Roy Exum: Never In My Life

Monday, November 27, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I still have a pretty good list of resources after 50 years covering sports but never in my life have I seen a firestorm like the one that swept over Tennessee athletics on Sunday. In less than 12 hours was Ohio State assistant coach Greg Schiano hired by the athletic director and fired by the Vol Nation. It will go down as one of the most incredible days in Volunteer history, just one day after this year’s football team became the worst in UT history, and my head is still reeling.

Because the firestorm came so fast and was so very inflammatory, the biggest loser in the melee was Tennessee and, when four gubernatorial candidates decry Schiano’s hiring before it is even announced, somebody needs to investigate what – or who – was behind such a circus. I’ll bet good money that not one of the four candidates ever heard of Greg Schiano before Sunday, this before publicly mocking his selection. There is a foul part of the story yet to be told.

A number of readers were quick to write after my Monday story and question the difference between the rumor that Schiano had once witnessed Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky abuse a 10-year-old boy and allegations Alabama judge Roy Moore abused younger women and teenaged girls 40 years ago. They questioned how I could stand against Greg Schiano but condone Moore.

* * *

MY ANSWER VIA EMAIL: “It's a great question! A fair one too! I was a close follower of the Jerry Sandusky deal when that tragedy surfaced. (I had played golf with him a number of times and his wife, Dotty Gross, was from Chattanooga. From the very start it was the talk at Penn State that Schiano could have stopped Sandusky from the very beginning of the tragedy. As the tragedy progressed, it was believed because of testimony Schiano would never get another job in college or pros ... so I've heard that for 20 years ... I have also known Roy Moore was controversial but never a peep about sex abuse until an accusation comes out after 40 years, this less than a month before a crucial Senate election. So ... a rumor I’ve heard for over 20 years versus a rumor about something that occurred 40 years ago? Honestly, I don't know what to believe.

* * *

Again, in complete honesty, I now feel Greg Schiano did not get a fair shake at all on Sunday and I am ashamed I got caught up in it. Schiano never had a chance to give us his say because Republican lawmakers, their taunts igniting vicious social media, knee-jerk reporting, and a fan base that had to be driven from somewhere, blind-sided the poor guy.

Jim Obrien, who says he reads my column regularly, sent me a fabulous email because he know Schiano better than any of us. Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote:

* * *

“I have enjoyed reading your column every day in the Chattanoogan for several years.  I have never contacted you before, but feel the need to on this sad day.

“I grew up with Greg Schiano in Wyckoff, New Jersey and we graduated from Ramapo High School in 1984.  While not my best friend, we played little league baseball (his dad coached) and basketball (my dad coached) and we got to know each other and each other’s families.  Greg is a good man and a fine coach.

“I have two sons at Tennessee currently.  I coached former fullback Eric Lane (Tennessee/NY Giants) in high school in New Jersey.  I am a Tennessee fan and care about the school.

“The reaction of the Tennessee fan base  has been deplorable.  How can anyone accuse Greg of child rape?  There is no proof that Greg had any knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s actions.

“I share the following: [Tweet from Mark Dominic the former Tampa Bay GM: We spent hours & hours interviewing & background checks on Greg Schiano. Yes we didn’t win. Fact-he’s honest, awesome father/husband, & an excellent football coach. This shouldn’t be whether YOU think you like him or not, you don’t even know him. #Meyer #Belichick ask them.]

“To cast serious and false accusations at someone because you don’t think they are a good hire is a heinous act.  I understand that some people may not like the hire for football reasons, but it does not give anyone the right to destroy a person’s name and career.   We should be better than that. 

“The only evidence you offer is hearsay from a person who was not a coach at Penn State when Greg Schiano was.  Furthermore, both Schiano and Coach Bradley deny what McQuery said.  In addition, as you may know, the whole situation was investigated by multiple groups.  I find it odd that you are more knowledgeable on this matter than Louis Freeh.

“Finally, to address his time at Rutgers, you should have done your homework first.  Rutgers was a horrible program.  Greg’s record in his first two years was 3-20.  He built the program into a strong program by recruiting well, especially in state.  You cannot dismiss the great job he did at Rutgers.

