Sex scandal hysteria covers for football-fan crankiness at Tennessee.
With some exceptions they’ve never really had much of a football team at Rutgers, even though it was at that school, the state university in New Jersey, where the first college football game was played in 1869 (for the record, Rutgers beat Princeton by a 6-4 score). In fact, in the modern history of the Scarlet Knight football program the record is a bleak one — prior to 2005 they’d played in a grand total of one bowl game. They’ve played in 10.
And in six of those 10 bowl seasons the head coach at Rutgers was Greg Schiano, an accomplished football man who had been on coaching staffs at Penn State and Miami as well as the Chicago Bears before he was hired to make something of a program that had won just 11 of 55 games in the five years prior to his arrival. It took Schiano four years to rebuild Rutgers football, but he did — and in a seven-year stretch from 2005 to 2011 the Scarlet Knights became a nationally relevant program, with six winning seasons, five bowl victories and an overall record of 55-25, along the way spurning interest from Miami, twice, and Michigan when those schools sought him out to fill their vacancies. Counting the four years spent building his program up to that level, Schiano’s record as the Rutgers coach was 67-66.
Schiano’s performance in raising Rutgers from the dead got him an NFL head coaching job in Tampa, though in two years at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he proved he was a lot better college coach than a pro one. Still, even after 7-9 and 4-12 seasons in the NFL his stock was high enough that Schiano was hired in 2016 to serve as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, where he’s performed quite well — Ohio State was 6th in the country in total defense last year, and this year they’re 8th.
Greg Schiano is a good coach who is a perfectly plausible hire for a major-college football program. What he isn’t is a superstar, game-changing hire. He can build a championship-level program but it isn’t likely to happen overnight.
And that’s why when last week Schiano was tabbed to succeed Butch Jones as the new head coach at Tennessee by that school’s first-year athletic director John Currie, there was a major tantrum among the fans — who had convinced themselves they were going to be getting another former Tampa Bay head coach in current ESPN Monday Night Football color analyst Jon Gruden. As Schiano has yet to rate an endorsement contract from Corona, he simply won’t do as the face of football at Rocky Top.
But to conduct a successful “friendly arson” campaign upon one’s incoming head coach takes more than bitching about a 67-66 overall record. Something else was needed.
And the Tennessee fans found it in the current hysteria about sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
No, Schiano has never harassed or abused anyone sexually — at least not that we know of. The allegation which ultimately made him too hot for Tennessee to handle was a five-year-old bit of hearsay involving the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky scandal. It seems that Schiano, who was the defensive backs coach under Sandusky (the school’s longtime defensive coordinator) from 1991 to 1995, had been said to have known about the latter’s exploits as a child molester who used school facilities to perpetrate his dirty deeds. The New York Post’s Zach Braziller nicely wraps up the particulars…
There is no proof Schiano knew of Sandusky’s behavior. It’s secondhand hearsay in the wake of a 2015 deposition by whistleblower and former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, the star witness in the criminal trials against Sandusky. He claimed, during a civil suit between Penn State and its insurance company over the liability of payouts to Sandusky victims in 2015, that assistant coach Tom Bradley said Schiano went to him in the early 1990s “white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower.” That was it in the transcripts released in 2016. Schiano’s name never came up in any of the interviews McQueary did with law enforcement.
Schiano denied the accusations. Bradley’s lawyers also denied it. Schiano never has faced any charges. The story didn’t surface in Penn State’s internal investigation, run by former FBI director Louis Freeh. Schiano never has been sued by any victims for not reporting the abuse. No one, besides McQueary, has said Schiano witnessed an inappropriate act, and McQueary never saw it for himself.
Yes, yes. But in the current environment of mob hysteria involving bad behavior of a sexual sort, that was more than enough to tar Schiano as untouchable. “Schiano Covered Up Child Rape At Penn State” was scrawled in spray paint on a prominent rock façade on the campus in Knoxville, and within hours of reports Currie had hired Schiano two Tennessee politicians had publicly scolded the university for having considered him. It wasn’t long before Currie had rescinded the offer, which shortly embroiled Tennessee in threatened legal action by Schiano’s attorneys. Along the way were moralizing and petulant bleatings by mediocre writers at places like Deadspin and The Ringer, and message board and social media tirades galore by delusional fans dreaming of a return to the glory years of Peyton Manning… who said this week he supported the Schiano hire.
There is a lesson here, of course, and Tennessee is learning it quickly. That is, since aborting Schiano’s hire which might necessitate paying him a buyout (and is likely to result in some sort of monetary settlement; after all, Currie did sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the coach) the Volunteers haven’t located a volunteer for the job Schiano was willing to take on. Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy said no. So did Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. Gruden is still set to call games on Monday nights and pitch Mexican beer for now. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen opted to take the open job at Florida. North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren said he’s not interested. Late Thursday there were reports Kevin Sumlin, recently fired after several mediocre seasons at Texas A&M, was being pitched the job. And later Thursday, there were reports saying Sumlin had turned up his nose at the dumpster fire in orange.
The next man up was Mike Leach, the head coach at Washington State. Leach would be an interesting addition to the SEC, though in a league full of brutally tough defenses it’s questionable whether a purely offensive-minded coach such as he would be a recipe for success.
For the rest of us, this is a cautionary tale. First, that the current hysterical atmosphere, in which the potential for stupidity of humans in groups can be amplified by Twitter and the emotionalist social-justice frenzy mindset, almost anyone can find his or her life destroyed for nearly no reason at all. And second, what goes around usually comes around. Don’t be surprised if Schiano’s Buckeye defense wins the Big 10 championship on Saturday while Tennessee is still looking for a coach of its moribund program.