Never doubt the power of the people. After reports surfaced that the University of Tennessee was close to hiring Greg Schiano as its new head football coach, the school backed out of the hire following protests by students on campus and a large amount of backlash on social media.
Football-wise, the hiring of Schiano would have been questionable at best. However, fans and students reacted so strongly to reports of Schiano being hired because of his connection to the child abuse scandal at Penn State involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is serving a minimum of 30 years in prison after being found guilty in 2012 of 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a span of 15 years.
Schiano was on the coaching staff at Penn State from 1990 to 1995, which was early in the time frame when Sandusky committed these heinous crimes. In a deposition in 2015, former Penn State coach Mike McQueary said that another former assistant, Tom Bradley, had told him that Schiano had witnessed an incident involving Sandusky and a child sometime in the early 90’s.
If true, it means Schiano witnessed a crime being committed against a child and failed to report it to authorities. At the time, Schiano denied seeing any kind of abuse while at Penn State. However, McQueary’s second-hand account was enough to make Tennessee fans respond to reports that the school was ready to hire him as a head coach.
A formal announcement of Schiano as the head coach was set to happen as early as Sunday evening. But that was before the social media backlash and before roughly 100 people protested on campus. A large stone on the Tennessee campus on which students often paint messages was inscribed with the phrase “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State.”
In addition to the protest on campus, at least three Tennessee state representatives and multiple gubernatorial candidates expressed criticism of Schiano being hired on social media. Ultimately, it was enough for Tennessee to back out of a hire that appeared inevitable.
Some in the media have been quick to criticize fans for over-reacting. After all, Schiano has denied any wrongdoing and has never been charged with a crime. But he does have an association with Penn State and the despicable crimes Sandusky committed.
Considering the nature and scale of those crimes, Tennessee fans are more than justified in questioning the school for hiring Schiano. That may seem unfair to Schiano, but life isn’t always fair, even for college coaches who make millions of dollars a year.
The thing to remember is that the success of Tennessee’s football program ultimately comes down to the fans. If they weren’t onboard with the hire and felt strongly enough to protest, the school was right to back out of the Schiano hire.