In September 2016, the University of Tennessee settled, for $2.48 million, a lawsuit that had thrust the university into a national discussion about Title IX and schools’ response to on-campus sexual assaults.
Six Jane Does alleged that UT’s response to sexual assaults had created a culture that enabled such assaults by student-athletes — especially football players — and used an adjudication process that was biased towards victims. The lawsuit made sweeping allegations of administrative misconduct and mishandling of sexual assaults, including missteps or inappropriate actions by Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Athletics Director Dave Hart.
Just two months earlier, court documents had been unsealed that revealed explosive testimony in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced Penn State defensive coordinator who is imprisoned for raping boys inside the school’s athletics facilities. Among the documents was the deposition of former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary. Under oath, McQueary alleged that another former Penn State assistanat — Tom Bradley — told him that Schiano had seen Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a shower facility.
“Greg had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower,” McQueary said of Bradley, referring to an incident that allegedly took place in the 1990s, when Schiano worked as an assistant under Sandusky.
On Sunday, reports emerged that Tennessee was close to a deal to make Schiano its new head coach, replacing Butch Jones, who was fired earlier this month after a 4-6 start to his fifth season in Knoxville. UT fans were incensed, and took to social media to voice their displeasure.
Within hours, numerous season-ticket holders and low-level donors had pledged to disavow their support of the university’s athletics program if the Schiano hire was finalized. Multiple state lawmakers took a public stance against the hire. Knoxville businesses even preemptively moved to ban Schiano from their establishments.
It was one of the most swift and effective backlashes social media has ever known.
And it was justified.
For the record, Schiano has strongly denied the allegations that were made in the McQueary deposition. For all we know, he may be right. He may have been guilty of nothing more than association with Sandusky at Penn State.
But that should have been enough to prevent Tennessee Athletics Director John Currie from approaching Schiano about the Vols’ coaching vacancy in the first place.
That isn’t to say that Schiano never deserves the opportunity to redeem himself. This is America, after all, where one of our enduring qualities is second chances and the opportunity for redemption. But a major program can ill afford to be the one to take that chance, especially a program like Tennessee that has been under intense scrutiny for supposedly enabling the “rape culture” that is prevalent in sports and on college campuses throughout the United States. UT has taken painstaking steps to move forward from that scrutiny. Cheek and Hart are no longer associated with the university, and that’s in no small part thanks to their alleged roles in the campus culture that led to the Title IX lawsuit.
Given the circumstances, Currie was completely tone-deaf to pursue Schiano in the first place. Never mind the university and its fans. Currie should have never put Schiano through the firestorm that resulted today. You almost have to feel sorry for Schiano. He had no business being the head coach at Tennessee, but he’s a guy who’s simply looking to further his coaching career. Now his chances of getting a job as a head coach anywhere — other than Ohio State, where he might someday succeed Urban Meyer if the Buckeyes’ program doesn’t go off the rails under Meyer’s guidance — are severely diminished.
The Tennessee football program and the Vols brand have suffered irreparable harm because Currie turned to Schiano in his search to replace Jones. The Vols’ chances of hiring a proven head coach are now slim to none. UT fans are taking a beating from self-righteous national pundits who believe it better to follow along like sheep, unquestioning and unwavering, while administrators who are paid seven-figure salaries to make smart decisions make incredibly naive decisions.
It’s a foolish narrative that is being developed by the likes of USA Today’s Dan Wolken and the New York Times’ Dan Wetzel, along with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and plenty of others. But make no mistake: Tennessee fans took a stand against rape culture today, and it was a stand that has long been needed.
College football is a win-at-all-costs sport, which is what enabled Sandusky to carry out his perverted scheme for as long as he did. Penn State’s legendary head coach, Joe Paterno, and many others in State College looked the other way because they valued winning. And, on lesser scales, the same winning-above-all mentality has enabled wrongdoing on other college campuses across America. And that includes UT’s campus, where the cost of winning enabled an environment that fostered sexual assaults against women.
For too long, this sorely-needed statement wasn’t made. Today it was. And the credit goes to the passionate fans who are being raked over the coals by the likes of Wolken and Wetzel.
Unfortunately, some of the moral outrage in Tennessee today was feigned. If Schiano were a proven winner as a head coach, a “homerun hire,” as they say in this business, many of those who were blasting the decision to hire him on social media would’ve remained silent.
Instead, Schiano was one game over .500 in 11 seasons at Rutgers, and his two-year stint as an NFL coach was an unmitigated disaster. He once drew an out-of-character cursing from Tennessee’s favorite son, Peyton Manning, for allegedly ordering his defense to take a shot at Manning’s knees in a game against the Denver Broncos that had already been decided. That wasn’t an isolated incident; Schiano had been the subject of a firestorm of criticism after ordering his defense take a similar shot at Manning’s younger brother, Eli Manning, during a loss to the New York Giants.
Schiano’s players in Tampa Bay hated him. He never won a conference championship at Rutgers, despite competing in the weak Big East. It’s hard to find positive stories about his tenure as a head coach at either the collegiate or professional levels. By all indications, he would have been a terrible hire for Tennessee, and let’s call a spade a spade: that fact fueled a lot of the outrage that was vented on social media today.
Sometimes, though, the end justifies the means. And that was the case today.