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Ivey: Schiano controversy shows power of social media

| Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It’s that wonderful time of year. That time of year when the weather gets colder and we start seeing Christmas lights decorating neighborhood houses.

Of course, I am talking about the college football coaching carousel season.

Yes, that wonderful three to four week period beginning in late November through the early part of December where college football fans go on their favorite team’s online message boards and read about how “My friend knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who works at the local moving company who told him there are packages with (insert coach’s name here) belongings in them that are arriving in (insert college town name here).” That truly special time of year where fans flock to flight-tracking websites to look at any and every flight coming into town, speculating whether a possible coaching candidate is on board.

This season’s coaching carousel is bigger than the ones in previous years. We have already seen some pretty big dominoes fall, like UCLA hiring Chip Kelly and Florida hiring former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. Central Florida head coach Scott Frost is being linked to the vacant Nebraska job. There are rumors that Texas A&M will offer big money to try and lure Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher to College Station, Texas. There are many big-time jobs still open, at schools such as Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Arizona State.

Tennessee appeared to have closed its search on Sunday, when it was reported that current Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano was close to being hired to become the Vols’ new head coach.

Many Tennessee fans didn’t like the hire based upon Schiano’s less-than-stellar 68-67 overall record as Rutgers’ head coach and his 11-21 record as head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Many fans don’t like the reputation Schiano has as an old-time, hard-nosed coach who many former players still have negative feelings toward.

But the majority of fans hated the move due to Schiano’s connection with the Joe Paterno–Jerry Sandusky era at Penn State. Schiano was a defensive assistant coach at Penn State from 1990–95, and in 2016 former Penn State player and assistant coach Mike McQueary testified that Schiano knew about the sexual abuse by Sandusky during his time with the program. Schiano has denied ever having knowledge of the abuse.

Once news broke that Schiano was close to reaching a deal with the Tennessee administration to become the new head coach, protests broke out on social media and around the University’s campus. The hashtag #SchiaNO was trending on Twitter. Many Tennessee boosters and local politicians even joined in on the protest, saying they will no longer give their money and support to the football program if Schiano is hired. Many fans tweeted at Tennessee athletic director John Currie expressing disgust with the hire. A Knoxville, Tennessee, coffee shop tweeted: “Greg Schiano is not allowed in our establishment.” A famous landmark on the Tennessee campus is a large rock that students can paint messages on. A Sunday tweet shows a group of students wrote: “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State” on the rock in large lettering.

In the end the protests worked, and Tennessee backed out of its deal with Schiano late Sunday night. The whole episode was surreal, an instance in which fan backlash actually caused a school to not hire a coach.

Whatever your feelings are on the protests and the true reasoning behind them, whether they were mainly based on concerns over Schiano’s Penn State ties or his coaching ability, there is no denying that the event served as yet another shocking reminder of the true power social media has in today’s society. Social media has given people a public voice they have never had before. We’ve seen people react negatively towards things like commercials that can be considered offensive, and those ads are subsequently pulled. People have lost their jobs over questionable tweets or posts — just ask Curt Schilling.

After Sunday’s events, we can now say a social media campaign convinced a major college athletic program not to hire a head football coach. It will be interesting to see if this type of event will happen again in the near future.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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