KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee fans still fuming from an embarrassing defeat to Vanderbilt revolted in response to rumored negotiations with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday.
Tennessee and Schiano have mutually agreed to move on from one another, a prominent Vols booster told SEC Country on Sunday night, in the aftermath of an unprecedented campus protest.
A demonstration by Vols fans and students sparked a security response on campus about the same time state politicians and the White House press secretary took to social media to denounce the potential hire.
The college football world looked on as pictures surfaced of UT’s iconic rock painted with a message reminding passersby that Schiano was accused of staying silent about child molestation committed by former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky. Schiano was a defensive coach with the Nittany Lions from 1991-1995, during Sandusky’s tenure.
Hungry for success
Tennessee’s large, passionate fan base has been restless since its last top-10 finish, in 2001, when the Vols were upset in the SEC Championship Game by Nick Saban’s LSU Tigers and lost an opportunity to play for a national championship.
Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC Championship since the 1998 team won the national championship, and the Vols’ most recent SEC Championship Game appearance was in 2007.
Butch Jones became the third coach fired since then, dismissed on Nov. 12 with two games remaining in the season. He was less than a year removed from a third consecutive bowl win and a second straight top-25 season.
Jones’ 2017 season turned tumultuous quickly with one close loss followed by another. Injuries were seemingly contagious, as Tennessee has used three starting quarterbacks and eight different combinations on the offensive line en route to its first season without an SEC win since the league’s formation in 1932.
Currie promised Vols’ fans he would seek a coach with a championship background, also stressing character and integrity, and hopes shot up.
Monday Night Football host Jon Gruden was probably the most popular choice, if not the most realistic one.
Gruden, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship in January 2003, basked in the attention and did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm. That led to a situation where any choice short of proven winners, such as Jimbo Fisher, Dan Mullen or Mike Leach, would likely be viewed with disappointment.
Currie didn’t help himself by remaining silent regarding the Gruden rumors. It would have been much better for Currie to convey to his fan base whether or not Tennessee had interest in Gruden and whether or not Gruden had mutual interest.
Instead, the tension has mounted. In the wake of a fourth loss to Vanderbilt in six years, the fuse was lit on Rocky Top, setting off the powder keg that was the Schiano spectacle.
Here is what The Rock has to say… pic.twitter.com/snSjZkvx8P
— GoVolsXtra (@GoVolsXtra) November 26, 2017
Schiano has not served as a head coach since getting fired by the NFL’s Buccaneers after the 2013 season. He lasted just two years in Tampa Bay, ruffling feathers both within the organization and around the league. Prior to that, Schiano was head coach at Rutgers, compiling a 68-67 record in 11 seasons.
“I’m just amazed our administration couldn’t see this coming,” one prominent Vols booster told SEC Country on Sunday night. “In this day and age of social media and Google searches, you had to know this wouldn’t go over well.”
Indeed, but after a whirlwind coaching search the past two weeks, Currie likely feels pressured to make a move, because the start of the new early signing date (Dec. 20) is fast approaching.
SEC Country reported Friday night that Schiano had emerged as a leading candidate, along with Leach, after Tennessee was unable to garner mutual interest from Fisher and Mullen.
“[Schiano] was among our finalists,” another prominent Tennessee donor told SEC Country on Sunday, when asked if an offer had formally been made. “I’m hoping [the talk of his hiring] is false.”
Potential player attrition
Attrition is part of the equation any time there’s a coaching change, and that’s why many schools prefer continuity when possible. Sure enough, parents of current players told SEC Country on Sunday there has been talk of transfers amid the controversy of Schiano’s potential hiring.
“I’m not sure (Tennessee) did their homework,” one Power 5 head coach told SEC Country on Sunday morning. “Tennessee needs a coach where the kids can have a little fun and feel like you care for them.”
Another former Vols’ assistant told SEC Country that “if they hire Schiano, it will be a disaster.”
Schiano, 51, was credited with transforming Rutgers from one of the worst programs in the nation into a legitimate program. He led the Scarlet Knights to an 11-2 record and a No. 12 finish in the AP poll in the 2006 season.
Schiano left Rutgers after the 2011 season to take the Tampa Bay job, where he lasted two seasons. He joined coach Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State as the defensive coordinator in 2015.
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