A new kind of college protest broke out at Tennessee on Sunday when Rocky Top erupted against the potential hiring of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to coach the Volunteers.
Many onlookers were shocked by the demonstrations of distrust staged against Schiano. Many also found it disturbing, comparing the takedown to the days of torches and pitchforks.
My take? Nothing in sports shocks me anymore. And although an ugly social-media mob mentality permeated this particular situation, in the big picture there is something to be said for pushback that puts more power in the hands of the people. It may not always be pretty — protests seldom are — but “the masses” should be heard during the hiring process at public universities, where fans and boosters help pay the freight.
Look around. Fans increasingly want to drain the stadium. As ticket prices escalate, further separating the haves and have-nots, many fans increasingly feel like commodities, faceless means to a corporate end. They want more of a say. And social media provides the bullhorn.
Schiano lost the Tennessee job when the school revoked its offer on Sunday night following public outcry. As students protested outside Neyland Stadium, fans, former players and politicians took to Twitter to criticize the pending hire.
What to make of it? First, don’t cry for Schiano. The 51-year-old will be fine. Better than fine. Another job, a better job, will come along. Plus, as someone who recruits high school players, Schiano knows the correct response when a recruit chooses a different school is to say, “We don’t want a player who doesn’t want us.” It goes for coaching, too. Schiano does not want to work at a place that does not want him. And that place is the larger circle of Tennessee football that extends beyond the athletic department and school administration.
What was Big Orange Nation’s big beef with Schiano? Depends on whom you ask. One segment openly went thumb’s down on Schiano simply because he is not Jon Gruden, meaning Schiano is not on par with the big-name coaches that delusional Vols fans think they can land.
Another segment, including influential alumni and several Tennessee lawmakers, were more disingenuous, supposedly upset that former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary said in deposition documents unsealed in 2016 that Schiano was aware of Jerry Sandusky “doing something” improper with a boy at Penn State, where Schiano served as an assistant from 1990 to 1995 while Sandusky was the defensive coordinator.
Schiano, who was never deposed in the Sandusky case, has denied the allegations. His boss, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, said Monday that Schiano is an “elite person, father, friend and football coach. I stand by my coach.”
Tennessee, meanwhile, released a statement vouching for Schiano’s high level of character, without explaining why the deal fell through. Despite a lack of proof, many Tennessee fans used Schiano’s ties to Penn State as a convenient on-ramp to protest his potential hiring. They accused him of withholding knowledge of Sandusky’s actions, when their real argument is he won’t win enough games.
Schiano’s detractors should have been more upfront. No reason to disparage a coach’s character by invoking guilt by association.
But let’s not get so bent out of shape about the mishandling of Schiano’s fate that we fail to see what is simmering beneath the surface. Frustrated fans should not have the final say in hiring, but they deserve a seat at the table. As long as they mind their manners.