How a Fan Revolt Took Down a Million-Dollar Deal

Joon LeeStaff WriterNovember 27, 2017

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 11: Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on during a game against the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won 48-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Based purely on football merits, Greg Schiano probably didn't deserve to be the head football coach at the University of Tennessee. Schiano led Rutgers to a 68-67 record in 11 seasons before he lasted only two years as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, compiling an 11-21 record. He gained a reputation for being a bully, and many of his players didn't trust him.

Early Sunday, Tennessee signed a memorandum of understanding with Schiano to announce him as the next head coach of the Volunteers, according to Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. Widespread backlash ensued soon thereafter, including citing Schiano's mention in a deposition related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Nearly 100 people protested on the Knoxville campus before the university backed out of the agreement, reportedly nixing a press conference to announce the news, per ESPN.com.

The cause of the uproar? A 2015 deposition in which former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary testified that Tom Bradley, another assistant, had told him Schiano had witnessed Sandusky abusing a child. Schiano was a Penn State defensive assistant under Sandusky from 1990-95.

"I can't remember if it was one night or one morning, but that Greg had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower," McQueary testified. "And that's it. That's all [Bradley] ever told me."

Once the narrative emerged, there was no controlling it. Critics quickly left their keyboards and took to the streets. Protesters stormed the campus to fight the hiring, Tennessee politicians publicly admonished the hiring and someone even painted the giant rock on campus to read: "SCHIANO COVERED UP CHILD RAPE AT PENN STATE."

With the likelihood that Schiano was not the most qualified person for the Volunteers head coaching position, Tennessee fans and boosters could've rightfully protested the hiring based solely on his resume. But instead of a conversation about qualifications, the prevailing dialogue centered upon Schiano's possible involvement with the Sandusky scandal—an allegation that has never been proved—and how it should have disqualified him from the position.

But what about Ohio State? The McQueary deposition was released in July 2016, seven months after Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer had hired Schiano as defensive coordinator. If the secondhand allegations from Bradley through McQueary are true, Schiano shouldn't have had any job in football, whether that's as a coordinator for the Buckeyes or leading the charge for the Volunteers.

There was no such outrage back in July 2016.

It can be argued that Schiano would have been a trainwreck waiting to happen as a head coach, and that he didn't deserve the Tennessee job. You can also argue someone shouldn't lose their job based on what amounts to hearsay.

The entire saga feels similar to much of what's happened in 2017. In today's highly politicized climate, people regularly use stories to support their viewpoint regardless of whether the facts in the stories are, well, factual. It's much easier to tell someone you don't want them to be your coach because they're a pedophile-enabler than it is to say they have a questionable track record of success.

On Monday morning, Tennessee athletics director John Currie released a statement that read: "We also confirmed that Coach Schiano was never deposed and never asked to testify in any criminal or civil matter. And, we conferred with our colleagues at The Ohio State University, who had conducted a similar inquiry after the 2016 release of testimony. I know that Coach Schiano will continue to have great success in his coaching career and wish him and his family well."

In essence, Currie's statement proclaimed, "We think he is clean, we thought he was the best coach for the job, and we fired him anyway."

The angry mob won because sports is a business. If Volunteers fans were prepared to hit the program in its bank account, change was going to happen.

Bill Feig/Associated Press

Individual Tennessee fans are the only ones who know why they protested Schiano's hiring. Given the track record of sports fans in general, it's hard to imagine that if the school had hired a promising young coach who also came in with a hearsay allegation connected to Sandusky, they wouldn't have been more receptive. A hotshot with no previous head coaching experience would've made such an allegation easier to overlook—all for the success of the program. Much easier than the campus rock that was spray-painted as if unconfirmed testimony was confirmed fact.

There are surely people who feel angry about Schiano's potential involvement in the Sandusky scandal. But there's also undoubtedly a large number of fans who wanted a different coach and saw the unconfirmed McQueary testimony as an excuse to protest the hiring.

If Schiano was the best candidate available, this angry mob would not have formed. As we've seen countless times, from domestic violence in the NFL to PEDs in baseball, there are few people in America better at compartmentalizing the moral values of their heroes than sports fans.