DALLAS — Greg Schiano stood up in front of his defense, addressed what was surely one of the strangest days of his professional life and then made it clear he still felt blessed to be at Ohio State.
And once that was out of the way, the Buckeyes defensive coordinator — and briefly would-be next coach at Tennessee — moved on to putting in a game plan to go win a Big Ten championship.
From an Ohio State perspective, the matter was closed. From a legal standpoint, the finish line is still somewhere off in the distance. And for Schiano himself, the sting of that bizarre Sunday and the protests of his prospective hire Rocky Top are likely to last quite a bit longer.
That’s still a conversation that will publicly have to wait for another day, with Schiano again declining ahead of the Cotton Bowl to go into any details about his perspective of what transpired. But in private, Schiano hasn’t hid anything from the Buckeyes, which has only strengthened the bond between coach and player as the program unexpectedly starts to look forward to a third season with him calling the defensive shots.
“I just was waiting to hear the story from him,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “I knew he would clear everything up and tell us what happened. He told us exactly what happened. They lost a good opportunity in getting him. I’m sure whatever their reasons were, it wasn’t a valid reason to keep something that happened so long ago or something he probably wasn’t involved in and hold that against him. It’s whatever, but I’m glad he’s still here.
“He seemed a little bit shaken up or a little bit down about the situation. It’s just a lot to have on your plate and he was a little stressed out, so we tried to make practice easy on him and just go really hard and get the win for him.”
The Buckeyes got that win, and a Big Ten title, thanks in part to another impressive performance from Schiano’s Silver Bullets. Now they’re aiming for one more victory and another trophy to cap the season, this time with another significant challenge in front of them Friday in USC and touted quarterback Sam Darnold.
Ohio State was always going to have Schiano around for that matchup with Wisconsin in Indianapolis, regardless of how things played out in Tennessee. It is possible, however, that he might not have been in Texas this week if a segment of the Tennessee fan base hadn’t worked to sabotage his return to the head-coaching ranks. That hypothetical scenario doesn’t matter much now, and Schiano is putting off all those conversations at the moment.
But it’s clear that the first couple days after missing out on his chance to take over the Vols weren’t easy on anybody, which is probably one reason why Schiano’s smile walking off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium earlier this month was so wide.
“You know what, this game is so big for our program and our kids and our coaching staff, our university, I still think it’s inappropriate,” Schiano said of talking about the Tennessee experience. “Now there will be a time, I really think there will be a time when it’s appropriate for me to speak about all that. And when I do, that will be good.
“I’m very blessed to work at what I think is the finest institution in the country with the best coaching staff and the best players. So certainly I’m biased, right? That’s my place, but it’s awesome. Any circumstance, it’s awesome to work there. I consider myself blessed to be a coach there.”
Ohio State will take Schiano as long as he wants to stick around. The Buckeyes definitely weren’t counting on that happening past two years given his track record in rebuilding Rutgers from practically nothing and the work he’s done coordinating one of the nation’s toughest defenses.
But the Buckeyes have stood squarely behind him throughout the entire ordeal, and the way he’s handled a difficult situation has only enhanced an already-sterling reputation within the program.
“I heard about it the night before, so before they even started doing all that [protesting], I asked Coach Schiano, ‘People on the team are hearing it, I’m hearing it, what’s the deal?’” linebacker Chris Worley said. “And he told me about the job offer and that he was thinking about it, but he said something that stuck with me. It put me at a good place just to know what he was thinking. At the end of the day, he still has been blessed with so much throughout his life and it was so hard for him to walk away from this team. That’s just honest conversation with two grown men.
“After that, after all the protests and all the stuff started hitting the fan, I was just thinking like: What this man just said to me about how blessed he is and all that, these people are basically going to sabotage this opportunity for this man. The great coach he is, he could have definitely helped that university.”
Instead Schiano will keep helping Ohio State and all those players who sat there listening to him open up about a disappointing chapter in his coaching career.
And behind closed doors, both he and the Buckeyes have already turned the page.