Ohio State didn’t want to lose Greg Schiano, but the Buckeyes are disappointed that they won’t be, especially the way events played out.
A deal for Schiano to become coach at Tennessee was all but finalized Sunday. Ohio State’s defensive coordinator had signed a memorandum of understanding.
But protests, mostly on social media, erupted among the Tennessee fan base. Many cited Schiano’s tenuous link to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, where Schiano was an assistant from 1990 to ’95.
But Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith thinks that Volunteers fans simply wanted a flashier coaching hire.
“It was used as an excuse, in my view, to disparage Greg,” Smith said. “This issue, in my view as I’ve tracked it, is being used to disparage someone because they want someone else. That’s really the biggest disappointment. That’s really sad.”
The timing of Schiano’s departure would not have been ideal for Ohio State. With the introduction of an early signing period for recruits starting Dec. 20, coaches in transition have more incentive to leave immediately rather than finish the season with their current programs.
So the Tennessee deal falling through makes life easier for the Buckeyes, who play Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday night and retain hopes for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But they were still disappointed.
“I’m very fortunate he is still here, but it’s very unfortunate it had to happen that way,” senior linebacker Chris Worley said.
Schiano has been a Buckeyes coach for only two years, but he and coach Urban Meyer have been friends for at least two decades.
“The one thing about coaching, there’s got to be a perfect fit,” Meyer said. “And maybe it wasn’t. I’m certainly not saying that (about Tennessee), but move on and keep swinging as hard as you can. You’re at a great place.”
The only tie Schiano has to the Sandusky scandal is a mention that former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary made in a deposition in 2015 that was made public in July 2016. McQueary said another assistant, Tom Bradley, had told him that Schiano once said he had witnessed Sandusky “doing something” improper with a boy.
Bradley and Schiano both stated at the time that they neither witnessed nor had any knowledge of abuse by Sandusky.
Smith said the Buckeyes vetted Schiano before hiring him in 2015 and questioned him in detail when the news broke about the unsealed deposition in 2016.
“He sat in my office,” Smith said. “I looked in his eyes. He went through his whole time at Penn State. He was very forthright with me. I’m pretty hard when I need to be hard, and I was pretty hard.”
Smith said he was convinced that McQueary’s allegation was baseless. Smith said he talked to colleagues who shared that view.
“It was an accusation by one person, not substantiated by anyone else, not investigated,” he said.
Smith said he was disappointed that Tennessee’s hiring of Schiano could be derailed by an unproven accusation.
“I think Tennessee did its due diligence as professionals,” Smith said. “I’m disappointed with the overreaction. I’ve seen it over the years happen in different ways, but this one is more visceral than I’ve seen in a long time.”
Smith said he believes in a fan base’s right to protest, but he doesn’t believe Tennessee’s was justified by the facts.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s troubling. I’m surprised by it, disappointed with it,” he said.
Smith said he talked at length with his Tennessee counterpart, John Currie, and gave Schiano a glowing recommendation.
“I really felt this was a great opportunity for him,” Smith said. “I really feel bad that Greg doesn’t have this opportunity that he frankly deserves and earned. I’m hurt by it.”
Schiano has not publicly commented on what happened Sunday, but Smith described him as “hurt and angered.”
Schiano was head coach at Rutgers from 2001 to ’11, and for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and ’13. Smith said he hopes the ugly turn of events on Sunday doesn’t doom Schiano’s chance to become a head coach again.
“I hope somewhere down the road in a rational, reasonable and prudent environment, he has a chance to get that opportunity,” Smith said.
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