One of the proudest programs in all of college athletics officially hit rock bottom on Saturday.
Or so its fans thought …
It turns out this particular dumpster fire was just getting warmed up.
With its humiliating 42-24 defeat at the hands of lowly Vanderbilt on Saturday in Knoxville, the University of Tennessee football team posted the first eight-loss season in school history. That’s right … until Saturday, the Volunteers had never lost eight games in a single season. Ever.
Tennessee – which began the year ranked No. 24/25 – also failed to win a Southeastern Conference (SEC) game for the first time since joining the conference in 1933.
As was expected, former head coach Butch Jones (below) was fired prior to the end of the season – but the school still has to pay him $8.25 million over the next four-and-a-half years as a result of his buyout clause.
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(Via Travis Bell Photography)
On Sunday, Tennessee added an unknown dollar amount to its tab via the aborted hiring of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
Schiano was set to be announced as Tennessee’s new head coach on Sunday night, but Volunteer fans recoiled at his proposed hire – in large part due to Schiano’s proximity to disgraced former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky was Penn State’s defensive coordinator from 1977 to 1999. He was convicted in 2012 of forty-five criminal counts related to his history of sexually assaulting and abusing young boys from 1994 to 2009. Sandusky is currently serving a sixty year prison term for his crimes.
Schiano was a graduate assistant on the Penn State coaching staff in 1990 and coached the team’s defensive backs from 1991-1995.
According to a 2015 deposition given by former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary, another member of the team’s coaching staff – current UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley – alleged that Schiano had knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes.
According to McQueary’s sworn testimony, Bradley told him that Schiano “had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower.”
Schiano has denide McQueary’s claims, stating that he “never saw, nor had any reason to suspect any abuse during my time at Penn State.”
That explanation clearly wasn’t sufficient for the Vol Nation – which rose up in rebellion ahead of the anticipated announcement. Tennessee’s famed rock – once the focus of Volunteer fans’ angst at former coach Lane Kiffin – bore a new message on Sunday.
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Beyond Schiano’s Penn State taint, his coaching record clearly wasn’t what Volunteer fans were looking for.
Schiano enjoyed tremendous success at Rutgers – leading the Scarlet Knights to their highest-ever national ranking and first-ever bowl victory. The consensus 2006 national coach of the year, Schiano went on to win five bowl games prior to leaving New Jersey for the National Football League (NFL) in 2012.
Schiano was far less successful in the professional ranks- posting an 11-22 mark in two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was also criticized for poor sportsmanship – including instructing his defenses to attack opposing offenses who were attempting to run out the clock at the end of games.
One of the targets of this classless move? New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, brother of Tennessee legend Peyton Manning.
Schiano’s team later attempted this same stunt against Manning’s Broncos, prompting a rebuke from the future Hall-of-Famer.
“Peyton cussed him out,” former Buccaneers defensive end Michael Bennett said. “And I ain’t never heard Peyton cuss.”
Seriously … what on earth was Tennessee thinking trying to hire this guy?
Tennessee’s aborted hiring of Schiano was further complicated by the fact the 51-year-old coach appears to have inked a signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the school’s vice chancellor and athletics director, John Currie. That means the Volunteers will likely have to pay him some sort of settlement after deciding to call off the deal.
Moreover, the school’s catastrophic mishandling of the Schiano situation clearly has implications on other coaches who may have been considering the Tennessee job – turning what should have been one of the nation’s most coveted coaching positions into a dubious proposition indeed.
Who will the Volunteers hire? Who knows … but their field has clearly narrowed by more than just one.
In nine seasons since firing Philip Fulmer, Tennessee has posted a 57-56 record under three coaches (and two interim coaches).
Can Rocky Top ever reclaim its former glory? Sure. This program has won 832 games, sixteen conference championships and six national titles throughout its storied history. But Rocky Top is officially at rock bottom, and the performance of its leading administrators over the past forty-eight hours is beyond negligent.
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Banner: Travis Bell Photography