“It will be curious to see what type of damage Tennessee has inflicted upon itself.  I find it highly unlikely that a big time coach will want to put up with this nonsense.  UT will have to throw a lot of money at this.”

* * *

Oh course, Jim is as correct as he can possibly be and again, I regret I wasn’t as good a writer as I hope to be. Thank goodness I can get better.

WHAT ELSE THEY ARE SAYING

Steve Politi, Rutgers beat writer at NJ.com – “Let's be clear on what this is really about. The people in Tennessee aren't outraged about what Schiano might have witnessed a quarter century ago when he was a young assistant coach. They were furious over his middling 68-67 record as a head coach in Piscataway and his failed two-year tenure in charge of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

* * *

Dan Wolken, USA Today – “Sunday inadvertently became one of the more hopeless and revealing days in the recent history of college athletics. It was the perfect combination of fan hubris, local media ignorance, mob mentality and unrealistic expectations, a brew that has been simmering for years in the world of coaching searches but finally boiled over on social media as two high-profile Southeastern Conference programs honed in on new hires.”

And,

 “Though Florida’s fan base merely was disappointed at the idea of a coach with a career 33-39 record in the SEC, Tennessee’s was apoplectic in a manner that was unprecedented, undeserved and arguably frightening.”

* * *

Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports – [Tweet: “Am told there's increasing pressure now from big-money #Vols boosters to force #Tennessee AD John Currie out in the wake of Sunday's news. UT source told me: "This is such a hot mess. Just when you think they’ve gotten out of the ditch. They’ve fallen into a much bigger one.”]

* * *

Bill Haslam, Tennessee Governor: “I do think we should all be concerned about a rush to judgment," Haslam said after a Rotary Club speech. "No matter who you are, in today’s social media world where there are no editors to stop and say is that true, you can have a tsunami before anybody has ever said, ‘What are the facts here?'"

* * *

Beverly Davenport, UT Chancellor – ““I deeply regret the events of yesterday for everyone involved. The university remains steadfast in its commitment to excellence, and I look forward to John Currie continuing the search to bring the next head football coach to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.”

* * *

Kirk Herbstreit, College GameDay[RE1]  – [Tweet: Been traveling all day back from ND/Stanford game last pm. Hearing some @VolFootball fans upset about Schiano hire!? Why? You know what the Vols record is last 13 YEARS is?? 86-77!! A little better than 6-6 avg! I think he is a GREAT hire to bring you back! Get behind him!! “

* * *

Chris Korman, ForTheWin.com – “Tennessee fans may be pointing at the Sandusky involvement as the main reason for concern, but there was more to it. They had some unrealistic hopes — Jon Gruden — and, as is the case with every fan for a team other than Alabama, an inflated opinion of their program. But they’re also savvy fans who’ve watched decision makers at the school fail time after time — on the field and off (when dealing with sexual assault) — so they understand how much is on the line and why Schiano was never the right choice.”

* * *

Paul Finebaum, Birmingham Radio -- “I’m torn. I don’t know Greg Schiano. I know people who would swear by him. I know people who are troubled by the allegations. I tend to think it’s a little bit of a stretch to link him to this case, although I understand the frustration on the other side of it. But to get to this point– to totally shoot blanks on Jon Gruden, which we all knew he would. To hang around for three days waiting for Dan Mullen to get the call from [Florida AD] Scott Stricklin when Scott Frost was going to be the backup for Chip Kelly. To get played by Dan Mullen, and then to use Greg Schiano as your third, or fourth or fifth choice without proper vetting is an embarrassment. That’s really where the issue is.”

… and,

“I wonder if, in order to patch things up with the fans, and make them happy, Currie doesn't turn to Tee Martin. Offensive Coordinator for USC. Been there since 2012. Prior to that was passing game coordinator at Kentucky.  He has no experience as a head coach, but there is no way Tennessee fans will not support him.  They may think he does not have the needed experience as a head coach, but my guess is that unlike an outsider, they would be willing to struggle with him while he gets on the job training. And this would probably patch things up with the fan base. So that's my pick, Tee Martin.”

royexum@aol.com



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