Tim Reilly wrote a really good piece about the Greg Schiano and Tennessee fiasco earlier today.
This is a sidebar story addressing one of the questions contained therein.
Is Greg Schiano a good coach?
The cornball answer is “yes and no.” I don’t think he’s good enough for Tennessee, but what defines “good enough” for the Volunteers in 2017? They haven’t been all that relevant since Phil Fulmer left town back in 2008, taking 152 wins and a national title into the College Football Hall of Fame. That lead to a revolving door of Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, and a pair of interim coaches during a 57-56 run from 2009 to last week. They were bowl eligible in just five of those nine seasons and haven’t won the SEC East in 10 years.
So, no, the Vols aren’t what they used to be. But it’s still a prestige school in a prestige conference with a lot of history.
But let’s be clear here, this isn’t about what Greg Schiano did or didn’t know at Penn State during the Sandusky years. This is about Tennessee fans thinking they deserve a better football coach.
Schiano’s resume is a little tricky to navigate. I think “non-linear” would be a good way to describe it. Here’s a guy who turned around an awful Rutgers program, stayed way too long, then made the jump to the NFL when he had big colleges coming after him.
The Tampa Bay move never made sense. Schiano’s only NFL experience was a three-year stint as a Chicago Bears assistant and then defensive backs coach from 1996 to 1998. He went 11-21 in two seasons with the Buccaneers, finishing dead last in the NFC South both times. His tenure was plagued by poor relationships with his players, whom he reportedly treated like college kids. There was a little bit of Chip Kelly in him, right? The college coach comes in, doesn’t know how to work with grown men, makes some dumb decisions, and ultimately loses the locker room.
Schiano had a famous dust-up with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin after his team tried to torpedo Eli Manning during victory formation in a 41-34 loss:
His NFL coaching tenure was a disaster, but Rutgers was not.
The Scarlet Knights were coming off of seven straight losing seasons when Schiano was appointed in 2001. He went 3-20 in his first two years, including a stretch of games against West Virginia, Boston College, and Pittsburgh that were lost by a combined score of of 160 to 14. This was the old Big East, which still featured a powerhouse Miami, top-15 Virginia Tech, and middle of the pack squads that sported superstars like Dwight Freeney and Larry Fitzgerald.
The wins came, but slowly. Rutgers beat Navy and Syracuse in 2003 and knocked off Michigan State and Vanderbilt the following year. That set up the Knights for a 7-5 season in 2005 and the school’s first bowl bid since 1978. I remember that game like it was yesterday. Arizona State 45, Knights 40. It was a feel-good story for anybody claiming to be a college football fan. James Gandolfini was in the house, too. The Sopranos star was one of the New Jersey’s biggest names back then and became the celebrity face of the Rutgers rebirth.
2006 was probably the high water mark for Schiano and the new Big East. WVU was coming off a Sugar Bowl win and 11-1 season. Louisville had gone 9-3 in its first Big East campaign and Rutgers, of course, had high hopes for the year. In September, the three schools beat North Carolina, Miami, and Maryland, going 3-0 against the hated ACC, a conference that had just recruited Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech.
The rest of that season was a wildly enjoyable ride. Rutgers started out 9-0 with a win over the Cardinals, who had climbed to #3 in the national rankings. Check out the recap with a cameo from a former 94 WIP host:
Next game out, the Knights tripped up against Cincinnati, then lost the conference title in a triple-overtime game in Morgantown, settling for a 10-2 record and a Texas Bowl berth. Rutgers crushed Kansas State 37-10 for its first bowl win ever. Seriously. They had never won a bowl game in school history.
Ray Rice was a beast that year, running for 1,794 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was named Big East player of the year and a finalist for the Maxwell Award, which was given to Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. That Rutgers team was loaded with future NFL draft picks like Kenny Britt, Brian Leonard, Courtney Greene, Tiquan Underwood, Jeremy Zuttah, and Devin and Jason McCourty.
Schiano was a good recruiter back then. He kept New Jersey kids in New Jersey and used his Miami connections to create a pipeline of talent to Piscataway. When Paul Pasqualoni left Syracuse in 2004, Schiano convinced Rice and Greene, originally Orange commits, to play for him instead.
The 2007 season was a bit of a disappointment after the 11-2 campaign. Cincy and UConn were starting to improve and Rutgers finished 8-5 with a bowl win over Bowling Green. They went 8-5 in 2008 and 9-4 in 2009, winning two more bowl games against NC State and Central Florida.
The criticism, from what I remember, seemed to be that Schiano couldn’t win the big games. Not once did he beat West Virginia. He couldn’t beat Brian Kelly either, when Cincy was rolling out Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard and a bunch of studs. He snagged a couple of wins over Louisville but that conference title always eluded him, even when the Big East was slowly crumbling to the point of collapse.
By that point, Schiano could have gone anywhere. Michigan showed interest. Miami gave some thought to it after Randy Shannon was fired. Kelly, Bobby Petrino, Rich Rodriguez, and Randy Edsall all moved on to bigger schools but Schiano decided to stay for whatever reason.
Here we are then, with the current Ohio State defensive coordinator now blocked from the Tennessee job because of an outrageous fan backlash.
Anyway, the conclusion is this –
No, he’s probably not good enough for the Vols, even though their fans think they’re more important than they actually are. But Schiano did some great things at Rutgers and can still do great things at a similar school. I could see Schiano turning around a program like East Carolina or Connecticut. I could see him at a mid-tier ACC school like Pitt. Maybe he goes to a bottom-half Big 10 team like Indiana or Illinois. I don’t know if he’s a stylistic or geographic fit for the Big 12 or Pac 12.
Schiano does have success getting guys into the NFL. He coached Ed Reed, Jonathan Vilma, and Delco native Dan Morgan at Miami. Ten of his Rutgers players are still in the league. One, Mohamed Sanu, has thrown more touchdown passes in recent weeks than Dak Prescott.
As for Tennessee, I think they end up going with an internal type of guy, maybe somebody from the Fulmer coaching tree. David Cutcliffe says he’s happy at Duke, so go figure. Imagine saying that in 1997. Doug Marrone is coaching the Jaguars so he’s probably out. Apparently they’re looking at Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, whose Cowboys disappointed again this season. They can take Dana Holgorsen if they want, I wouldn’t mind.
Either way, the whole thing is kinda sad, but that’s what we do in 2017. We yell and bitch and complain under false pretenses.