Tennessee and Greg Schiano are reportedly in end stage contract talks for the Ohio State defensive coordinator to become the next coach in Knoxville. It may be finalized by the time I finish typing this post.
Schiano’s name came up here and there in this search, but no one’s name earned much real traction due to the secrecy athletic director John Currie operated with. We mentioned Schiano as a name generating some level of interest early on, as his profile generated the third-most clicks on our coaching hot board. As I noted at the time, his on-field record at Rutgers is noteworthy, as has been the performance of Ohio State’s defense. Later that same week I mentioned him as a dark horse candidate on Sports 180 (from November 17), again based on pageviews we were seeing.
In both places, we questioned the fit. I noted on the radio that I couldn’t find anyone who thought Schiano coming to Tennessee was a good idea.
In hindsight, I wish I had been more direct and less interested in being nice. And I think many of us who put our fingers to the keyboard about Tennessee simply didn’t spend more time on Schiano because we never really thought it would happen.
The questions about Schiano’s hire are not about his won/loss record. He was clearly a good coach at Rutgers and is a good defensive coordinator now at Ohio State, no matter how many games he won or lost in the NFL with Tampa Bay.
The questions about Schiano’s hire are not about Jon Gruden. No matter your level of belief in the #Grumors, if Jon Gruden married a cheerleader from Alabama instead and owned land in Tuscaloosa County, the uproar over Schiano would be and should be the same.
And the questions about Schiano’s hire are not about who else we could or could not get. Dan Mullen at Florida and Scott Frost at Nebraska is a tough blow. It would appear we swung and missed at bigger fish. We’ve already been underwhelmed with the announcement, twice. Many of us didn’t even know who Derek Dooley was a week before he was hired, and Butch Jones was met with something less than a lukewarm reception. Fans ultimately rallied around both well before their first game. This isn’t that.
You cannot hire Greg Schiano.
This is why, from The Washington Post in July of last year:
Former Penn State assistant coaches Greg Schiano and Tom Bradley knew that Jerry Sandusky, their colleague on Joe Paterno’s football staff, was acting improperly with young boys years before law-enforcement authorities were first notified, according to testimony from former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary that was unsealed Tuesday by a Philadelphia court.
Schiano denied the allegations. I don’t know who is telling what percentage of the truth. But the gravity of the situation cannot be ignored or glossed over at an introductory press conference.
Without the Penn State questions, there’s a laundry list of off-the-field questions from his tenure at Tampa Bay. With them, this is not a hire Tennessee can make. It would not be a hire Tennessee could make even if it wasn’t coming off a Title IX lawsuit.
As fans, we want to win. “Will it help us win?” is John Currie’s mission statement. But some things still do matter more than winning.
In college athletics, if not all sports, you cannot divorce the team from the coach. Rooting for your team ultimately and always means rooting for your coach. Even if you don’t like them personally or they’re not always the best fit, their success is almost always in the best interests of the program you care about so much.
Hiring Schiano with these allegations is not worth even the best case scenario on the field. Because he’s a good coach, he might win here. He might even win big. But you cannot divorce the coach from the team.
Cheering for your team means defending your coach, and good grief, I have defended Butch Jones. I have defended Derek Dooley. And I have defended Lane Kiffin. That’s quite a trio. I once argued Bruce Pearl should stay at Tennessee even if he received a show-cause up to a year. It’s what we do as fans, often to a fault.
I cannot defend Greg Schiano. I cannot minimize the allegations from Penn State. Tennessee fans will not.
This isn’t professional rabble-rousing. Negative reaction to Schiano isn’t the worst of the Tennessee fan base. It’s the better judgment of Tennessee’s human beings.
Tennessee has been trying to get this right for ten years. At the end of those ten years, we just finished the worst season in school history, winless in the SEC for the first time in the history of the league. We know disappointment and we know impatience better than most. Both of them, at times, bring out the worst in a fan base like ours.
And make no mistake: today is not helpful for the program even if Schiano and the Vols ultimately and wisely walk away. John Currie’s power will have eroded, the list of those interested in this job will shrink, and the negotiating power will shift hard to the coach and agent. We are likely to end up further down the list with a bigger buyout.
But I will lose for ten more years while defending a coach I can believe in with a clear conscience before will-it-help-us-winning-it with Greg Schiano.
I have loved Tennessee all my life. And I believe in Tennessee, and believe it is bigger than even its athletic director. Even if today has ensured a better tomorrow is a few steps further away, I am hopeful Tennessee will come about that tomorrow in a better way.