Rocky Top Revolt: The Real Story (Part 1: Greg Schiano)

Rocky Top Revolt
Greg Schiano became an unsuspecting central figure in Sunday's Rocky Top Revolt. Photo Credit: Stacy Revere, Getty Images.

In an unprecedented move in College Football, the University of Tennessee backed out of hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday due to an overwhelming outcry from their own fan base. It was one of the most surreal days in the history of the sport.

Rocky Top Revolt: The Real Story

The story of the Rocky Top Revolt is long and complex. It’s more than disgruntled fans unhappy with the selection of Schiano as head coach. It is about years of dysfunction in the administration of the athletic program, both leaders and boosters. It’s about eroding quality, hypocrisy, and cronyism in sports journalism. And it’s about the power of social media — and how that threatens the aforementioned sports journalism profession.

To dismiss this fan uprising as uneducated fans having undue influence on a coaching search is both ill-informed and short-sighted. We take a four-part look at everything that happened on Sunday, and why. We also look at the implications.

In Rocky Top Revolt: The Real Story (Part 1: Greg Schiano), we look at the central figure, coach-to-be Greg Schiano. Was he a victim or a villain in this uprising?

Part 1: The Central Figure, Greg Schiano

In a matter of hours, Greg Schiano went from a defensive coordinator planning for a conference championship game to a state-wide pariah. For some, the coach was a victim. For others, he played the role of villain. But Schiano is neither villain or victim. The bottom line is that Schiano was put in bad spot by Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie and Schiano’s Tennessee benefactor Jimmy Haslam (We’ll talk about both Currie and Haslam later). But even as the central figure of this Sunday drama, this was never about Schiano. Schiano was merely spark that lit a mighty fire.

Schiano, The Record

Let’s be clear, the common national media narrative that Schiano was a missed opportunity for a home-run hire for Tennessee borders on laughable. Schiano has two previous head coaching tenures. Neither of which indicate any type of success at Tennessee.

Your Father’s Rutgers

Schiano made his reputation as a defensive coordinator with the Miami Hurricanes in the late 1990s. He’s probably a pretty good defensive coordinator. Maybe even great. But that’s about the highlight of his coaching credentials.

Schiano coached Rutgers for eleven seasons, from 2001-2011. It’s important to remember that this was the Big East version of Rutgers, not the current Rutgers of the Big Ten. In the formidable years of Schiano’s stint, including his 11-2 2006 season, he was playing conference opponents UConn, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Louisville, and USF. The Big East was easily the worst of the BCS Automatic Qualifiers (AQ) conferences.

One Big Season

His overall record was 68-67, just one game over .500. In conference play — a conference that would be considered a Group-of-Five (G5) conference today — he was 28-48. He made his coaching reputation against teams like Kent State, Buffalo, Villanova (yes, Villanova has a football team), Howard, Norfolk State, and Army. He even lost to FCS opponent New Hampshire in his fourth season.

Schiano made his reputation with one big season, 2006. Schiano led Rutgers to an 11-2 record, a regular season top ten ranking, and a final ranking of twelfth in the A.P. poll. Ray Rice led the Scarlet Knights that season.

Schiano certainly improved the Rutgers program. They were an absolute doormat before he took over. But even the “program builder” narrative is a false flag. Schiano’s record in his last four seasons and Rutgers (2008-2011) was actually worse than the four previous seasons to that (2005-2008). The program had reached stasis as a middle-of-the pack Big East team. Schiano had three 9+-win seasons in eleven years in Piscataway. For comparison, Butch Jones has two 9-win seasons in five seasons in Knoxville.

The Big Leagues

After eleven seasons at Rutgers, Schiano accepted the head coaching position with the NFL‘s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. Schiano went 11-21 in two seasons in Tampa Bay with two last place finishes in the NFC South. There were really no positives to come out of his two years in Tampa Bay. But more on this stint below.

Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick can tell us how great Schiano is all they want. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what people say about you. In a profession measured by wins and losses, its about what you do. And Schiano’s record as a head coach is average, at best.

Schiano, The Coach

But the completely average results as a coach hide the biggest concerns of Schiano, the coach. Schiano has a reputation around football as a toxic leader.

Toxic Leadership Style

The biggest story to come out of Schiano’s NFL experience were the controversies. Schiano was known as a strict disciplinarian. His autocratic style didn’t sit will with many people, especially his own players. Even the NFL’s own website had a scathing summary upon Schiano’s firing. In the end, the Tampa locker room almost mutinied against their own coach. Is it coincidence that the Rocky Top Revolt wasn’t the first time that the words “mob” was used to describe reactions to Schiano?

Among all of the voices sounding off on Sunday — Volunteer fans, national media, Urban Meyer, etc. — there was one demographic that was conspicuously quiet: Schiano’s former players. Maybe that’s because they didn’t really have much to say. When Schiano stated earlier in the season that his Ohio State defensive line was better than his defensive lines in Tampa Bay (really?), many of the former players had very chilly responses. Most chose to just ignore Schiano. This is very, very telling. Interestingly, many former Tennessee players who played in the NFL, and have friends from playing the NFL, weren’t so quite.

There’s no denying that Schiano’s reputation among former NFL players is seriously damaged — to say the least.

Where’s The Beef?

