If you love and follow sports, and you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past few days, then you must be familiar with the chaos that has ensured at the University of Tennessee. There have been plenty of people talking and writing about it, that there’s really nothing new I can add but my own perspective.
First of all, would I have hired Greg Schiano as the head coach at the University of Tennessee? No, I wouldn’t have. Look I’ve lived here for 15 years so I understand what a fit is and what a fit isn’t. But hiring the football coach at Tennessee is not my job or anyone else’s for that matter.
Setting aside the absolutely alarming number of old geezer Yankees who relocate here on a daily basis because there is no state income tax and the climate is milder than say Michigan, this isn’t New Jersey and it isn’t Ohio. Coaching football at the University of Tennessee is just different. The job requires a certain southern charm that you cannot fake. Butch Jones tried to fake it and failed. The job is about 10% of actual coaching and 90% bedside manner.
The coach at U.T. is the most visible person in Knoxville, if not the entire state. When you take this job, you accept the fact that taking your wife out for dinner ain’t gonna happen and if she needs you to pick up something at the store, you’d best send someone else because you aren’t going into the local Publix unnoticed. Add in the fact that there are certain high dollar boosters (read Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam) whose butt you have to constantly kiss, and it takes a certain personality. From my perspective Schiano could probably win games but lose the town based on his personality alone, and winning the town is 1,000 times more important.
There’s no denying Schiano’s accomplishments as a Head Coach at Rutgers. Since Tennessee isn’t an NFL job, it’s not a fair comparison to talk about his tenure with Tampa Bay in the NFL. The school’s football team was an absolute grease fire and he took it to the top 5 in the nation at one point. His players swear by him and he did recruit in the deep south tapping into his contacts in Florida. If you can get a kid of Miami to go to Piscataway, New Jersey then you can clearly sell yourself and your program. He’s not Nick Saban but he’s not a bad coach, and he deserved better than what he got on Sunday when some supposed “fans” ran his name through the mud with absolutely no evidence to support the allegations.
Athletic Director John Currie is hired to hire and fire coaches and do what is best for his athletic program. He decided – and it is his decision – that Schiano was the right choice for the job so Currie, flew to Columbus, Ohio (where Schiano is now the Defensive Coordinator at Ohio State), and reached an agreement The plan was to sign the papers and fly him back for a press conference on Sunday night. Then all hell broke loose.
The protests were supposedly about Schiano’s connection to the Penn State program during the Jerry Sandusky era turned scandal. Schiano is not now, nor has he ever been, accused of molesting a child. His only connection to the scandal is that as a 25-year old young assistant at Penn State, he supposedly told fellow Penn State assistant Tom Bradley that he saw Sandusky in the shower with a boy. Schiano and Bradley have both denied it so there’s no direct evidence that Schiano said that. The only reference to it came in a deposition of former Penn State assistant Mike McQuery who – as part of his suit against the school – testified that Bradley told him what Schiano said. Is it possible that’s true? Of course it is, but you could never in a million years get that fact into evidence at trial. What Schiano said to Bradley is hearsay not subject to any evidentiary exception. And What McQuery said Bradley said Schiano said is double hearsay. We exclude hearsay from trials in this country because it’s inherently unreliable, but apparently it’s more than enough to send a bunch of quote “Tennessee fans” into a tizzy.
Actually this wasn’t about Schiano’s connection to Penn State. It’s about the fact that Schiano wasn’t John Gruden. Here in fantasy land, the natives have forever thought that all you have to do is call John Gruden and he’d jump right out of the Monday Night Football booth and come save Tennessee football. Shows you just how stupid some Tennessee fans really are. That was never going to happen. Gruden makes $6 million per year with a cushy job at ESPN. He supplements that income with endorsement deals with Corona and Hooters, among others, which I’m sure pushes him above $10 million. If you think for 10 minutes he’s leaving that to coach here, you are truly delusional. His contract as a coach at the University of Tennessee would say that the University specifically owns his name and likeness. There go all the Hooters girls behind that plate of chicken wings. And, if he was going to coach here, John Currie isn’t trying to hire Schiano in the first place.
The bottom line is that Tennessee fans didn’t want Schiano so they garnered their self righteousness to make it look like they didn’t want him for a moral reason, when the fact is they just didn’t want him.
And therein lies the problem. As a consumer of Tennessee football you are certainly entitled to express your displeasure with a coach by not attending the games and spending money. But, you are not entitled to select the coach and John Currie and the University of Tennessee looks weaker now that ever before. What this has done has given these “fans” a forum to try and sabotage any hire Currie attempts to make. If he hires someone else not named Gruden, will they find some other “moral” reason to oppose it? You can certainly do that with Bobby Petrino, who is also a bad fit here, but if Currie eventually hires Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, where are the skeletons in his closet?
Again while I believe Schiano was a bad fit at Tennessee, Currie made a mistake in not standing his ground. He should have flown Schiano in here and made him the coach and let the whiners get their fix of Gruden by making sure they stand at attention, remove their hats, and put their hands over their heart each time he appears on ESPN.
It’s Currie’s job to hire a coach. Part of being a leader is that you will make decisions that not everyone will like. It if fails, Currie is accountable, which is a lot better than being the weak leader he appears to be now. No matter the outcome the University of Tennessee looks like a complete clown show and it’s not the A.D. that is to blame for that, but those who insist that they are actually “fans.”