Lawsuit Possible After University of Tennessee Scraps Hiring Greg Schiano as Football Coach

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UPDATE

7:40 pm central Monday

“The memorandum of understanding signed between Greg Schiano and University of Tennessee athletic director John Currie for Schiano to be Tennessee’s next head football coach was not signed by the university chancellor, chancellor’s office spokesperson Ryan Robinson told ESPN,” ESPN reported late Monday, adding:

Lawyers on both sides are expected to argue whether it’s still a binding legal document and whether Schiano is owed any compensation without the signature of Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport, who released a statement about the hiring fiasco Monday, saying, “I deeply regret the events of yesterday for everyone involved.”

Currie, in his first year as Tennessee’s athletic director, signed Schiano to a memorandum of understanding on Sunday. A plane was waiting in Columbus, Ohio, to bring Schiano to Tennessee that night and introduce him as the Volunteers’ coach. But Tennessee backed out of the memorandum of understanding following outrage by fans and state politicians when news broke that the Vols were finalizing a deal with Schiano, who’s in his second year as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator.

Memorandums of understanding are formal records of the understanding between the coach and the school as to the terms and conditions under which the university would employ the coach. They can be legally binding documents when signed and fully executed, and they often include full contract terms including salaries and bonuses.

Greg Schiano might have a legal case against the University of Tennessee if there was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by all required parties regarding his hire as head football coach, reports Sports Illustrated.

The school on Sunday decided against bringing Schiano on board after a backlash from Vols fans upset about Schiano’s alleged cover-up of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and his losing record and reputed autocratic style while head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Schiano currently is defensive coordinator for Ohio State, where he has done well. In a statement Monday morning, John Currie, vice chancellor and athletic director for the University of Tennessee, said Schiano was “carefully interviewed and vetted.”

There reportedly was an MOU, although there has been no official statement about one. Schiano could be entitled to damages if there was an MOU similar to others the University of Tennessee has drawn up in the past, according to Sports Illustrated. Universities often use MOUs as a way to allow coaches to take up some of their responsibilities before the official hiring process is completed. Michael McCann, the legal analyst for Sports Illustrated, wrote:

It is very possible, if not likely, that Schiano and Tennessee avert a lawsuit over the awkward end of their brief courtship. Attorneys for both sides could work out a settlement that is considered mutually acceptable. Even if Schiano is angry about how Tennessee treated him, he may not want to expend the necessary time and energy to wage a lawsuit against the school. Instead, he probably wants to return his professional focus to serving as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator—especially with the Buckeyes playing Wisconsin this Saturday in the Big Ten championship game.

Schiano also knows that bringing a lawsuit against Tennessee could negatively impact how schools consider him for future head coaching jobs. Schools may be leery of negotiating with Schiano if such negotiations fail and lead to a potential lawsuit.

But if Schiano and Tennessee can’t work out an agreement and if Schiano wants to explore a potential legal case, he and his attorneys would likely focus on a claim for breach of contract.

Schiano previously worked at Rutgers and Penn State. In the early 1990s, he was defensive backs coach at Penn State under Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator now in prison for sexually abusing young boys. Another former Penn State assistant coach testified in a related civil suit that he had heard that Schiano had witnessed Sandusky molesting a boy. Schiano has denied it and was never charged or accused by others in the case as being part of a cover-up.

Here is the full text of Currie’s statement about Schiano:

As we began our search for our next head football coach earlier this month, I promised that I would pour all my energy and effort into this process.

I have followed Coach Schiano’s accomplishments throughout his career and have been fortunate to get to know him and his family over the last several years. As reported by the media, he was a leading candidate for our position. Among the most respected professional and college football coaches, he is widely regarded as an outstanding leader who develops tough, competitive teams and cares deeply about his student-athletes.

We carefully interviewed and vetted him, as we do candidates for all positions. 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.

Coach Schiano worked at Penn State from 1990-1995. 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.

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.

Some outside of Tennessee are characterizing Vols fans as an angry mob who made a rush to judgment about Schiano. Writing for NJ.com, columnist Steve Politi wrote that a “hate-filled mob” is “taking a snippet of courtroom testimony that amounts to nothing more than hearsay in the Jerry Sandusky case and using it to ruin a man’s reputation and maybe his career.”

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