Trial By Mob and the New Social Media

Tennessee is looking for a football coach. Again. And in this sordid tale lies a lesson in all of us that portends the future.

After five lousy years, the University of Tennessee fired its football coach and after an extensive search, this past weekend they offered the job to Greg Schiano. Since 1995 Mr. Schiano has been a head coach at Rutgers University and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an assistant at Ohio State and Miami as well as the Chicago Bears. Prior to 1995 he was an assistant at Penn State for Joe Paterno. And Joe Paterno was the guy that turned a blind eye to another assistant coach, Jerry Sanduskey and allowed him to get away with molesting young boys for years.

Both Joe Paterno and Jerry Sanduskey got what they deserved courtesy a very public blood letting.

Fast forward to this past weekend when the University of Tennessee lets its fans know they’ve hired Mr. Schiano to be their head coach and before you can sing Rocky Top, east Tennessee’s social media went berzerk and blamed Greg Schiano for enabling every bit of Jerry Sanduskey’s child molestation.

“If UT actually cared about us you wouldn’t be getting ready to hire a supporter of child molestation and rape as the new football head coach.”

“Schiano covered up rape at Penn State”

And on and on.

Forget the fact that Greg Schiano was exonerated by the intense legal investigation that followed, or that he was good enough to get hired by two pro teams and two colleges in the years following. He was found guilty by a jury of Twitter and Facebook users and that was enough for the University of Tennessee. Mr. Schiano was fired by the end of the day. And my Dad promptly rolled over in his grave.

Dad was a judge in south Louisiana and he was routinely questioned on the outcome of many a sensational trial. People that had never set foot in his courtroom, much less bothered to read the trial’s transcripts would quickly pronounce judgement based on their skimming of a 500-word newspaper story. They would call him at home, stop him in the grocery store, or yell at him at a traffic light and demand an answer.

His response was always the same. “Were you at the trial because it lasted four and a half days and I don’t recall seeing you in my courtroom.”

So with respect to the University of Tennessee, I’ve got a couple of questions.

Q) Did they properly vet Mr.Schiano?

A) Definitely

Q) Did they anticipate a possible social media response to his Penn State background?

A) Maybe

So why the hell wasn’t someone at the University able to take a stand and tell their social media crowds they’ve done their due diligence and you’re over reacting? Jeez…

Who’s going to take this head coaching job now knowing that they could be fired by a bunch of Twitter users? Heck for that matter, why bother with a coach at all when you could have the fans calling plays from the stands via a Facebook update or an Instagram hashtag?

So what can we learn from this incident? This knee jerk reaction via Facebook isn’t going away so if you’re in a leadership position and you have to make a tough decision, you better be prepared for a possible social media frenzy. And when that happens, unlike the University of Tennessee, you’ll need to stand straight, look directly at the cameras, and respond; “Were you at the trial because it lasted four and a half days and I don’t recall seeing you in my courtroom.”

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