Tennessee athletic director John Currie on Monday defended the coaching search and vetting of leading candidate Greg Schiano, a day after the Volunteers backed out of the hiring agreement following a public backlash and campus protests.
The Vols reportedly had a deal in place with the Ohio State defensive coordinator on Sunday morning, but it fell through by the end of the day after the university heard from the fan base, state representatives and local business owners.
"We carefully interviewed and vetted him, as we do candidates for all positions," Currie said in the statement Monday. "He received the highest recommendations for character, family values and commitment to academic achievement and student-athlete welfare from his current and former athletics directors, players, coaching colleagues and experienced media figures."
Currie's statement did not give an explanation of why the potential deal collapsed Sunday night.
The outcry stemmed from Schiano's time on the staff at Penn State in the early 1990s, with fans expressing outrage with his alleged connection to convicted child sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky. Schiano spent five seasons at Penn State, four as the defensive backs coach on the staff with Sandusky, who was defensive coordinator.
Testimony released in 2016 brought up Schiano's name in the Sandusky trial. Former Penn State staffer Mike McQueary, from his 2015 deposition, said fellow assistant Tom Bradley told McQueary that Schiano was aware of a child sexual abuse incident by Sandusky.
Schiano, who coached under Joe Paterno at Penn State, has denied an allegation of his knowledge of child abuse by Sandusky. Bradley, defensive coordinator under recently fired UCLA coach Jim Mora, also denied having knowledge or witnessing any of Sandusky's abuse.
According to ESPN, about 100 people gathered on Tennessee's campus in Knoxville on Sunday to protest a potential Schiano hire once the news leaked, with many of them holding signs with various messages such as "Schia-NO."
At a huge rock on campus where students often paint various messages, the words "Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State" appeared Sunday.
Currie said in his statement that the Volunteers looked into Schiano's past, including his term at Penn State.
"Coach Schiano worked at Penn State from 1990-1995," Currie said.
"Consequently, we, of course, carefully reviewed the 2012 investigation report by Louis Freeh. Coach Schiano is not mentioned in the Freeh report and was not one of the more than 400 people interviewed in the investigation. We also confirmed that Coach Schiano was never deposed and never asked to testify in any criminal or civil matter. And, we conferred with our colleagues at The Ohio State University, who had conducted a similar inquiry after the 2016 release of testimony. I know that Coach Schiano will continue to have great success in his coaching career and wish him and his family well."
A memorandum of understanding was signed by Tennessee officials and Schiano on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. But when news broke that the Volunteers were close to finalizing a deal with Schiano, fans gathered outside Neyland Stadium to protest.
Schiano went 68-67 over 11 seasons at Rutgers after taking over one of the worst programs in the country. The Scarlet Knights made six bowl appearances under Schiano.
Schiano left for the NFL following the 2011 season and was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was fired after two seasons with an 11-21 record.
Schiano, 51, was out of coaching for two years, and he has spent the past two seasons as Urban Meyer's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator with the Buckeyes.
Meyer spoke out on Schiano's behalf during a conference call on Sunday previewing the Buckeyes' Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin.
"Greg's been a close friend for 20-plus years," Meyer said. "He's an elite person, elite father, elite husband, and that carries over to how he handles his players. Excellent coach, excellent person."
The Volunteers fired Butch Jones on Nov. 12, the day after they lost 50-17 at Missouri to fall to 0-6 in Southeastern Conference play. The Volunteers then lost their final two games to finish 4-8 overall and 0-8 in the conference. Jones had a 34-27 record in five seasons at Tennessee.
Currie said the search for other candidates continues.
"I am grateful for your patience as our search for the next leader for the Tennessee football program continues, and I look forward to making that introduction soon," Currie said in closing his statement.