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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
Is it high comedy that a Tennessee football fan base that was fiercely defending coach Butch Jones a year and a half ago amid lawsuits and sexual assaults spent Sunday unleashing moral judgment on would-be new coach Greg Schiano? Yes.
Is the message painted on a rock on UT's campus — "Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State" — a massively unfair assessment of the situation? Yes.
Are the details that link Schiano to knowledge of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky's horrifying crimes against children hazy at best? Yes.
Did star witness Mike McQueary utter Schiano's name under oath as someone who had witnessed Sandusky committing one of those crimes and told another coach about it? Yes.
And that utterance, which Schiano has refuted, was enough to derail this entire thing and turn Tennessee athletic director John Currie's search for a new coach into a mess for all to see. USA Today's Dan Wolken reported a finalized agreement and press conference to introduce Schiano as coach Sunday night fell through after both sides were "bullied out of the deal" by "unprecedented social media backlash."
Would Vols fans have seized on such a thing if it was part of the past of, say, Jon Gruden or Chip Kelly or some other dreamy coaching candidate? Heck no. But let's be real here. Substitute "Crimson Tide fans" or "Sooners fans" or "Buckeyes fans" for "Vols fans" and you would get the same basic behavior in the same situation. I don't for a moment buy that this reaction from Tennessee fans is going to deter other quality candidates from looking at Tennessee. This is big-time college sports, people. It's selective moral outrage and unbridled passion, and the places like UT with a surplus of the latter are the places coaches know they can win.
I do buy the idea that quality candidates are going to look at the actions of Currie in this situation and have misgivings. And it's hard to blame them.
Currie already was under that white, hot light, and now the heat must be searing. It's not his fault that Gruden is the uncatchable unicorn or that dominoes fell to get Dan Mullen to Florida instead of a possible look at Knoxville.
But he had to read the Schiano situation better, no matter what anyone thinks of McQueary and his claims. It was going to be a thing. And if he indeed backed off this because of the reaction, well, other possible candidates can't like what that suggests about him.
I immediately didn't like the idea of Schiano, based more than anything on his two disastrous years in Tampa Bay and all the nasty things his players said about him there. But he did do a heck of a job at Rutgers. And some people in my business who know him and college football well were adamant Sunday that he's a good coach and person.
Here's what Titans cornerback Logan Ryan, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, told me after the Titans' 20-16 win Sunday in Indianapolis — back when we all thought the hire was imminent: "He's definitely a great football coach ... He's a hard-nosed coach, man, and I think I didn't understand at the time, at the age of 18, that was the coach I needed to really help me become a better football player, a tougher football player. I kind of have an identity of outworking people. That all came from Rutgers, that all came from Greg Schiano. I'm not going to lie, he's hard to play for because he's demanding. He's like some of these coaches like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, he makes you better."
That doesn't sound so bad. Maybe this wouldn't have been a complete football disaster. Maybe it would have. It doesn't matter now because it has become a complete public-relations disaster.
But there are plenty of coaches out there who can win big at Tennessee, and who would take that chance if Currie can explain this situation and make them feel good about his leadership. If this was more about Schiano getting cold feet than Currie getting cold feet, that helps.
Purdue first-year coach Jeff Brohm continues to be a must-look in my mind. Whoever ends up getting the call, Vols fans can't possibly reject that coach as violently as they did Schiano.
But can they believe in Currie again? That I don't know.
Contact Joe Rexrode at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.
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