schiano’s past at Penn State served as a convenient outlet for voicing displeasure at a mediocre football hire. Past and current employers of Schiano have sworn by his integrity, and in 2016 Schiano himself denied any wrongdoing. Schiano has remained employed at Ohio State.
As it pertains to Schiano’s role in the Penn State scandal, Saturday’s madness reveals nothing new about his alleged knowledge of wrongdoing. In fact, it is likely impossible to learn anything more about what Schiano did or did not know at Penn State, as McQueary’s account of Schiano’s knowledge was entirely hearsay. While I will not contend that there were sectors of the Tennessee fanbase that were genuinely upset about being associated with Schiano’s murky past, it rings hollow that the loyal fanbase of a football program that settled a Title IX lawsuit for $2.48 million for “maintaining a hostile sexual environment” would claim the moral high ground in this particular instance. The majority of Tennessee fans did not see Schiano as a suitable hire for a program that is trying to bounce back from an winless finish in SEC play, and consequently voiced their opinions over social media. The Rock, a landmark on Tennessee’s campus in Knoxville, was emblazoned with “SCHIANO COVERED UP CHILD RAPE AT PENN STATE.”.
Tennessee fans have already moved on from the Schiano ordeal. Not long after the university announced that the move had been nuked, Volunteer fans turned their attention to potential hirees such as Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, a proven winner in the Big 12 Conference. As for Schiano, it is unlikely that he will see any potential head coaching options in the near future. Saturday’s dive into a social media maelstrom has left Schiano labeled as damaged goods, and any school that indulges in his hiring will likely face a host of criticism from its supporters.
In the end, Schiano’s hiring was not thwarted by a careful investigation by Tennessee officials, nor was it stopped by the superior morals of the Volunteer fanbase, who could not stand to be associated with a coach who “covered up child rape at Penn State.” Rather, we witnessed the revolt of a fanbase that could not tolerate another mediocre football coach. Those supporters could not bear the prospects of missing out on a slam-dunk coach in favor of a man who went 68-67 at Rutgers, and in the process irresponsibly spread unsubstantiated rumors and negated any semblance of due process. Schiano may not have been the choice to return Volunteer Football to national prominence, but an unwarranted smear campaign against the man hardly grants Tennessee any moral high ground, nor does it bring the program any closer to finding a winning formula.
Photo: Rutgers Sports Information