The University of Tennessee was close Sunday to hiring Ohio State assistant Greg Schiano as its new football coach. However, Tennessee reportedly backed out of its memorandum of understanding with Schiano following backlash from fans and others around the state, according to ESPN’s Chris Low.
The main objection to Schiano, a former head coach at Rutgers and for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was his association with the child-sex scandal at Penn State, in which former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In a 2015 deposition that was unsealed last year, former Nittany Lions assistant coach Mike McQueary testified that another Penn State coach had told him that Schiano had talked of seeing Sandusky abusing a boy in the early 1990s.
“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 he heard of Schiano, who worked under Sandusky at Penn State from 1990 to 1995, according to the court document. Schiano, however, denied saying such a thing, telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter last year, “I never saw any abuse, nor had reason to suspect any abuse, during my time at Penn State.”
In a statement issued Monday, Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie defended the school’s initial decision to hire Schiano, saying that he had been “carefully interviewed and vetted.” The statement said, in part:
I have followed Coach Schiano’s accomplishments throughout his career and have been fortunate to get to know him and his family over the last several years. As reported by the media, he was a leading candidate for our position. Among the most respected professional and college football coaches, he is widely regarded as an outstanding leader who develops tough, competitive teams and cares deeply about his student-athletes.
We carefully interviewed and vetted him, as we do candidates for all positions. He received the highest recommendations for character, family values and commitment to academic achievement and student-athlete welfare from his current and former athletic directors, players, coaching colleagues and experienced media figures.
Coach Schiano worked at Penn State from 1990-1995. Consequently, we, of course, carefully reviewed the 2012 investigation report by Louis Freeh. Coach Schiano is not mentioned in the Freeh report and was not one of the more than 400 people interviewed in the investigation. We also confirmed that Coach Schiano was never deposed and never asked to testify in any criminal or civil matter. And, we conferred with our colleagues at The Ohio State University, who had conducted a similar inquiry after the 2016 release of testimony. I know that Coach Schiano will continue to have great success in his coaching career and wish him and his family well.
Many in Knoxville and elsewhere in the state reacted negatively to reports that Schiano was finalizing a deal to replace the fired Butch Jones. On The Rock, a huge hunk of dolomite stone situated on the school’s campus, a man painted the message, “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State,” while other fans brought signs protesting the potential hire.
“If you hire him, the backlash will be insurmountable and devastating to the University and the state,” State Rep. Jeremy Faison posted on Twitter. State Rep. Jason Zachary tweeted that he had reached out to Currie to say that the “Tennessee community” does “not approve of Schiano.”
“There are an abundance of good football coaches out there, plenty eager to be head coach at our Univ of Tenn,” State Rep. Martin Daniel tweeted. “UT admin and the Board should put the brakes on this one and closely consider whether the apparent choice is in the best interests of the university and of the state.”
Schiano has been the defensive coordinator for Ohio State for the past two seasons, after posting seasons of 7-9 and 4-12 with the Bucs in 2012 and 2013. The 51-year-old New Jersey native went 3-20 in his first two seasons running the long-downtrodden Rutgers program, but he ended up posting a 68-67 record overall in 11 seasons, including a 5-1 record in bowl games.
Jones, who went 34-27 overall and 14-24 in SEC play in five seasons, was fired on Nov. 12. Under interim head coach Brady Hoke, the Vols, whose football program dates back to 1902, completed their first season with eight losses, as well as with no conference wins.
Last year, Tennessee reached a $2.48 million settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by a group of women who claimed that school officials, including Jones, violated Title IX and other laws by behaving with “deliberate indifference” toward reported incidents of sexual assault committed by Volunteer athletes.
Scott Paterno, a son of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who was fired amid the Sandusky scandal and died shortly thereafter, said on Twitter on Sunday that “Tennessee would be lucky to get” Schiano. Paterno added, “If they run him off over specifically denied hearsay, their loss.”
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