The best part about college football has always been the fans. We saw that this week at Toomer’s Corner which was blanketed in Charmin after Auburn beat Alabama. We also saw when those fans got carried away, though. The coaching carousel was in full effect last weekend, and coaches that were doing a “just fine” job were shown the door because delusion took hold of a fan base and wouldn’t let go. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham was fired Sunday after beating rival Arizona the day before. His Sun Devils had a winning record at 7-5, and he went 46-31 in six seasons, with two ten-win seasons and two bowl wins. He was the definition of capability, providing stability to a program that has rarely had it. In a press conference announcing the move, the Sun Devils’ athletic director said that he wasn’t OK with playing in “minor” bowl games, and he called anyone who thought he was a little over-ambitious, “misguided, they are living in the past.”

That’s Arizona State. It’s a basketball school. They’ll be hard pressed to find someone better.

This happens all the time. Coaches are let go because the known commodity is so much more boring than the unknown. Texas A&M fired Kevin Sumlin because they think there’s a shot that they can poach Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. Good luck with that. Once a fan base’s imagination starts turning, it’s impossible to slow it down.

What I’ve never seen before—and I’m pretty sure nobody has ever seen before—is a fan base playing judge, jury, and executioner at once, forcing a coach out before he had even signed on the dotted line. Greg Schiano is a perfectly fine football coach. He should be at his introductory press conference in Knoxville right now. Instead, he’s back in the office, still Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, left scratching his head wondering what happened and whether or not he’ll ever have a chance to be a head coach again after that.

Tennessee athletic director John Currie

A quick recap of what went down yesterday. News broke Sunday morning that Tennessee had reached an agreement with Schiano. The backlash was immediate. It seemed to start with Clay Travis, a sportswriter and Tennessee alum.

He continued:

He tweeted out the athletic director’s phone number and in a post on his site, wrote:

“What is the fucking rush here? Who else is going to hire Greg Schiano? You don’t take home a five from the bar at seven at night.

Literally no one else with a top forty job is hiring Greg Schiano this offseason.

No one.”

Travis’ gripe seems to be more with the decision to hire someone he deems unqualified than someone he perceives to be a criminal. His mention of the Penn State scandal is seemingly thrown out to bolster his point. But that afterthought of Travis’ is what caught and turned into a wild fire.

Congressmen jumped in on the debate.

So did gubernatorial candidates:

A small group of fans gathered at the stadium to protest. Others painted “The Rock”.

A local coffee shop even banned him from their premises.

I’ll give them this: the fan base was united, and—ultimately—successful. By afternoon, Tennessee had moved on from Schiano.

Where Vols fans went wrong was uniting around moot rumors. The claims come from the testimony of former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary who said that he had heard that Schiano had gone to another assistant to report that he had witnessed Jerry Sandusky “doing something with a boy” a decade earlier. McQueary never worked with Schiano nor did he seemingly know him. It was the only mention of Schiano anywhere in the case—textbook hearsay and a story that was denied both by Schiano and under oath by the assistant to whom the abuse was reportedly detailed. McQueary for his part, was questioned numerous other times, and he never mentioned Schiano again. The Pennsylvania attorney general and Penn State’s own investigation never seemed interested in looking into Schiano. He might have seen something, but there’s more than enough reasonable doubt to call him innocent.

Former colleagues came out of the woodwork to defend him. Here’s former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik:

Then there are stories from his time at Rutgers:

But none of the defenses mattered. It didn’t matter that the allegations were largely unsubstantiated. It didn’t matter that those who know him vouched for his character. Tennessee fans didn’t want a coach with a 68-67 record at Rutgers and an 11-21 record with the Bucs, so they grabbed onto a rumor and let it run its course.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Yes, college football has always been about the fans, but they’ve never ruled it. That job has always been left to a complex array of coaches, administrators, boosters, and for a while, a computer. Tennessee fans upended that hierarchy yesterday, and it reminded me of something that I saw in government class, when we were learning that the founding fathers were actually somewhat afraid of democracy. They didn’t trust the public. John Marshall once wrote, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.” What we saw yesterday was actually something quite extraordinary, a complete reversal of a decades old system. It was chaotic—college football’s Arab Spring. Fans have always been the ones buying tickets and tuning in on Saturdays, but no fan base has ever had such a direct impact on their team. Administrators were forced to act. Their fan base was in open revolt.

How it changes the future outlook of college sports remains to be seen; this could just be a fan base catching lightning in a bottle, an imperfect hire and a perfect grievance to levy against it. I’d bet this changes the landscape, though, albeit in a much more limited sense. Fans won’t dictate every move in college football from here on out, but their impact is greater now than it has ever been. If they want a coach fired, they can mount a more serious campaign than ever before. For the sport to have any semblance of legitimacy, fans will need to yield this responsibility much more carefully than Tennessee just demonstrated. We don’t need coaches run off for winning only eight games, or a quarterback black-balled because he threw a poorly timed interception. Administrators and coaches should be accountable, yes, but they shouldn’t be afraid of mob-created skeletons taking them down. I’m not sure we should be placing so much power in college football fans’ hands, though. They’re not the most rational breed. Look no further than the fact that they just dusted off the torches and pitchforks to soil a man’s reputation because he barely has a winning record as a head coach.

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