The wildest day of the college football season was a Sunday in November, when word leaked that Tennessee was set to hire Greg Schiano. Schiano, the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, had been named in a deposition by Mike McQueary as witnessing Jerry Sandusky abuse a child at Penn State. This was a secondhand allegation, and it was denied by Schiano and by the coach who had supposedly told McQueary, but it didn’t matter much—Schiano was toxic, and an organic uprising of UT fans against the hire led Tennessee to officially scuttle the deal within six hours. It also cost AD John Currie his job a few days later.
In response to records requests by multiple media outlets, Tennessee yesterday released Currie’s phone records from that hectic day. And the most immediately interesting thing in there is Currie, in a text exchange with a reporter at the height of the criticism, calling Tennessee fans “wacko” and asking the reporter to help smooth over the hire.
Here’s Currie’s exchange with Dan Wolken of USA Today, who that day was the first to report Tennessee was closing in on Schiano. Currie forwards Wolken a message from a fan blasting him for the hire, and tells Wolken, “Gonna need some help on the PR. Our people are wacko.”
Wolken replies, “I’ll help. Not sure they’ll listen. LOL. I know he’s a very good coach and is about the right stuff.”
Later that day—before the offer to Schiano was withdrawn—Wolken wrote a column criticizing UT fans for their “meltdown,” and arguing that their anger was actually based on a mistaken belief that their program could land a better hire than Schiano, rather than in outrage over the Penn State allegation.
Wolken declined to comment for this story, but he certainly wasn’t being duplicitous here. He’s a fan of Schiano and has been for a long time and genuinely believed this would have been a good hire, or at least the best UT could have hoped for. He also appears to believe McQueary’s allegation had no merit. Nothing he said to Currie in this exchange conflicts with what he’s written publicly. That’s fine, even if just about any reporter has had exchanges with friendly sources that would be mortifying if they were made public. (It’s really interesting, though. This is how your scoop sausage is made.)
What’s even more interesting to me is that Currie’s texts were released in their entirety. The university could have fought or delayed responding to the media’s open-records requests, as many schools do. They could merely have released the phone numbers Currie texted, and not the actual content of the texts, as most schools do. (Most recently, Ole Miss with Hugh Freeze.) But UT actively chose to release these texts, almost certainly because they knew they’d make Currie look bad.
The timing’s no accident, either. Yesterday, hours before the release of the records, Tennessee settled with Currie, paying him $2.5 million to head off any potential battle over his $5.5 million buyout clause.
“We wish John and his family well in their future endeavors,” Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport said in a statement. “We are grateful for his contributions to the University of Tennessee which began more than two decades ago.”
So UT’s ties with Currie were officially severed, and he was given the parting gift of having the world know he called Tennessee fans “wacko.” (And, uh, $2.5 million. Don’t forget that parting gift.)
The records released by Tennessee yesterday also detail Currie scrambling to find a replacement after the Schiano deal fell apart. UT reached out to Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, NC State’s Dave Doeren, and Washington State’s Mike Leach. Currie’s texts also reveal he was contacted by Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, Dallas Cowboys assistant Rich Bisaccia, and Brady Hoke, who wrote, in all caps,
JOHN I HOPE YOU DO KNOW I WOULD LIKE TO BE YOUR HEAD FOOTBALL COACH I DO KNOW THE ENVIRONMENT WE LIVE IN AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE AT TENNESSEE!
Currie was dismissed before he could make a hire. A week later, UT hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.