The most memorable moments of a wedding come with exchanging of vows and first kiss. The most awkward occurs when the officiant asks if anyone present has objections.
Maybe on rare occasion someone speaks up, but that tradition seems rather silly, doesn’t it?
Now imagine if the entire congregation rose as one and said, “Hold it right there. No way. Not here. Over our dead body.”
That would be startling, but that’s precisely what happened when the University of Tennessee tried to hire a new football coach Sunday.
Objections? Um, yeah, Volunteers fans had a few.
In a landmark moment in the history of college sports, Tennessee hired and then unhired Greg Schiano on the same day after witnessing intense backlash from its fan base.
Fans hated the hire. Outrage swelled into a mob. The school ran for cover.
The why and how of this bizarre backtrack deserve equal attention.
Schiano, the Ohio State defensive coordinator, worked as an assistant coach at Penn State in the early 1990s. He became linked to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case in a court deposition in 2015.
Former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary, key whistleblower in the Sandusky case, said in a lawsuit deposition that another former assistant — Schiano — had told longtime assistant coach Tom Bradley that he also had witnessed Sandusky engaged in criminal acts with a boy.
Schiano denied knowing anything about Sandusky’s abuse. Bradley also denied it. Schiano was never investigated by authorities and McQueary’s statement was never corroborated.
Nobody other than Schiano knows the truth about what he saw or knew. But he got roasted in the court of public opinion.
Vols fans set Twitter ablaze. Politicians chimed in with tweets calling for the school’s administration to block the hire. A Knoxville coffee shop tweeted that Schiano was not allowed in its establishment.
Students protested and painted a famous rock on campus with these words: “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State.”
Hours later, UT athletic director John Currie pulled his contract offer.
The masses won. Now it’s fair to wonder if this will become an extreme, isolated case. Or a blueprint for other fan bases that grow tired of an athletic director’s leadership.
Each individual knows his or her true motive for the vitriolic reaction. There’s no doubt that many Vols fans vehemently opposed any coach with ties to Penn State and Sandusky, whether that coach had any knowledge or not. But it also seems likely that many demonstrated faux moral outrage because they didn’t land their preferred choice of coach.
Shame on those who used that disingenuous argument if, truthfully, they privately opposed Schiano’s coaching credentials.
Social media has many wonderful benefits, but technology also has made college sports infinitely more complex for those in leadership positions because everyone has a voice now. The accumulation of voices can snowball into an avalanche of anger that overpowers and causes leaders to make decisions to avoid public flogging.
Two years ago, the Gophers were in the market for an athletic director. In writing a story about the job of a modern athletic director, I talked to 10 current and former ADs. Nearly every one of them mentioned social media as a significant challenge.
“That just intensifies everything,” said former Oregon State AD Bob De Carolis. “People can get on the internet, be anonymous, what’s fact and what’s fiction? From that standpoint, it’s crazy.”
College football seems particularly nutso when it comes to coaches. Everybody wants to fire everybody. Coaches get chewed up and spit out every few years because fans are passionate and emotional and, at times, restless. Disappointed fans always seem to think their school can find a better coach.
Maybe that’s just the nature of the beast. In October, Auburn blew a 20-point lead in a loss to LSU, which resulted in Auburn coach Gus Malzahn being asked if he was worried about his job. Alas, he survived and now Auburn is set to play in the SEC Championship game and possibly the College Football Playoff. Common sense prevailed.
College football’s coaching carousel is known as the silly season because far-fetched rumors gain steam in social media. What happened in Tennessee takes first prize. Fans basically stood up at a wedding, objected and the thing got called off.
Good luck to that athletic director in his next job.