Tennessee, Greg Schiano, and the power of social media in college sports
Yesterday was quite the day. Without going into the full details (USA Today has a good recap here), the rundown is that Tennessee was rumored to be announcing Greg Schiano as their new football coach on Sunday afternoon/evening. Schiano is the current defensive coordinator at Ohio State. As soon multiple outlets confirmed that report, Twitter came to life and eventually, reports have come out stating that the hire will not happen. Schiano’s name came up in the Sandusky scandal (he was a GA at Penn State at the time) and Tennessee fans on Twitter were not happy. Tennessee legislators and local businesses even got in on the Twitter action, demanding the Vols go a different direction.
— Beth Harwell (@BethHarwellTN) November 26, 2017
Our Tennessee standards mean something, and a Greg Schiano hire would be anathema to all that our University and our community stand for. I sincerely hope that these rumors are not true, because even serious consideration would be unacceptable.
— Eddie Smith (@RepEddieSmith) November 26, 2017
Greg Schiano is not allowed in our establishment.
— Remedy Coffee (@remedy_coffee) November 26, 2017
The White House Press Secretary even got involved.
There’s a lot to break down here and we’re just going to scratch the surface.
It’s easy to dismiss social media chatter as “fanatics” who don’t have a real impact on your program. And there is certainly some truth to that. We have often said that the great thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice. Also, the terrible thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice.
But this went beyond that. This went deeper than message board conspiracies to media members, businesses (potential sponsors?) and state politicians. Protests on campus were organized, the online mob grew louder, John Currie (AD at Tennessee) had his phone number (both office and cell) and email address posted to Twitter. The situation became so toxic that both parties disengaged.
We talk often about social media being used as a tool in the hiring process, but the story that isn’t often told is the power that fans now have. With social media, those voices (positive or negative) spread quickly. It becomes a snowball that grows larger and larger as it barrels down the mountain, taking out whatever (and whomever) gets in the way. And this time, what got in the way were a coach (and his family), an athletics director and athletics department.
AD’s have to not only have the pulse on their department, but on the fan base. With social media, fans are going to find every potential red flag a candidate could have. ADs and search committees no doubt do the same due diligence. Then they weigh whether those red flags are something they can overcome and “win” in the press conference and on the field/court, or if they’re enough of an issue to pass. Tennessee believe this to be the former (and I’m not here to place judgement on whether Schiano should or should not have been hired). *FWIW, Dan Wetzel covered the Penn State scandal as well as anyone and had this to say about Schiano’s involvement (or lack thereof) and the chaos that went down yesterday.
The problem is that they completely missed. They missed on how their fans would react, on how quickly the firestorm would last and on just how toxic the red flags were. They missed how influential social media can truly be. The outcry became digitally deafening. And it was enough of a crisis to cause an athletics department to back out of their decision, to change course. A coach was fired before he was every officially announced as hired.
Where we go from here is yet to be seen, but it certainly adds significant pressure to the already pressure-packed position of being a college athletics director.
Yesterday, the full power of sports fan Twitter was on full display. Whether that’s good or bad is yet to be determined, but today is one that will be talked about for years to come. And it’s certainly something we’ll discuss on our panel at the NCAA Convention in January, where we look at What AD’s Should Know About Social Media.
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