Hypocrites, double-standards, and backstabbers: Unpacking the soap opera at Tennessee

Hey guys, it’s Josh. Remember me? I’m the guy who used to write about college football all the time. It’s been a few weeks, but I’m back. Sorry about that. There was such an uproar over my absence that college football fans literally protested in the streets of Knoxville. I mean, they weren’t protesting about me, per se, but they were still mad!

Before I get to this weekend’s picks, let’s talk about the mess going on at Tennessee.

If you’re reading this, you know most of the details. In my mind, there was a double standard going on over Greg Schiano, and no one that I’ve seen has brought it up.

About 18 months ago, Peyton Manning, arguably the most famous person in the state of Tennessee to this day and a Volunteer legend, was in the midst of a very public sexual assault allegation from 20 years ago. Jamie Naughright accused Peyton Manning of mooning her and putting his balls in her face in the middle of the training room at Tennessee. It was settled out of court, but it essentially came down to a he-said, she-said dispute that after a month or so somehow blew over. During that month, though, Tennessee fans raced to Manning’s defense. “Where was the evidence?” they asked.

In the end, there wasn’t enough evidence, and Manning was never proven guilty of anything.

How is that different than Greg Schiano?

Schiano was accused through second and third-hand accounts of reporting that he saw Jerry Sandusky showering with a young boy some 25+ years ago while he was an assistant at Penn State. The attorney general overseeing the case didn’t take the allegations seriously enough to investigate them.

Two cases of hearsay. One involving a Tennessee legend. Another involving a coaching hire the fans never wanted from the get-go. Inspired by Clay Travis’ tirade on Twitter Sunday afternoon, fans began to use the Penn State case to protest the Schiano hire. Do not be fooled; this was not about some moral high ground. This was about a fan base that didn’t think Schiano could win the SEC East.

Vols’ AD John Currie hasn’t had a great week since, either. He has been courted more than half-dozen coaches only to be turned down at every stop. It’s easy to point and laugh at Currie’s repeated failures, but let me just make one point. If whoever Currie hires wins 10 or 11 games in two seasons, NOBODY will remember, or care, that Dave Doeren, Mike Gundy, David Cutcliffe, etc. turned the job down in November 2017.

Currie’s biggest mistake in the past week was curtailing to the faux outrage over Schiano and reneging the deal. One of the most important qualities in a strong leader is the ability to make decisions even when they are unpopular. If Currie believed Schiano was the right guy for the job, he should have stuck to his guns. The PR hit that followed would have subsided eventually – my guess is sooner rather than later — and if Schiano rebuilt Tennessee into a perennial SEC contender, Vol Nation would find a way to tolerate those unsubstantiated Penn State allegations from almost three decades ago.

If Schiano had failed, guess what? He and Currie would go down in flames anyway! That’s the thing that blows my mind about the whole thing.

There’s been a groundswell of opinion this week that administrators and front office executives should “listen to their constituents” when building their program. That’s hogwash. Have you ever sat in the stands for a sporting event? 85% of the people at the game make a fool of themselves any time they open their mouth. Administrators are put in those roles for a reason, and just like everyone else in any other job, they make mistakes. Those mistakes could very well cost them their job. But what doesn’t matter is how the fans feel about a coaching hire when he arrives. What matters is how they feel a few years down the road.

For instance, let’s say Tennessee listens to the fans petitioning for Lane Kiffin and hires him back (which isn’t happening, but hear me out anyway). The fans would put away their torches and pitchforks to celebrate the move.

Now, let’s say in four years the Volunteers are a seven or eight-win team, with no division or conference championships. You know who’s getting fired? Lane Kiffin and John Currie! The end result is the same. The only difference in this case is the fans don’t get to say “I told you so” to an AD who’s on his way out. Fans love to think they know more than the AD, or the coach, or the players on the field. The reality is, they don’t.

Now, do I think Schiano was the best hire in the first place? No, I don’t. But it’s not for me to decide who the best hires are. Just for fun, I dug up a handful of coaching hire “grades” from major publications over the past few years. These were what some prominent college football media were saying at the time of the hires:

Will Muschamp to Florida: B (fired after three years)

Dave Doeren to Northern Illinois: D+ (went 23-4 in two seasons, led NIU to Orange Bowl berth, hired by NC State)

Paul Pasqualoni to UConn: B+ (went 10-18, fired after an 0-4 start in his third season)

Todd Graham to Pittsburgh: A+ (finished 6-6 in his only season before leaving for Arizona State, where he was just fired)

Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech: A+ (30-32 overall, 16-30 in Big 12 play in five seasons, somehow not fired yet)

David Shaw to Stanford: B- (73-20 overall, 49-14 in Pac-12 play, 2-1 in the Rose Bowl, playing for his third conference title in seven years on Friday night)

So yeah…Spare me the hot takes to all the coaching hires right now.

