There’s a lot to unpack from Sunday’s Greg Schiano-to-Tennessee mess, which will likely end up being one of the wildest coaching search stories in the history of college football.
To recap: Tennessee signed the initial paperwork to make former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano its new head coach. Then, when news of the hire leaked, Tennessee fans and the batshit crazy #VolTwitter banded together to oppose it, presumably because Schiano has never proved himself to be a great football coach.
But soon fans’ concerns turned toward something totally different: Schiano’s time at Penn State. Schiano was a graduate assistant and assistant coach with the Nittany Lions from 1990 to 1995, under then defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was later found guilty of raping young boys in school facilities. Schiano wasn't implicated in the scandal until the testimony of whistleblower Mike McQueary—who played at Penn State when Schiano was coaching there—was unsealed in 2016.
After McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a boy, he testified that he eventually told then-defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and that Bradley said Schiano had come to him about a similar situation years before.
These are troubling accusations, particularly because they came under oath, and the fan pressure stemming from that testimony ultimately caused Tennessee to back out of the deal.
Of course, not every Vols fan had pure motives here. While some were surely upset about the accusations, college football fans have long had a habit of only caring about their team’s immorality if it’s hurting them on the field. Tennessee is a prime example. Back when former coach Butch Jones looked like he had the Vols on the uptick, he was accused of covering up sexual assaults by football players and even calling a player a traitor because he helped women who were assaulted by his teammates. There was far more proof of that than any of the statements in McQueary’s testimony about Schiano. If Schiano shouldn't be Tennessee’s football coach, then Jones shouldn't have been either.
Given its history of failures in approaching sexual assault, Tennessee should be looking for someone who has a history of proactively ensuring sexual assault isn’t tolerated. And Schiano's track record after his time at Penn State has shown that he shouldn't be working with college players, anyway.
When he was coaching the Bucs, the NFL Players’ Association claimed that Schiano leaked to the media that his former quarterback Josh Freeman—whom he didn’t like—was in the NFL’s substance abuse program, information that is supposed to be kept confidential. He also reportedly ran the worst locker room culture in the NFL, didn’t take player health concerns seriously, called elementary school kids distractions, and has been described as “autocratic."
When Schiano was mentioned for, of all things, the Penn State job, former Rutgers player Anthony Davis detailed a miserable experience while playing under him and was asked what the coach should change.
"He doesn't give a (expletive) what I think he should change," Davis told NJ.com. "He doesn't give a (expletive) what anybody thinks he should change. He could get fired from Penn State and that same year he would go to a different college and do the same thing."
College football programs have a long history of rewarding coaches who disregard their players, communities, and morals as long as they win. Whether Schiano can even do the latter is in question, but he’s shown time and again that he should not be given complete control over 18-to-22-year-old college kids.
Yet for some reason, after losing the Tennessee job, the national media came out in full force to defend Schiano and cast him as a sympathetic victim. Putting aside the possibility that this was an attempt to please Schiano’s agent, the influential Jimmy Sexton, this was truly mind-boggling.
Herbstreit, a prominent college football analyst, appears to be suggesting that the standard of proof required to lose a football job is the same as that of a criminal conviction: guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, losing a head-coaching job is not quite the same as getting thrown in jail, so the standard is not nearly as stiff. In fact, there is no real standard; programs just do whatever the hell they want. Tennessee saw the revolt against the pending hire and bailed. A memorandum of understanding Rick Barnes signed with Tennessee when he became head basketball coach said the memorandum could be withdrawn without cause, i.e. for any reason. It's not unreasonable to assume Schiano's contained the same language. Tennessee may be on the hook for some money but outside of that, it's the school's show and it can do what it wants.
Even media members who admit that Schiano’s rights weren’t violated are resorting to a strange defense of Schiano by downplaying what McQueary said and ignoring the rest of Schiano’s past.
For instance, Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel, who covered the Sandusky scandal, wrote this:
The real question is, did Schiano really cover up child rape at Penn State?
The answer: Only Schiano and maybe Sandusky know for sure, but that allegation has most certainly not been proven, no matter what the clickbait headlines of the Internet claim. To make such a definitive statement is flat-out false at this point and a terrifying, lynch-mob reach against a possibly innocent person’s reputation.
It doesn't need to be proven. That Schiano was simply attached to it at all should have given Tennessee pause. It didn't and it became a huge headache for them so they corrected course.
NJ.com’s Steve Politi wrote an incredible revisionist history piece about Schiano’s character on the grounds that he was nice to a paralyzed player.
The sad reality is that character should be the one thing we can agree on when it comes to Schiano. He wasn't a perfect coach by any means, but he took the worst college football program in the country and built something Rutgers fans could take pride in, on and off the field.
And there was lots more like this:
The overwhelming message here is that unless Schiano was proven guilty of a crime in the legal system, or close to it, he should be the Tennessee head coach. But when you have had as many character issues in your program as Tennessee has had in recent years, that’s not how you should operate. You shouldn’t bring in someone who has been tied to the Penn State scandal. You shouldn’t bring in a coach who has reportedly degraded players at every step of his career.
The response from many Schiano supporters has been that Tennessee fans weren’t completely genuine in wanting a clean program, and that's almost certainly true. But it also doesn’t matter. At a time when so many universities make morally bankrupt hires, it’s a good thing that public pressure kept out a coach who has demonstrated he should not be running a program. Sure, Tennessee fans didn’t call for Jones’s resignation when they should have. There was no public pressure for Ohio State to dump Schiano. Countless other coaches haven’t lost their jobs when they’ve displayed worse behavior than Schiano has. That doesn’t change the fact that Schiano shouldn’t be a college football coach.
Maybe Tennessee fans did fall ass-backwards into forcing the right decision for the wrong reasons. And I have no doubt that, just like any fans, they’ll support a morally bankrupt coach who also helps them win games. But, at least for now, Tennessee will no longer have a coach whose history suggests he shouldn’t be on the sideline without an open, public self-examination of his past conduct. That’s a good thing for college football, even if it’s just a small step forward.