In addition to his toxic leadership style, Schiano had several high profile run-ins in the NFL. He was most famous for calling an all-out blitz against Tom Coughlin‘s Giants while in “Victory Formation” in his second game. Coughlin — himself a disciplinarian coach — had some heated words with Schiano at midfield following the incident. Even Tennessee football’s favorite son, Peyton Manning, cussed out Schiano after a December game when he pulled the same stunt.

Adding to the friction in the locker room was Schiano’s beef with the NFL Player’s Association over his outing of Josh Freeman when the quarterback was in the NFL’s  substance abuse program. Additionally, his handling of Freeman as his starting quarterback was widely panned around the league.

With all of this baggage, Currie would have had to pay for a fleet of U-Hauls to move Schiano to Knoxville.

Schiano, The History

Even more than the record or the toxic leadership style, the thing that Tennessee fans grasped onto most was Schiano’s connection to the worst scandal in the history of college football: the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. To recap what everyone already knows, Penn State assistant and whistle blower Mike McQueary testified to a grand jury that former Penn State assistant Tom Bradley once told McQueary that Schiano had once told him (Bradley) that Schiano had witnessed Sandusky abuse a child.

A Bad Fit

Yes, it was double hearsay. No one in the Rocky Top Revolt was calling for a Schiano conviction. No one was calling for jail time. In fact, no one in the Tennessee fan base was calling for Schiano to not have a job. They only thing they were calling for is for Schiano not to have this job. Tennessee is just a year removed from a high profile Title IX investigation settlement. That settlement came on the heels of the high profile A.J. Johnson rape allegation.

The idea that Greg Schiano, with the McQueary testimony out there, would be a good fit for Tennessee is unfathomable. Vetting is one thing. Common sense is something completely different.

It doesn’t really matter — as far as this coaching search fiasco goes — whether Schiano did or did not know of Sandusky’s actions. What matters is that he was connected. It’s a matter of public record in a grand jury testimony.

Tennessee fans didn’t create this. It wasn’t some character assassination smear campaign.

If Schiano is a victim here, it’s not at the hands of Vols fans. It’s at the hands of McQueary’s false testimony. Or Schiano’s own inaction. Those two things are mutually exclusively, and they are the only two possible sources of any Schiano victimhood.

But one things is certain: he’s not a victim of the Rocky Top Revolt.

Schiano, The Deposed

In the end, the Schiano deal fell through. Boosters not named Haslam, former players and alumni, state and local politicians, and a fan-generated social media campaign all contributed to the administration’s capitulation. And while it wasn’t all about Greg Schiano, he was the central figure in this sport-political drama.

Schiano is probably a solid, maybe even good defensive coordinator. But his record as a head coach is average, at best. Add the lackluster results with the toxic leadership style, and it makes the decision to even consider Schiano at Tennessee to be questionable. Stack on the Sandusky connection — right or wrong — and Schiano didn’t stand a chance.


Part Two:

Tomorrow we take a look at the failure of the Tennessee administration over the last decade, including this weekend’s debacle at the hands of Athletic Director John Currie and super-booster Jimmy Haslam.

In Part Three, we’ll examine the curious reaction from national media outlets and also examine the role that social media played in this event and the increasing role of social media in college football journalism and the sport itself.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


  1. It’s interesting to me, that the UT fan base can have a zero-tolerance policy with Schiano but will not enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards Manning. McQ’s allegation is recalling hearsay from 15 years prior in the middle of a wrongful termination lawsuit where he had the incentive to make the cover-up seem widespread. PA Att. General never felt the need to depose or even interview Schiano despite McQ’s allegation. All that makes McQ’s allegation seem as dubious as those against Manning, IMO.

    • Just curious what would you have the Tennessee fanbase do to Peyton?

      This is much more about a power abusing “super booster” and his bought and paid for yes man AD trying to backdoor one of their good ole boy friends into the head coaching position. The national media has made this into a smear campaign of “Hee Haw university’s” fanbase using the false narrative of the PSU scandal and Schiano’s ties to it as the reason this went down. In reality the fanbase and most of the boosters not named Haslam are tired of having things shoved down our throats and are told to like it.

  2. The article misstates Mike McQueary’s deposition. He never said abuse. He only alleged Bradley told him that Schiano told Bradley that he had seen Sandusky do something to a boy. McQueary was not told what that “something” was.

    The TN fans exaggerated that something to rape, which is defamatory.

  3. You should have stuck to Schiano’s records at Rutgers and Tampa Bay, or his abrasive personality. It would have made your case much stronger. But when you typed this, you lost your argument:

    “It doesn’t really matter — as far as this coaching search fiasco goes — whether Schiano did or did not know of Sandusky’s actions. What matters is that he was connected. It’s a matter of public record in a grand jury testimony.”

    The only way Schiano was connected was by being a part of that staff. McQueary’s deposition would never be admissible in court. “I told a guy who told a guy” doesn’t generally work. And I think your absolution of Tennessee fans was a bit off base. When you paint “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State” in big letters on a rock, that is a character assassination smear campaign.

  4. So a small amount of students spray paints the rock at the university and that constitutes a smear campaign? Your logic is astounding, but I realize you are just going with the mainstream media herd and the uninformed drivel they are offering.

  5. As the SEC’s perennial butt-of-the-joke, Vol fans are tired. Fair or not, what Tennessee fans had to say prior to Schiano being hired pales in comparison to what our rivals’ worst trolls would’ve said afterward. To not want to be associated with the Penn State scandal, no matter how spuriously, isn’t unreasonable.


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