Write down this date: Sunday, November 26, 2017. That’s the day a group college football fans spoke up to their university administrators, and those administrators listened. It’s the day Volunteer Nation, fans of the University of Tennessee, declared they preferred integrity in coaching, exemplified by the late Pat Summitt, over a coach who might bring Southeastern Conference glory but possesses a questionable reputation. It’s the day I call “Rocky Top Rising.”
For those of you who missed the action, here’s the summary: in the wake of Butch Jones’ firing as head coach, Tennessee athletic Director, John Currie, worked out a memorandum of understanding with Ohio State Co-Defensive Coordinator, Greg Schiano, to be the Volunteers’ new head coach. Happens all the time, right? Here’s where it gets interesting: Schiano previously worked at Penn State, and his name came up in allegations of witnessing abuse of a boy and failing to report it during the Jerry Sandusky debacle. Schiano denies ever witnessing anything, and the allegations are solely hearsay. More to the point, frustrating as it is, we do not know what really happened or did not happen. However, with Tennessee settling a Title IX lawsuit last year, with allegations of sexual assaults committed by athletes, did the university really want to take that chance?
John Currie seemed willing to take the chance. Once the deal was leaked to the public, however, the fans made their own statement: in this post-Sandusky, post-Art Briles college football climate, the university did not need to take such a chance. A protest took place on campus and local politicians weighed in on social media. By Sunday’s end, Greg Schiano no longer needed a one-way ticket to Knoxville.
I checked in with Celina Summers, Editor of the Orange and White Report, for her take on what happened Sunday. Here is what she thinks made the campaign successful.
The campaign was a success because the Tennessee fan base and the local sports media were united in their opposition to Schiano. As a result, local businesses got in on the action, former players for Tennessee, and 72 legislators did as well. The campaign succeeded because for the first time in big-money college sports, a fan base stepped forward and point-blank refused to tow the line. Now the university knows it has to appease that fan base in the hiring process, and won't make the same mistakes the UTAD (Currie) did with this one--namely, trolling its own fans in order to hide what they were doing in a backroom deal between members of the good ole boy network…Unlike some schools, the University of Tennessee and its fans have worked extremely hard to banish any further occurrences of sexual assault associated with UT students, athletes or not. Any coach who was associated with a major and egregious sexual assault case that DID NOT STEP FORWARD AND SAY NO is complicit in the continuation of those crimes. Lane Kiffin, for example, has Kendal Briles, the architect of the "show 'em a good time" recruiting policy at Baylor as his O(ffensive) C(oordinator) at FAU (Florida Atlantic University) which is astonishing to me. But what's acceptable in Florida isn't in Tennessee. Not anymore.
Next I asked Celina as a football fan and advocate for awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence, what advice would you give fans who have a team looking for a head coach? She responded:
“…at the end of the day, the passion of any team is found in the stands, not the sky boxes. What happened in Tennessee proved that the fans do have a voice and it does impact coaching hires. So if a coaching search results in a hire with attributes that you find unacceptable, get out there and make your displeasure known. Regardless of how the national media pundits destroy you and your fan base afterwards, preventing a disastrous hire in an era where sexual assault and Title IX cases are epidemic is not just an option. It's a necessity, and it can affect positive change.”
Congratulations, Volunteer Nation, for setting an example for all college football fan bases.