Rocky times on Rocky Top
To quote the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want.”
Then again, Mick and Keith weren’t in Knoxville on Sunday when social media melted down with the news that Tennessee was close to a deal with Greg Schiano to become the next head coach of the Volunteers. Schiano, currently the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, has been mentioned all along as a potential replacement for Butch Jones — as if replacing Butch Jones is possible, but I digress.
On the surface, Schiano met many of the prerequisites Athletic Director John Currie claimed to be searching for in a coaching candidate: He had head coaching experience at a major college program, has a history of being a firm disciplinarian, and is widely respected in the coaching community.
Like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, the trouble for Schiano and Currie was what lurked beneath the surface.
Many years ago, Schiano was a bright young assistant for the legendary Joe Paterno at Penn State. He worked on the staff of defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky...yeah, that Jerry Sandusky. Bear in mind, Schiano was never charged with any crime and wasn’t investigated as an accomplice in the Sandusky case.
Still, his name was mentioned in the Washington Post as one of several coaches who knew about Sandusky and never reported it to the authorities.
Flash forward to the early 2000s, Schiano took over a woeful Rutgers program and spent 11 years at the school. He had six winning seasons and left the Scarlet Knights with a record of 68-67, with most of those years spent as part of the Big East Conference.
From there he spent two seasons as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL but was fired because he went only 11-21 and feuded with his own players.
He also had a memorable spat with a quarterback named Peyton Manning who allegedly had words with Schiano after he ordered his defense to hit the quarterback who was kneeling in the victory formation. Schiano had ordered his team to do the same thing earlier in the season to the New York Giants and their quarterback, Eli Manning.
Schiano eventually joined Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State and began rehabilitating his reputation as a winner.
That brings us to Sunday and the open rebellion of the Tennessee fan base — a fan base that includes state legislators, donors, and former players.
They made their displeasure known as soon as it was announced Currie was nearing a deal with Schiano, which roughly translated means he had hired him and was waiting to make a formal announcement.
A funny thing then happened: Word spread quickly and as quickly, so did the anger.
Fairly or unfairly, Schiano was immediately linked to the Sandusky scandal and the more said about his time at Penn State, the louder the chorus of disapproval rang out.
By early evening, the deal was dead with both sides walking away.
Many people — especially in the national media — blasted the fan base for not even giving Schiano a chance and ruining his reputation by painting him as an accomplice to Sandusky.
ESPN’s Sportscenter even said fans were simply upset that Currie failed to sign Jon Gruden.
Now the consensus among the ruling experts of college football is no big name coach wants to come to Tennessee because the fan base is so out of control and out of touch with reality.
As someone who has never bled orange at any point let me say this: I don’t blame the fans. They are no different from any other fan base when it comes to wanting the best for their program. Tell me Alabama, Texas, or Oklahoma football fans would have reacted differently.
Tell me Kentucky, Duke, or North Carolina basketball fans would have reacted differently.
Yes they expect to win and expect to win now. They’re fans and that’s what fans do.
Name any fan base that says they expect to lose and are fine with the idea. Realistic or unrealistic, the expectations are always to win with no apologies.
They love their program. They name their children after players and get tattoos of game scores. They schedule weddings and even funerals around home games.
It means something special to them. I get it even if every talking head on ESPN doesn’t grasp that concept.
Make no mistake, this was a debacle and the blame lies on the doorstep of one John Currie.
Name after name was floated — Jon Gruden, Dan Mullen, Mike Norvell, Mike Leach, Chip Kelly, Scott Frost, and yes, Greg Schiano as well as others.
Currie refused to even address which candidates were real and which were the figments of social media.
He helped create the environment of a “home run hire” or bust. Well, he went bust — at least as of this writing.
By the time you read this, Tennessee may well have hired Jon Gruden or they might have named Brady Hoke head coach. And they might have hired someone else or still be looking.
I don’t know and at the end of the day, I’m honestly more worried about which bowl Kentucky will get.
I’ll simply say this: If the well has been poisoned for coaches it was because of Currie far more than the fans.
I also know this Tennessee fans: You might not get the coach you want but you will get the coach who wants to be here for more than just the money.
Who else would walk into this Currie-ignited dumpster fire?
And that should mean something to you.