12 days until the 12th hour: New information shared in recalling Tenneessee’s coaching search

John Currie, Greg Schiano, Phil Fulmer and Jeremy Pruitt.

The messages arrive in a relatively slow drip, like a tryptophan IV as Thanksgiving wends itself into the final weekend of college football’s regular season.

From campus, “Starting to hear Greg Schiano’s name more, but it sounds like it’s just to gauge reaction.”

From a respected media colleague, “I don’t know what you’re hearing your way, but lot of folks are going to be surprised if it isn’t Greg Schiano to Tennessee.”

“Lotta Schiano smoke. Any fire?” reads another message.

By Saturday night, two days following Thanksgiving, as Brady Hoke is forced to own the final, record-setting eighth loss of Butch Jones’ final Crayola canvas, Schiano talk persists, but boosters, players, their families and University of Tennessee employees still are not believing the possibility of Schiano, Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, as not only the end result, but what proves to be the clear beginning, middle and end destination of choice for then-UT athletics director John Currie.

Midday Sunday, Dan Wolken is reporting that Schiano-to-the-Hill is nearly a done deal. Four different people answer texts about Schiano; only one believes Schiano is a serious candidate.

Fans are growing antsy, especially on the precipice of impending true mover-shaker hires at rival Florida, as well as Nebraska and UCLA. Each school essentially gets its man, or at the very least gets the guy someone else – or many someones – wants to hire.

Tennessee, among the richest of the rich departments in college athletics and specifically football, is going to not even hire a sitting head coach and in the process, not hire either of the non-sitting football masterminds – Jon Gruden or Chip Kelly – for which fans gladly are willing to overlook their current roles as branded broadcasters?

“The first search was a complete Jimmy Haslam fiasco,” says Knoxville-area media personality Tony Basilio, whose branded radio shows and Web site are renowned outlets in Vol Nation for the “common fan’s” viewpoint. “It was Cleveland Browns-level incompetence on the college level for all to see. The decision to ever get involved with Schiano was obviously tone deaf.

“If you were going to hire Schiano, the last thing Tennessee should’ve done was wait to spring this on the fan base that was already wounded after suffering through the first eight-loss season in school history. But Currie loved to conduct the search in secrecy. He’s the same guy that thought it was funny that Tennessee fans believed Jon Gruden was about to be named head coach.

“The way I look at it is like this: Dan Wolken broke the Schiano story, and Big Orange Country broke that story over our collective knee.”

A move that seems ready to break the spirit of Tennessee’s fan base instead does something altogether different: ignites a real-life, digital grassroots campaign through tweets and Periscopes and streaming audio to thwart the Schiano hire. Basilio leads the on-air charge. Jon Reed, a younger, but similarly relatable new-age voice in the Knoxville market, is openly disgusted. Reed heads to campus and leads a peaceful, pointed rally against Schiano. Flocks of students attend; area TV crews film the scene.

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