KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie is defending his coaching search and vouching for the character of Greg Schiano a day after negotiations between the two parties broke down amid a public backlash.

Currie issued a statement Monday acknowledging the Ohio State defensive coordinator had been a leading candidate for the Volunteers’ coaching vacancy without explaining why the two sides parted ways.

“Among the most respected professional and college football coaches, he is widely regarded as an outstanding leader who develops tough, competitive teams and cares deeply about his student-athletes,” Currie said.

The school and Schiano were close to an agreement Sunday before the deal fell apart after heavy criticism from fans, state lawmakers 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 in a case related to the Sandusky scandal suggested Schiano might have been aware of Sandusky’s sexual abuse against children, though Schiano has said he never saw abuse or had any reason to suspect it while working at Penn State.

Currie said Tennessee “carefully interviewed and vetted” Schiano and that the former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach “received the highest recommendations.”

OHIO STATE: Coach Urban Meyer said quarterback J.T. Barrett (knee) is “probable” to play in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday.

IOWA STATE: Coach Matt Campbell and the Cyclones agreed to a new six-year deal worth $22.5 million.

MINNESOTA: Starting quarterback Demry Croft intends to transfer to another program.