By Alex Norman
It is a day that will go down in the annals of the history of the University of Tennessee.
Not just UT’s athletics history, but the entire University.
Sunday, November 26, 2017. The date that Tennessee athletics director John Currie expected to introduce Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as the 26th head coach in the history of the Tennessee Volunteers football team.
Instead, it was the day that Tennessee fans said, “enough is enough.”
Ever since Phillip Fulmer was fired near the end of the 2008 football season, the Volunteers football program had been mediocre at best. No SEC East titles. Only four wins in 27 games against their biggest rivals (Georgia, Florida, Alabama). And yet the fans still packed Neyland Stadium time and time again, paying high prices for tickets when they could just sit in front of their televisions at home.
Off the field the UT athletics department was a place of upheaval, controversy and sadness. From the firing of Bruce Pearl, to the ill-advised Lady Vols name change, to the dismissal of long time AD stalwarts like Bud Ford and Debby Jennings, the UT athletics program didn’t look very much like it had in the past.
The botched hiring of Donnie Tyndall, the tragic death of Pat Summitt, the insane all-coaches press conference, the Title IX lawsuit… the hits just kept on coming.
The day after Tennessee finished the 2017 season with a 4-8 record (the most losses in program history), word leaked that Currie was dotting the i’s on a contract with Schiano.
The outrage in Big Orange Country was nearly universal. Schiano had a loose and unproven connection to the Sandusky scandal at Penn State. It mattered not that Schiano had never even been questioned by the authorities. Many Vols fans were outraged that on the heels of a Title IX lawsuit, Tennessee would pick someone whose reputation was not pristine.
Other fans knew about his issues with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he failed miserably and lost the locker room. Some fans pointed to his temper and the way he treated visiting NFL scouts. And while his record at Rutgers was impressive (because it was Rutgers), it came at a time when the Big East was kitten soft.
For all of those reasons and many others, the selection of Greg Schiano was a terrible choice. Plus, he was seemingly one of Currie’s top picks, despite no other school making inquiries for Schiano during that coaching cycle.
For years, Vols fans had shown overwhelming support, whether it was Lane Kiffin or Derek Dooley or Butch Jones. But Greg Schiano was the last straw.
That Sunday afternoon, while a press conference was being scheduled for that evening at Neyland Stadium, Tennessee fans took to social media to express their displeasure. Currie’s cell phone number was posted on the internet, and fans flooded it with angry calls and texts. Others in the Tennessee athletic department and administration had to deal with the same responses. Fans emailed. They took to the Tony Basilio and Fox Sports Knoxville airwaves. Hundreds protested in front of the UT football complex. State politicians expressed their concerns.
This was a wild scene. It was something that had never taken place before in collegiate athletics. There was a time when you wouldn’t even know the coach hired until they walked to the podium. Tennessee fans were trying to stop the podium from even being operational.
Finally, Currie realized it wasn’t going to calm down. He pulled the job offer. Vols fans had stood as one and stopped the hire. In the days to come most national media members ripped Tennessee fans for their actions that day, but those Vols supporters didn’t back down. They took pride in standing tall at that moment in the history of their program.
Later that week, Currie would be fired, Fulmer would be hired to take his place, and the following week Fulmer would hire Jeremy Pruitt to become Tennessee’s football coach.
It’s been one year since that memorable day. Pruitt has coached through a regular season and Fulmer has calmed the UTAD waters.
We’ll never see the likes of something like Schiano Sunday again.