Wiedmer: Why aren't these UT coaching searches ever easy?

Wiedmer: Why aren't these UT coaching searches ever easy?

November 28th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee athletic director John Currie is seen on the sideline during an NCAA football game between Tennessee and Southern Mississippi at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

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It certainly could be argued that what happened with the University of Tennessee football coaching search Sunday reached a new low for the school in its long, troubled history of such searches.

But not by much. Particularly when it comes to football, there really hasn't been a smooth hire since former athletic director Bob Woodruff convinced Johnny Majors to come marching home again after he guided Pitt to the 1976 national championship.

Every new football coach since then — Phillip Fulmer's controversial replacement of Majors, Fulmer's firing that led to the arrival of Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley replacing Kiffin and Butch Jones following Dooley — has been a soap opera worthy of Peyton (not Manning) Place.

Not that any of those former dramas might top Schiano-gate in terms of overwhelming embarrassment. To reportedly reach a memorandum of understanding with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano at some point early Sunday before having to walk away from the deal less than 12 hours later because of an avalanche of negative attention on social media and elsewhere is the height of ineptitude.

Tennessee athletic director John Currie may not lose his job over this, but less than nine months after being named AD, he already has lost the vast majority of the Big Orange Nation's respect at the very least.

And that's 100 percent Currie's fault. He wanted to be a committee of one. He punted the use of a search firm. Currie apparently would know best, despite having never previously hired a football coach.

Whatever else one wants to say about how former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga AD David Blackburn might have handled all this if he'd been in charge, it's hard to imagine anything this pathetic happening on his watch.

So now UT has this public relations nightmare to get past and a dwindling pool of exciting coaching candidates with whom to make a hire that could quickly shove this embarrassment into a dark corner. It's almost enough to beg Kiffin to return, which he reportedly has hinted he would do.

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Yet perhaps the better question is why this keeps happening. Why are there so many public flirtations and rejections — remember Charlie Strong before Jones was hired? — instead of the Volunteers quietly announcing their choice, as if that person was the first person (whether he was or not) instead of everyone knowing he was the second, third or fifth choice?

Also, why does it always seem that the school is looking to reinvent the wheel with these hires? Now former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was a natural for Florida, having been an assistant there, and that's where he is. Chip Kelly, though owning strong New England roots, apparently has come to fancy himself a Left Coast guy from his days at Oregon and with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, so taking the UCLA gig made sense.

Should Scott Frost leave Central Florida for his alma mater, Nebraska, that also rings true.

But Schiano to UT made no sense other than the affection the Haslam family apparently has for him. And if Currie reached out to Schiano for the predominant reason of, um, currying favor with the Haslams, then shame on him.

That said, the backlash from Schiano's Penn State past is also ridiculous. Yes, it's arguably the worst scandal ever to hit college sports. And IF Schiano knew about it and said nothing, he should face whatever legal charges can be heaped on him regarding failure to disclose evidence.

But there's never been any real evidence that Schiano covered up anything. There's one person saying another person confided in him that Schiano once saw Jerry Sandusky possibly molesting a young boy in a shower. It's a truly repugnant image, but both Schiano and the person whom Schiano reportedly told have denied it ever happened. And no person from law enforcement ever has seemed to disbelieve them.

Not to want Schiano because he just seems like a bad fit is one thing. To ignore evidence in order to trash his personal character is another.

And that social media attack could theoretically hinder Currie's task. If you were an up-and-coming coach with options, would you necessarily want to move to Rocky Top and deal with that fan base?

Still, someone eventually will take this job. And if the name is big enough or his early seasons successful enough, all of this eventually will be largely forgotten.

After all, how many Alabama fans dwell on the three failed coaching Mikes — DuBose, Price and Shula — now that Nick Saban has become Bear 2.0? History is written by the winners. Should Currie eventually hire a winner, he'll be seen as a winner himself.

But the way UT has handled these kinds of hires for decades needs to be addressed and corrected. Whether it's meddling boosters, incompetent administrators or both, this is no way for a major university with a justifiably proud football history to conduct business.

There is a temporary way out of this if a perfect replacement for Jones can't soon be found, and it surfaced on various social media sites Monday.

No. 1, replace the overmatched Currie with Fulmer. Bring in current Duke coach David Cutcliffe — who was the offensive coordinator for Fulmer's best teams — as the head coach while also hiring current Southern Cal offensive coordinator and former UT great Tee Martin as the head-coach-in-waiting.

Is it perfect? No. It's a band-aid, nothing more. But these are three wise men from the Vols' last national-title team who all love the program and won't intentionally do anything to harm it.

And after so many UT coaching searches gone wrong for whatever reason, doing no more harm to the Big Orange football program would be a huge step forward.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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