Greg Schiano gets huge chance from Bill Belichick after social media mob ruined his shot at Tennessee

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

A little over 14 months after a Twitter mob and a painted rock derailed his shot at becoming the head coach at the University of Tennessee, Greg Schiano will reportedly become the highest-profile assistant coach in football – defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

The position carries significance because the performance of the Pats’ defense can determine Super Bowls.

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Last year, New England’s defense stunk against Philadelphia and the Pats lost. This year, it was brilliant against the Los Angeles Rams and the Pats won.

Regardless, the defensive coordinator in each game, Matt Patricia in 2018 and Brian Flores on Sunday, had already been hired to become NFL head coaches, in Detroit and Miami respectively.

It’s a huge job with high stakes.

Greg Schiano is back in the NFL, this time as defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. (AP)
Greg Schiano is back in the NFL, this time as defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. (AP)

And it’s one that Bill Belichick feels comfortable handing over to Schiano, the former Rutgers and Tampa Bay head coach who spent the past few years as an assistant under Urban Meyer at Ohio State.

Time will tell whether it works out. Predictions are pointless.

For Schiano, though, it is a fresh reboot in the NFL, which seems necessary after the debacle of the Tennessee head coaching search a year ago.

On Nov. 26, 2017, UT athletic director John Currie had zeroed in on hiring Schiano. Word of the deal leaked and some Volunteer fans believed they deserved a better coach than someone who went 68-67 at Rutgers (actually an incredible record considering the state of the program before and after his stint there) and 11-21 with the Buccaneers, where he looked overmatched in almost all ways.

Complaining about the hire was well within the rights of Volunteer fans. No one knows if Schiano would have been good there or not good there. It’s fair game for fans to express their opinion.

It got ugly though when in an effort to undermine Schiano’s hire, the complaints went beyond his coaching acumen and zeroed in on a piece of double hearsay from a 2015 civil deposition of former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary.

McQueary is famous for being a graduate assistant in 2001 who said he walked into the Penn State coaches locker room late one night and saw former Nittany Lion assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and a boy in the shower engaged in some kind of “sexual” position. Overwhelmed at what he witnessed, McQueary walked out, called his father and then reported what he saw to head coach Joe Paterno early the next morning.

Nothing happened to Sandusky for years. McQueary was later fired but became the attorney general’s star witness in the ensuing criminal trials. McQueary also won a multimillion-dollar whistleblower lawsuit against the school.

During the deposition, McQueary said he once discussed Sandusky with another Penn State assistant, Tom Bradley, who is now an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He said Bradley was not surprised by what McQueary told him.

Q: “Did [Bradley] tell you that he had had information concerning Gerald Sandusky and children?”

A: “He said he knew of some things. … He said another assistant coach had come to him in the early ’90s about a very similar situation to mine, and he said that he had — someone had come to him as far back as early as the ’80s about seeing Jerry Sandusky doing something with a boy.”

Q: “Did he identify who the other coaches were that had given him this information?”

A: “The one in the early ’90s, yes.”

Q: “And who was that?”

A: “Greg Schiano …”

Q: “And did he give you any details about what Coach Schiano had reported to him?”

A: “No, only that he had – I can’t remember if it was one night or one morning, but that Greg had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower. And that’s it. That’s all he ever told me.”

The deposition moved on and that was the only mention of Schiano. When it first surfaced in 2016, Schiano denied to ESPN both seeing anything or discussing anything of the sort with Bradley. “I never saw abuse, nor had reason to suspect any abuse, during my time at Penn State.”

Bradley also denied it or any knowledge of abuse or the conversation through his attorney.

That was it. Schiano and McQueary never worked together. They never discussed it directly. McQueary was just repeating what he believed Bradley told him, which is multilayer hearsay and not admissible in any court of law.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania, who overturned seemingly every single rock in the Sandusky scandal and charged just about everyone they could in this case (including Penn State’s president, vice president and athletic director), never pursued anything against Schiano or Bradley. No victim of Sandusky’s ever came forward saying they recall anything resembling the situation that was described – a man, any man, let alone an assistant coach, walking in on they and Sandusky in the shower. Nothing. Not in the early 1990s or the 1980s.

Schiano would become rich and recognizable due to his head coaching fame. Still nothing from any of the nearly three dozen victims the school settled with in civil cases.

Yet it was enough for social media to hammer Schiano’s reputation in an effort to get UT to hire a coach more pleasing to the fan base. IA rock on the Knoxville campus was even painted to read: “Schiano Covered Up Child Rape At Penn State.”

It worked, of course, because Twitter mobs almost always work no matter the lack of context, facts or perspective. UT dropped Schiano from consideration. Currie, the AD, was fired.

The Vols went on to hire Jeremy Pruitt, an Alabama assistant.

Whether Pruitt proves to be a great coach for Tennessee, hardly matters.

Schiano’s reputation was steamrolled by the Internet and there wasn’t any real way for him to defend himself. If having both he and Bradley deny it, and then Bradley deny ever saying anything to McQueary, and none of the extremely aggressive prosecutors in the case pursuing the accusation isn’t enough, then what could be?

Schiano was stuck. And it was fair to wonder if in jittery college football he could ever get another head coaching job. When Meyer was suspended at Ohio State for three games at the start of the season, the school chose Ryan Day, not Schiano, as the interim coach. Day is now the head man following Meyer’s retirement. Schiano is out.

Maybe Penn State had something to do with it. Maybe it didn’t.

So now a fresh start of sorts for a coach caught in a bizarre situation. He gets a chance to prove himself in the most high-profile assistant coaching job in football. His demanding boss is now the king of all coaches, Bill Belichick. If he’s successful then perhaps he can be a head coach again.

Schiano got dealt a raw deal 14 months ago. It’s how things work in modern America, where fear of social media rattles institutions. Now he has a coveted chance to put all of it, and college football, behind him.

The keys to the kingdom await in Foxborough. All eyes will be on him.

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