Where Does Tennessee Go From Here?

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Greg Schiano

A few days ago the Tennessee Volunteers were set to hire Ohio State Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as their next head football coach. Schiano was set to take over at Tennessee after Butch Jones was fired after a 4-6 start during this college football season. But Tennessee would back track from their decision to hire Schiano amid protests from fans as well as politicians within the state. This decision was the result of Schiano being associated with the Penn State Nittany Lions football program for six years during the tenure of Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 on 45 counts of sexually assaulting boys on Penn State’s campus during his time as the school’s defensive coordinator, and then while he was ran his Second Mile charity. Schiano’s name became associated with this tragedy during a civil case between former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary and the school last year when it became known that McQueary testified that he let defensive coordinator Tom Bradley know of seeing Sandusky in the shower with a boy in 2001. In his testimony McQueary also claimed that Bradley heard similar stories from Schiano during his tenure at the school.

These are allegations that both Bradley and Schiano have denied, and for the most they appear to be hearsay. But for the folks in Knoxville, this was enough for some of them to voice their displeasure in the attempted hire of Schiano by Tennessee athletic director John Currie. And what the Vols now have on their hands in a public relations nightmare.

Tennessee has won 13 Southeastern Conference Championships and they’ve also claimed six national championships with the most recent one coming in 1998. Tennessee’s program has a storied tradition as they’ve also produced Pro Football Hall of Famers which includes defensive end Reggie White and quarterback Peyton Manning. But since 2007, the Volunteers only have four winning seasons with no SEC Titles to show for it while they have a combined four victories versus the Georgia Bulldogs, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Florida Gators over that stretch. These three teams are Tennessee’s top rivals in the SEC, but the Vol Nation has had to sit by and watch their beloved team get the breaks consistently beaten by the top teams in the SEC.

The folks in Knoxville want you to believe that the Tennessee coaching job isn’t just another coaching gig and it is not. Neyland Stadium in Knoxville seats more than 102,000 as it has the fifth largest seating capacity in college football. Tennessee’s football program also has some of the best facilities in the nation. But playing college football in Knoxville is not as attractive as it once was and the blame for that falls into the laps of the powers that be there.

When Tennessee decided to part with longtime head football Philip Fulmer in 2007, they did so as they felt that the game had passed him by. Fulmer only had two losing seasons at Tennessee while he had a national championship to his credit, as well as six top ten finishes in the Associated Press Poll. But Fulmer was up against the wave of dominance of Florida, while another one was about to begin with Alabama. And although that some people feel that it was time for Tennessee to move on from Fulmer, it is clear that they never had an adequate plan B.

Since Fulmer’s departure, Tennessee has had five different head coaches, five losing seasons, no conference titles, and no top ten finishes. And whereas the job at Tennessee should be looked at as being a premier job, it no longer is.

The Volunteers have become the butt of many jokes due to their bungling of the hire of Schiano. Aside from everything Schiano would have never succeeded at Tennessee as his “New Jersey swag” would have never gone together with Knoxville. But the real kicker is that Schiano was not Tennessee’s first choice to take over the program.

Jon Gruden

The Volunteers have also been linked to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden and Oregon Ducks head football coach Chip Kelly who opted to join the UCLA Bruins. And after the Schiano fiasco, Tennessee turned to former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe who refused to leave the comfort of his post as the head football coach of the Duke Blue Devils. Tennessee was seeking to get Oklahoma State Cowboys head football coach Mike Gundy to leave Stillwater, but to no avail. Current Purdue Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm was also courted by Tennessee and that went nowhere which led them to focus on North Carolina State Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren.  And just like the other candidates, Doeren decided to remain where he was at. Then there was the courtship of Washington State Cougars head football coach Mike Leach as Tennessee athletic director John Currie appeared to be set to hire him. But since then Currie has been let go as Tennessee’s athletic director with multiple reports coming out that Fulmer has been sabotaging the coaching search as he is seeking to become the school’s new AD. At this point whoever Tennessee hires is going to be a head scratcher because it will be a head coach in which they had to settle on.

And at this point for Tennessee, the only two hires that could allow them to save some face would be bringing in either Tee Martin or Les Miles.

Martin was the Vols starting quarterback when they won the national championship in 1998. Martin is currently the offensive coordinator of the USC Trojans and he does not have any prior experience as a head coach. And although that Martin helped the Vols win a national championship as a player, is the State of Tennessee ready to have an African-American head coach lead their team?

In nearly 12 full seasons as the head football coach of LSU Tigers, Miles compiled a record of 114-34 which included going 62-28 within the Southeastern Conference. Miles won a national championship at LSU and he had a pipeline to the National Football League. Age could work against Miles as he is 64, but he has the charisma that could win over the fan base in Knoxville along with his ability to sell water to a whale if need be.

After the struggles of Tennessee under Jones this past season which included going winless in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in school history, I expected changes to be made. But I never expected that we would see a situation play out like this where Tennessee has been denied more than a door-to-door salesman. But this is the current state of Volunteers football as things are very rocky on Rocky Top.

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