Tennessee athletic director John Currie is defending the process of his coaching search and vouching for the character of Greg Schiano one day after negotiations between the two parties broke down amid public backlash.
Currie issued a statement Monday acknowledging that the Ohio State defensive coordinator was a leading candidate for the Volunteers' coaching vacancy without explaining why the two sides parted ways.
Currie said Tennessee "carefully interviewed and vetted" Schiano and that the former Rutgers and NFL coach "received the highest recommendations."
Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport issued a statement saying, "I deeply regret the events of yesterday for everyone involved.'' Davenport added that "the university remains steadfast in its commitment to excellence, and I look forward to John Currie continuing the search'' for a new coach.
The school and Schiano were close to an agreement Sunday before the deal fell apart after a protest on campus and complaints on social media from fans, state representatives and gubernatorial candidates.
Their complaints stemmed from Schiano's background as an assistant at Penn State during Jerry Sandusky's tenure as the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator. Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for his conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse.
Court documents released last year of a deposition related to the Sandusky case suggested that Schiano might have been aware of Sandusky's sexual abuse of children, though Schiano says he had no knowledge of what was happening at the time.
"We carefully interviewed and vetted him, as we do candidates for all positions," Currie said in his statement. "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."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he wasn't involved in the search but added that he doesn't "think anybody looks at the way everything came down yesterday and says that's the way it should happen.''
Schiano tweeted in 2016 that he never saw abuse or had any reason to suspect it while working at Penn State. He worked for late head coach Joe Paterno from 1990 to '95, starting as a graduate assistant and then as defensive backs coach.
Anthony Lubrano, a trustee at Penn State since 2012, said in statement Monday that Schiano "had nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal."
"Any stories about his involvement are completely uncorroborated and without basis in fact," Lubrano said in the statement. "To impugn Mr. Schiano's character based on hearsay alone is irresponsible and unfair.
"It is disappointing that University of Tennessee officials have been influenced by the voices [and keyboards] of a grossly uninformed social media mob. Had they sought to understand the truth of the matter, and stood firm in their offer, they would have seen firsthand the benefits of hiring a man of high integrity and strong character."
Tennessee (4-8, 0-8 SEC) is looking to fill its coaching vacancy following the Nov. 12 firing of Butch Jones.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said that Tennessee had been in contact with Schiano, and he spoke out on Schiano's behalf Sunday during a conference call previewing the Buckeyes' Big Ten championship game with Wisconsin.
"Greg's been a close friend for 20-plus years," Meyer said. "He's an elite person, elite father, elite husband, and that carries over to how he handles his players. Excellent coach, excellent person."
Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley told ESPN that Schiano has not addressed Sunday's events with the Buckeyes.
"It's very unfortunate he didn't get [the Tennessee job]," Worley told ESPN. "It's a great situation to be able to be a head coach. At the end of the day, I'm happy that the Buckeyes get to keep him for now at least. He got a lot of bad rep because of that, a lot of [it] undeserved.
"He's a hell of a guy. He's a guy who knows his football. He has a great football mind."
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg and Dan Murphy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.