The Greg Schiano era in Knoxville was short and furious. Sunday afternoon, Tennessee signed a memorandum of understanding with Schiano, currently Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, to be the Volunteers’ next head coach. They planned to hold a press conference on Sunday night to officially announce it. And in between, well, just about everybody with an emotional stake in the program rose up and said, in so many words, “Hey, this is fucked up.”
This was not just a few loud randos on Twitter. This was a backlash with a broadness and an intensity I’ve never seen before against a coaching hire. There were physical protests on campus. There were statements criticizing the hire of Schiano from a raft of Tennessee politicians, including four of the five leading candidates for governor. And there was this:
The Rock is the lasting image of those wild six hours Sunday, and would have been the lasting image of Schiano’s tenure, had it gone forward. The reaction to his hiring was thoroughly toxic, and there would have been no closing that barn door. There was little UT could do but admit that it made a bad decision, and back the hell away from it.
Schiano, who was an assistant at Penn State from 1990–95, was named in a deposition by former assistant Mike McQueary, the key witness that helped imprison Jerry Sandusky for the rest of his life for raping and abusing a series of boys during his time coaching at PSU. In a 2015 deposition, unsealed a year later, McQueary testified that Tom Bradley, another assistant, had told him that Schiano had witnessed Sandusky abusing a child. From the deposition:
A: [Bradley] said another assistant coach had come to him in the early ‘90s about a very similar situation to mine, and he said that he had—someone had come to him as far back as early as the ‘80s about seeing Jerry Sandusky doing something with a boy.
Q: Did he identify who the other coaches were that had given him this information?
A: The one in the early ‘90s, yes.
Q: And who was that?
A: Greg Schiano.
Q: Greg Schiano?
Q: And did he give you any details about what Coach Schiano had reported to him?
A: No, only that he had—I can’t remember if it was one night or one morning, but that Greg had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower.
Bradley and Schiano both released statements saying they were not aware of Sandusky’s abuse. It is an unsubstantiated allegation, as it necessarily must be given its nature, but Tennessee of all programs is apparently not inclined to be sympathetic toward anyone connected with Sandusky’s PSU tenure, nor to be itself connected with PSU in any way. Last year, Tennessee settled a lawsuit brought by eight women who said they had been sexually assaulted by athletes and that the university had fostered an environment that led to assaults, especially in the football program, and that the school’s disciplinary process was weighted in favor of clearing players.
We should not, however, make the mistake of thinking hardcore fans and boosters care any more about rape victims than they do about winning football games. If Schiano was the best hire available, I strongly suspect there would not have been an outcry like this. And Schiano is not the best hire available.
Schiano was one game above .500 in his time at Rutgers, which was coterminous with the Scarlet Knights’ rise to relative prominence (which itself had more to do with the university deciding to spend like the big boys, and which proved not to be a sustainable success). He was viewed as a bully at Rutgers, described as “unaccommodating, intimidating and downright disrespectful.” His brief, disastrous stint as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was more of the same. “There’s not much respect for him,” said one Bucs player who played under Schiano. Said another: “Guys didn’t like coming to work.” Players spoke of “fear and distrust” in the locker room. “Schiano Men” became a punchline.
A coach with middling results who’s disliked by everyone he’s worked with? Why would Tennessee ever even consider assuming the baggage that Schiano brings, especially when there are so many perfectly fine candidates out there?
Schiano has his defenders today, among them the likes of Peter King, Pete Thamel, and Pat Forde (some of whom have wielded as evidence the writings of John Ziegler, a longtime conspiracy theorist who has argued that Jerry Sandusky is innocent). And a common thread among their arguments is that True Football Men like Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick have employed and vouched for Schiano, so he must be innocent of anything at Penn State. It’s a non-sequitur, but once again, just as so many of the anti-Schiano crowd laundered their own qualms about his professional acumen through protests about his PSU connections, Schiano’s supporters are more concerned with his abilities as a coach than with any human aspect of this hire.
But Schiano’s un-hiring is, ultimately, a football decision. He’s not good enough or accomplished enough or in-demand enough for Tennessee fans and (more importantly) boosters to overlook the potential that he was complicit in some really evil shit. If he were better, I bet he’d have received the benefit of the doubt it feels so righteous to deny him.