In the ancient, sacred American tenets, there's a handy sliding scale of morality, including categories such as "12-0 morality" and "6-6 morality," that can help us process kerfuffles such as that big one Sunday in Tennessee.
Twelve-and-oh morality is a looser, more understanding morality. If a football coach has gone 12-0 or has shown a capacity to go 12-0, that coach can help himself to a wider array of sins, actual or alleged. A dreadful personality can be translated fluidly as necessary intensity. If this morality had a credo, it might be: You get the wins now; we'll think up the rationalizations later.
Six-and-six morality allows for indignation and even punishment for sins. It is akin to 3-and-4-with-a-boring-offense morality, which was invoked this season at Florida, where a coach went 3-4 and had a boring offense and got fired for making shocking comments. In 12-0 morality, it would go like this: You claim the death threats now; we'll go find them later — staging them, if necessary.
A 6-6 coach must always behave better than a 12-0 coach.
Just as these categories exist for employed coaches, they exist for prospective hires. If a coaching candidate for a certain kingdom such as Tennessee is perceived as a 6-6 coach, even wrongheadedly, then aggrieved fans can cite the unsealed testimony from a star witness. If that coach is perceived as a 12-0 coach, even wrongheadedly, the fans could shrug off that testimony as hearsay.
Either opinion could be manufactured and even led on Twitter by a soulless manufacturer of "opinions," but either could get you through the day.
Tennessee, which went 62-63 over the past 10 seasons but doesn't think it should have, thought it might hire Greg Schiano, who once went 68-67 at Rutgers. Going 68-67 at Rutgers is, of course, one of the great football achievements of the past 100 years, if not one of the great achievements in the history of mankind. It just did not resonate sexiness for droves of Tennessee fans and trickles of craven Tennessee politicians who tweeted, protested and tweet-protested.
Handily, Schiano's name had turned up in former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary's deposition in a 2015 civil suit about the monster Penn State case, wherein McQueary said assistant Tom Bradley described Schiano as "white as a ghost" in the early 1990s because he "just saw Jerry [Sandusky] doing something to a boy in the shower." Bradley and Schiano denied this exchange or any knowledge of impropriety by Sandusky, who would reach prison in 2012 on 45 counts of various crimes related to child rape.
When Tennessee went to hire Schiano, the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, the people responded with ample and successful toxicity — Tennessee backed off — while providing a swell glimpse at our time-honored tenets.
If you viewed the prospect as a 12-0 type of coach because he had won a conference championship or a national championship or even a Super Bowl, and you really wanted him, you could opt for the reasonable hearsay defense. You could say we should not paint a man because of something someone else said they heard someone else say.
If you viewed the prospect as a 6-6 type of coach who did not know the Southeastern Conference and had flopped in the NFL, and you really didn't want him, you could opt for the reasonable no-Sandusky tack. You could say you believe the star witness in the Sandusky case and, as for painting, you might even paint a famous campus rock with potential slander.
Whichever way, the Tennessee case had a power-to-the-people element that managed to be charming, daunting and chilling. Charming: Power to the people! Daunting: Is it going to get harder and harder for universities to hire a coach? Chilling: In the art of hiring coaches, fans are uncommonly lousy.
They're lousy because they're in love (with their schools and programs) and, as everyone knows, people in love have no judgment — all the judgment having seeped from the brain once love whooshed in and began flooding and disorienting the organ. That's how you can drive through so many college towns and hear the lovelorn on the radio, baying about how every star coach desires to come to this beautiful, beloved town.
Maybe Tennessee should pursue Bill Belichick.
As fans continue to overrate the importance of the moment of a hire, it's worth remembering the long-raucous Los Angeles Times sports letters-to-the-editor page upon the hiring of that supposedly boring retread Pete Carroll in December 2000, and the spite and vitriol that hiring stoked before Carroll erected a dynasty.
It's also worth remembering that, in the fall of 2008, Terry Don Phillips crisscrossed the country looking for a coach who would light up his program and thrill his fans with those fleeting feelings of worthiness. Phillips searched enough that he told reporters he felt tired. He settled on the 39-year-old interim who had been coaching his program while he flew around, an interim who had gone a decent 4-2, an interim with no prior head-coaching experience and without even any coordinator experience. He could pay that interim about 43 percent less than he was paying the predecessor, so people questioned whether the selection owed to savvy economics. Phillips felt completed to assure that it did not.
"I can say this now, but I would have done this job for free," the newly minted coach added. Phillips "way overpaid."
This Dabo Swinney, a coach of extraordinary skill, reigns as the coach of the defending national champion these days, having appeared in two straight and riveting national-title games. His Clemson program is a marvel of rarefied stability. His introduction did lack for razzmatazz, that American knack.
Of course, fans always overrate razzmatazz.