Well, that was fun.
After a seven-hour cycle that started with Greg Schiano to Tennessee news and ended with fan backlash resulting in the deal being no more tonight, John Currie and Tennessee are left with a daunting question: What now?
Tennessee’s fanbase made one thing loud and clear today: “We will be heard.”
You’ve probably heard of “Vol Twitter,” which makes it presence known week in and week out in the SEC.
Recruits know, or at least these UA All-Americans knew, almost a year ago.
81 Under Armour All-Americans were asked which fan base was most annoying on social media, and Tennessee was listed at No. 1 by 9 prospects.
— Jeremy Crabtree (@jeremycrabtree) December 28, 2016
Today, “Vol Twitter” became more than a social media moniker. “Vol Twitter” became part of “Vol Nation,” a force that grew from tweet storms to business memos to political statements. Fans stormed Neyland Stadium and the Anderson Training Center, the hub for Currie and all things Tennessee Athletics.
They changed more than just one mind. Currie might have had the ultimate say, but the nation was on alert for what was happening in Knoxville. However, no one heard those alerts louder than Currie, who will return to that same Anderson Training Center and face quite possibly the most important crossroad of his career.
Where does he start? New candidates? Addressing the public?
Whose opinion does Currie have to serve most? While Schiano was possibly the most disliked candidate Currie could’ve rolled out for the job, the fans’ expectations for this hire only go up after Sunday’s massive failure.
Is there even a way Currie makes it out of this coaching search with approval from fans?
You could easily argue against it. Tennessee fans were teased with “Grumors,” trolled with flight plans and airport stakeouts and shut out from any information. The build-up culminated and burst like a dam today, flooding Currie with every problem he didn’t want at the beginning of this coaching search.
Public backlash? Check.
Potential bad hire? Check.
Disconnect with the public? Check.
Currie invited Vol fans to dinner, served them a meal they were allergic to, then ordered pizza to salvage the night before Vol fans could storm out.
Do you think Tennessee fans are ready to come over for dinner again?
Even more of an issue to Currie is who’s left for Tennessee. Potential top candidate Dan Mullen is off the board, to rival Florida no less. White whale Jon Gruden has presumably said no, and no Grumors can improve Vol fans’ demeanor now.
Scott Frost to Nebraska seems more likely with each passing hour. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell assured Cyclone fans he was there to stay. Even if not, his $9 million-plus buyout gets tougher after Currie has shown his hand.
That leaves Mike Leach, Willie Taggart, Mike Norvell, Jeff Brohm, Brent Ventables, Mike Bobo, David Clawson, David Cutcliffe… and who else? Lane Kiffin? If that list wasn’t skimpy enough, imagine the response Currie will get by these coaches and their agents after nearly hiring someone else.
Do you think those guys are coming over for dinner so willingly after being denied an invitation in favor for someone else? Tennessee has lost bargaining chips and leverage with any coach that has reason to play the negotiation game.
If there’s any silver lining in Sunday’s mess, Currie might be able to find it: There are plenty of people willing to talk about the hire. If I was Currie, I’d be consulting as many folks as I could.
After Sunday, there’s not much Currie can do to stop the bleeding. It’ll take a miracle to change Vol fans’ perception of Currie, and maybe something bigger to land a coach that’ll be viewed as a successful hire. He’s been Tennessee’s athletic director for almost nine months to the day, but he needs the opinions of anyone and everyone who have been in Knoxville for that long or much, much longer.
There probably isn’t a happy ending, at least not for Currie. Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel is reporting that Tennessee backed out of a signed Memorandum of Understanding, meaning Schiano will be looking for compensation from Tennessee. If Currie and the athletics department pay that and face an underwhelming hire, Currie’s nine months might not make it to 12.
A month ago, he was in the shadows behind a head coach whose seat was as hot as any in the country.
Now, Currie’s in the spotlight, and it’s not the seat-warmers turning up the temperature in his chair.