Editor’s Note: This column replaces the one written 11/26/17
If you thought Tennessee football hit rock bottom on Saturday night, take another look at Sunday.
The Volunteers almost had a new coach for a few hours. Vice chancellor and athletics director John Currie chose Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and won approval from Chancellor Beverly Davenport and whoever else has a vote.
The coach and AD, with legal assistance, signed a letter of understanding and were in the process of negotiating a contract when half the world did a volcanic eruption.
Fans criticized the choice of Schiano because he isn’t Jon Gruden. The myth that the ESPN star analyst might choose UT for a return to coaching has spoiled the scene. Nobody else can measure up.
Like Gruden, Schiano is a former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but he doesn’t have boyish blond hair and impish blue eyes and didn’t win a Super Bowl.
Albert Haynesworth and a few other former Vols threatened to withdraw support of the football program over the choice. Tennessee politicians spoke harshly of Schiano because he was once a Penn State assistant (1990-1995) who was rumored to have known of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys long before the criminal case made international headlines.
A former graduate assistant who wasn’t there until years later testified that another assistant said Schiano had said he saw or heard.
Guilty by geography and association. Tarnished goods. Beneath our dignity. Children are our greatest resource. Amen.
It didn’t seem to matter that Schiano, 51, has strongly denied being aware that Sandusky was a wicked pedophile. There is no evidence that he knew. Prosecutors ignored the rumor.
Nobody was listening when Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said “Greg’s been a close friend for 20-plus years. Elite person, elite father, elite husband. Carries over into the way he handles players; excellent coach, excellent person.”
Schiano is the father of four – Katie, Joey, John and Matt. The boys play football.
Somebody painted a deadly charge on The Rock, UT campus landmark: “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State.”
The New York Post offered a photo to the world. The local paper caught up.
“Our Tennessee standards mean something, and a Greg Schiano hire would be anathema to all that our university and our community stand for,” said Eddie Smith, representative of the 13th District in Knoxville.
Student protesters called for Currie to be fired on general principles. Ineptness. There must be a dozen better choices. Politicians are more relevant. They help determine state funding for the university.
Currie and Schiano ended up in an impossible situation. The athletic director had declined the services of a professional search company and chose to do his own investigations. He interviewed several prospects and chose an accomplished acquaintance from late 2009. They talked then when the UT coaching job was open.
Currie has lost influence at home and away. Other coaching prospects will be cautious.
Schiano is too smart to go where he isn’t wanted. The job is hazardous enough without starting with two strikes.
In fact, this stubborn, tough guy from New Jersey might have been a fine choice. Earlier in his coaching life, he built Rutgers from below zero to five bowl victories in a row. More famous football programs tried to pull him away.
Schiano collected an assortment of plaques and honors. He was national coach of the year. One of his teams got as high as No. 6 in the AP poll. The Scarlet Knights went 49-20 from 2006 to 2011. If you are keeping score, that is a better record than Tennessee, Notre Dame and several others had during that era.
Alas, fame caught up with Schiano. He fell for the call from the NFL. He became coach of the Bucs. In the beginning, he established discipline and was projected as a winner. He was identified as old school. He had a firm, determined demeanor. Everybody said it was genuine.
After his second season, he was fired. Players didn’t like him. Players lost too many games.
That was early 2014. He has since been waiting for an opportunity such as Tennessee.
He volunteered as an assistant coach at the Tampa high school where his sons played. He did a lot of homework, reviewing and revising his coaching philosophy. He did a TV show for the NFL Network. He visited successful college coaches. He met Gruden each week for video breakdowns.
One of his campus stops was Columbus, Ohio. He asked and answered a lot of questions. Meyer was properly impressed. Schiano joined the Buckeyes in 2015. Statistics say he was very good at what he did.
Currie offered what Schiano wanted, a head job where football matters. He was to receive a sizeable raise. His pay at Ohio State is $700,000. There is no buyout.
Schiano offered what Currie sought, experience as a strong leader, national identity, excellent reputation as a recruiter. He has Florida connections.
The coach knows more than you might guess about the Volunteers, worst team in the Southeastern Conference. One of his friends from Rutgers days is Jim Guarantano, Hall of Fame receiver from that school, father of Tennessee’s young quarterback.
OK, that is moot, but I thought you’d want to know how far was the fall from Rocky Top to rock bottom.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is [email protected]