You know who should be happy the administration didn’t listen to the fans? The Philadelphia Eagles, who booed the daylights out of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Donovan McNabb on draft day. Same with the Knicks, who were hysterical the night they drafted Kristaps Porzingis, who in his third year might be a top-15 player in the NBA already.

Point blank, if the fans don’t like a move their team makes in the off-season, who gives a rip? The team’s job is to make the fans happy. Nothing makes fans happier than winning games. In a perfect world, John Currie would have hired a coach the fans loved from the get-go, and the turnaround began immediately. That doesn’t mean Currie can’t still salvage the search by hiring a coach who steps in and wins. After all, Pete Carroll wasn’t among USC’s top six or seven choices nearly 20 years ago. That didn’t bother the fans when they were winning national titles a few years later.

EDIT: Of course, just as I finished writing this, Tennessee fired Currie. The backroom politics in college football are the most dangerous thing to an athletic director’s job security. If Brett McMurphy and Bruce Feldman’s reporting is accurate and Philip Fulmer sabotaged Currie’s coaching search in a play to become the Vols’ AD, I don’t know who is going to come take the head coaching job. I don’t know if Greg Schiano was the right hire or not, but Tennessee football would be in a much better place today if they’d just followed through with him instead of dealing with the mess that’s taken place since.

Okay, here are this week’s picks:

CLEMSON (-9.5) vs Miami

This line opened at Clemson -5.5 and was quickly bet way up. On my podcast with Chad Millman on Thursday, he said it could close at -10. There’s not much value in that line anymore, but I tell you what — I still think Clemson murders ’em. The ‘Canes have survived on long chunk plays and turnovers all year long, and a home crowd to juice them up in their biggest games. At home, Miami’s average scoring margin is 37-19. Away from home, it’s only 23-17. This will be a de facto home game for Clemson, playing just a couple hours away from campus in Charlotte. The Tigers will use their conference-leading pass rush to rattle Malik Rosier. When Kelly Bryant has been healthy, the Tigers have played like the #1 team all season long.

Final Score: Clemson 42, Miami 17

OHIO STATE (-6.5) vs Wisconsin

On the surface, I have every reason to think Ohio State clowns the Badgers in this game. Wisconsin has not beaten the Buckeyes since 2010, pre-dating the Urban Meyer era. As far as athletes go, this is a total mismatch. Also, Ohio State needs to win by 21-plus to have a convincing argument to leapfrog Alabama into the College Football Playoff. A tight win over Wisconsin likely isn’t enough. The loss to Iowa is too damaging.

Ordinarily, I would say swallow these points and run with it. But JT Barrett’s mysterious knee surgery this week worries me. I’d feel fine if Meyer came out this week and inserted Dwayne Haskins as the starter, no questions asked. Knowing that Barrett’s going to start, but could get the hook a few series in if he struggles, spooks me. I worry that if Ohio State doesn’t jump ahead early, it turns into a dogfight.

My gut says the Buckeyes win, but I won’t have any cash on the line in this one.

Final Score: Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 24

TCU (+7) at Oklahoma

The Sooners won the first meeting between these two just a few weeks ago 38-20. It wasn’t even that close. Oklahoma led 38-14 at halftime and cruised to the easy win. To me, Oklahoma and Auburn are playing the best football in the country over the past five weeks. But I think it gets weird in Norman on Saturday night. Lincoln Riley’s had a heckuva debut season, but Gary Patterson is the better coach. I think the Horned Frogs scare the dickens out of the Sooners. I’m tempted to call for the outright upset, but I’ll take Oklahoma in a tight shootout.

Final Score: Oklahoma 45, TCU 42

GEORGIA (+2.5) vs Auburn

Last time these two played, every intangible possible favored the Tigers. Georgia was playing in its first hostile environment all season long. It was the Dawgs’ first major test with the bulls’ eye of being the #1 team in the country on their backs. Auburn was desperate for a win to keep its Playoff hopes alive. Georgia knew it could lose and still be right where it is today, playing for a chance to make the Playoff (maybe even as the #1 overall seed). Kerryon Johnson’s shoulder injury scares me even more. I can’t shake the image of Johnson waving the white flag as he crumpled to the ground in the fourth quarter last week against Alabama. He says he’s going to play, but Gus Malzahn hasn’t sound quite as confident. If Johnson’s not 100%, Georgia has a great chance to win this game.

Final Score: Georgia 30, Auburn 22

Other picks I like:

LOUISIANA-MONROE (+27) at Florida State

BOISE STATE (-9.5) vs Fresno State

I hope you all have a better weekend than John Currie. Best of luck.

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