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Copyright 2017 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

Dayton Daily News (Ohio)


Before leaving to coach Mississippi State in 2009, Dan Mullen served as offensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer.

Sunday inadvertently became one of the more hopeless and revealing days in the recent history of college athletics. It was the perfect combination of fan hubris, local media ignorance, mob mentality and unrealistic expectations, a brew that has been simmering for years in the world of coaching searches but finally boiled over on social media as two high-profile Southeastern Conference programs honed in on new hires.

When word leaked that Florida's search had targeted Mississippi State's Dan Mullen and Tennessee was trying to work out a deal with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, the backlash was swift and severe. In Tennessee's case, the backlash ended up scuttling the deal. Tennessee had to back off.

Though Florida's fan base merely was disappointed at the idea of a coach with a career 33-39 record in the SEC, Tennessee's was apoplectic in a manner that was unprecedented, undeserved and arguably frightening.

Let's examine the meltdown at Tennessee, a fan base that's been fed a fantasy for months (and even years) by some local media members that ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden had an interest in coaching their program. There was nothing in the realm of reality to support that idea, putting athletics director John Currie in a terrible spot of hiring a coach who wouldn't be Gruden and thus disappointing Vol Nation.

Moreover, Vols fans had almost no sense of the attractiveness of their job or the competitive marketplace for head coaching hires. Tennessee is a good job and can be a very good program, but it's not the kind of place where successful sitting head coaches in comfortable situations uproot their lives.

Thus, Currie - an AD who values stability and experience, who doesn't get starry-eyed about the next great thing - had limited choices. When it was impossible to get around the $9 million buyout for Iowa State's Matt Campbell and when Mullen became a real candidate at Florida, his options were further reduced.

Schiano, 51, worked a miracle at Rutgers. He made a dead-end program relevant, got to six bowl games in his last seven seasons and made the program attractive enough that it was acceptable to join the Big Ten. Over the years, he had been pursued by several big-time jobs but stayed at Rutgers until the end of 2011 when he took the plunge to go to the NFL.

If you remove Schiano's two seasons with the Buccaneers, where he was clearly out of his element (like many college coaches are), he would be viewed as a home-run hire at practically any big job.

While Tennessee officials were trying to get a deal done with Schiano on Sunday, students in Knoxville were mobilizing to protest, congressional candidates and other politicians were issuing anti-Schiano statements and radio provocateur/Tennessee fan Clay Travis, who has written extensively about the dangers of succumbing to online mobs, had organized one himself and posted Currie's cellphone number on Twitter.

By contrast, what happened at Florida on Sunday seems tame. But even the mere notion that a Gators fan would be disappointed with Mullen underscores how difficult it is for schools to make high-profile hires in this day and age.

But the idea that experienced winners such as Mullen or Schiano would be considered bad hires in a league that has given jobs to plenty of people who weren't ready or equipped for the SEC only proves why athletics directors shudder at the idea of a coaching search. Even when you deliver the fans a high-powered Thoroughbred, they want a unicorn.

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November 27, 2017


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