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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)


KNOXVILLE — John Currie drafted a letter that would announce Greg Schiano as Tennessee's football coach on Nov. 26.

Currie thought he'd found his man two weeks into his search to replace Butch Jones, whom he fired.

"I focused on finding a coach with proven experience identifying, recruiting, and developing toughness and accountability," Currie wrote in the letter, which was ready to be sent to fans on his mailing list. "We knew that in our next leader we needed head coaching experience, a national recruiter, and a program builder. We believe we have found that.

"I am excited to announce Greg Schiano as our head football coach."

Currie never sent the letter.

Tennessee's deal with Schiano unraveled after news of the impending hire was met by a wave of backlash. Some fans, donors and politicians denounced the hire on social media and flooded the inboxes of Currie and Chancellor Beverly Davenport.

The blowback stemmed, in part, from Schiano having worked at Penn State as an assistant coach in the 1990s while Jerry Sandusky was the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator.

Former Penn State staffer Mike McQueary testified that fellow assistant Tom Bradley told McQueary that Schiano was aware of a child sexual abuse incident by Sandusky.

Schiano and Bradley denied having knowledge or witnessing any of Sandusky's abuse. McQueary's hearsay claim remains unsubstantiated.

Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of sexual abuse of boys.

UT reached a $2.5 million settlement with Currie on Thursday to end his employment. He had been on paid suspension since Dec. 1.

Also Thursday, the university released thousands of pages of documents pertaining to Tennessee's coaching search in response to an open records request USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee submitted in December.

How UT trustees responded to Schiano criticism

Raja Jubran, vice chairman of UT's Board of Trustees, emailed trustees on Nov. 26 saying that Tennessee vetted Schiano.

Jubran wrote that Tennessee officials talked with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, "who only had glowing reports" about Schiano.

Jubran added that Currie "is doing a great job with all the vetting and due diligence."

Earlier, trustee George Cates emailed asking if Tennessee's deal with Schiano was complete.

"Bad odor," Cates wrote. "Have gotten outrage call from 'booster of over 25 years and top 900 donor' who says no more. What's the story here?"

Jubran wrote in response: "Regarding the bad odor, it is so disappointing that our fan base and our media are willing to condemn a man of being a criminal even though he might be totally innocent."

"I just hate that we are ruining (someone's) reputation unfairly," Jubran added. "We are supposed to be Christians who forgive and we live in a country that believes that people are innocent until proven guilty."

Others didn't share Jubran's view.

"Please take a hard look before making this hire," Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, wrote in an email the next day to Davenport and Currie. "A public relations disaster has blown up and is not abated by AD (Currie's) statement earlier this afternoon. The program and reputation of the University will be damaged."

Currie said in a statement on Nov. 27 that Schiano received "the highest recommendations" during the vetting process and noted that he was not included in the 2012 report by Louis Freeh that investigated the Penn State scandal.

What promise Currie made

Days earlier, Currie texted Davenport with an update on the search.

"I know it's tough to be in this situation but I promise I will deliver," Currie wrote.

After Currie came up empty in his pursuit of Dan Mullen, who left Mississippi State for Florida rather than Tennessee, Currie quickly pivoted to Schiano. By the morning of Nov. 26 — the day after UT's season finale — the Vols were positioned to make a hire.

Currie wrote to Davenport just after midnight on Nov. 26 that he had "a tentative deal in place" and awaited word from Davenport or UT President Joe DiPietro. In the morning, Currie asked for an update.

"Joe has gone to Mass and will be back in an hour," Davenport wrote.

"Good. Schiano is a devout catholic," Currie responded.

"Good to know," Davenport replied.

Shortly after those texts, news leaked of UT's impending hire, and the blowback started to gain momentum.

"Social media is beyond brutal," Davenport texted to Currie that afternoon.

"Working on it," Currie responded.

Currie couldn't turn the tide of public opinion on Schiano. Currie and Schiano signed a memorandum of understanding, but Davenport and Chief Financial Officer David Miller never signed the agreement. The deal died.

Five days later, Currie was removed from his position, his promise to deliver a coach left unfulfilled.

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March 25, 2018


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