Did Tennessee fans have proof to paint over Greg Schiano's reputation — or only mob anger?

Dan WetzelColumnist
Tennessee backed out of an agreement to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as its next football coach. (AP)
Tennessee backed out of an agreement to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as its next football coach. (AP)

On the campus of the University of Tennessee, at the corner of Volunteer Boulevard and Pat Head Summitt Street, not far from Neyland Stadium sits a near-100-ton stone, known locally as “The Rock.” Just about every day, some group on campus paints a message on it.

On Sunday, as news broke that Tennessee was on the verge of hiring Greg Schiano as its new head football coach, this was painted on it:

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Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State.”

It was part of a backlash from Volunteers fans angry over the possible hiring of Schiano, the former head coach at Rutgers and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is currently the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Schiano, 51, was also an assistant coach at Penn State from 1990-95. The defensive coordinator at Penn State then was Jerry Sandusky, who in 2012 was convicted of 45 counts of child molestation.

Only each Tennessee fan taking part in this knows for sure if they really researched the Sandusky scandal and found Schiano disqualified because of it, or if they are latching onto something because they wanted a different coach. It worked. The school broke off talks and won’t hire Schiano, per Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel.

The real question is, did Schiano really cover up child rape at Penn State?

The answer: Only Schiano and maybe Sandusky know for sure, but that allegation has most certainly not been proven, no matter what the clickbait headlines of the Internet claim. To make such a definitive statement is flat-out false at this point and a terrifying, lynch-mob reach against a possibly innocent person’s reputation.

Here’s where it all stems from.

On Aug. 25, 2015, former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary was deposed as part of a civil suit between the university and its insurance company over liability for payouts to victims of Sandusky.

McQueary is famous in the case for being a then-graduate assistant who said he walked in on Sandusky and a boy in the shower in an otherwise empty coach’s locker room one Friday night in 2001. He walked out, but reported what he saw to head coach Joe Paterno the next morning. Nothing happened to Sandusky for years. McQueary was later fired but was the attorney general’s star witness in criminal trials against Sandusky, as well as Penn State’s president, vice president and athletic director. 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 most recently was an assistant coach at UCLA. He said Bradley was not surprised by what McQueary told him because Bradley had heard similar.

From the deposition:

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.”

That is the extent of allegations involving Schiano, which first surfaced in 2016 during the unsealing of documents in the civil case.

Schiano immediately denied the accusation to ESPN: “I never saw any abuse, nor had reason to suspect any abuse, during my time at Penn State.”

Meanwhile, Bradley’s attorneys issued the following statement at the time:

“At no time did Tom Bradley ever witness any inappropriate behavior. Nor did he have any knowledge of alleged incidents in the 80’s and 90’s. He has consistently testified as such. Any assertions to the contrary are false. When he became aware of the 2001 incident it had already been reported to the University administration years earlier.”

A few things worth noting. One is that McQueary is merely repeating a story he says he heard from Bradley about what Bradley said Schiano said to him. This is multilayer hearsay and not immediately admissible in any court of law. McQueary never asked Schiano about it and the two never worked at Penn State at the same time.

Is it possible that Schiano did see something and did tell Bradley, who then accurately relayed it to McQueary? Yes. Of course. It’s possible.

However, unless you want to throw out any semblance of fairness or due process in these kinds of cases, then there is just no way to conclude that such a thing absolutely occurred. Bradley testified under oath that he had no knowledge of Sandusky’s actions, meaning it’s his sworn testimony against McQueary’s.

This is a non-specific allegation based on a second-hand account recalled at least a decade after the fact. It’s also possible McQueary never mentioned it to anyone else despite years of being a cooperating witness for prosecutors desperately seeking just this kind of information.

Yet it’s taken fire. 

No charges were ever brought against Schiano. No victim sued him for not reporting it at the time, despite dozens of Sandusky victims having active legal representation and Schiano being a very rich and famous football coach. No victim ever came forward alleging Schiano witnessed he and Sandusky in a shower.

McQueary spent years meeting with and working with the attorney general and other prosecutors on the cases against not just Sandusky but other Penn State administrators. Prosecutors loved McQueary. “Mike McQueary was one of the best, if not the best, … non-law enforcement witnesses I ever had,” Jonelle Harter Eshbach, of the attorney general’s office, once testified.

McQueary testified at numerous preliminary hearings, multiple trials and at least one grand jury hearing. He sat for lengthy interviews with law enforcement. He also had his own multiyear whistleblower case against Penn State, which included another trial.

The Schiano story never came up in any of the hundreds and hundreds of pages of interviews that have been made public or during any public testimony in any of those cases.

The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office was extremely aggressive in pursuing leads and going after anyone it believed covered up for Sandusky. It spent years building and then prosecuting a case that was based on the allegation that people in power at Penn State participated in a “conspiracy of silence.”

It’s very difficult to imagine how that same attorney general’s office, if it heard about this and believed it was even remotely provable or accurate, would not go after Schiano and especially Bradley, who worked at Penn State from 1979-2012 and was arguably Paterno’s most trusted lieutenant. Yet even after this emerged in 2016, the AG’s office did not pursue it as far as anyone knows. Likewise, Penn State conducted its own lengthy and exhaustive investigation, run by former FBI director Louis Freeh, and the Schiano story never emerged.

Did it happen? Maybe. Maybe Greg Schiano is every bit as terrible as you can imagine. Anything is possible.

No Tennessee fan knows for sure, though. It’s just one loose accusation, based on what a guy said a guy said that no one with the authority or interest in pursuing criminally or civilly proved, or even pursued because no one really believed it.

That isn’t a lot of reason to go paint rocks – and use them to crush a man’s career and reputation.

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