One year ago today, as I woke up in the late morning, I learned that Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel had resigned. A couple of months before, when the news that Tressel had lied about rules violations became public knowledge, in a press conference, a reporter asked if Tressel was going to be dismissed. With all of the public savvy of Joe Biden, university president E. Gordon Gee infamously quipped, “I’m just hoping that the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” Later, Tressel coached in the spring game, and preparations were underway for the 2011 season.
But on Memorial Day, suddenly, the era was over. It was a dark day for the program and for the fans. For a decade, Tressel had been a source of stability. It had seemed like he was weathering the scandal. But then, suddenly, it was over.
The excuses were rampant. Some tried to argue that the players had gotten involved with some drug dealers who were bad people and that Tressel had just lied to protect their safety. That maybe the players could have been physically harmed. That there was a clear and present danger. It was merely an apologist tactic because the danger wasn’t there. We can believe that an altruistic coach lied to righteously save his players, but that’s simply not reality. He lied because he wanted to win.
Some viewed Tressel as a martyr, arguing that he had taken the fall for Gee and for athletic director Gene Smith. Once agian, there has never been proof of this, and it makes absolutely no sense. Why? Why would he have done that? One variation of the conspiracy theory was that Tressel actually had reported the violations to the university and tha the university had put its head in the sand. Again, there’s no evidence to support that.
Investigations have been done, and everything points to Tressel having the information and keeping it to himself.
In terms of his on the field performance, I will always respect Jim Tressel. With Urban Meyer, coming in as a two time national champion, expectations are sky high. After this first season’s bowl ban, in the minds of many Buckeye faithful, the question seems not to be “will they win” but “how many” national championships will Urban win? 6? 7? 12? Will he ever even lose a game?
We think (and I hope) that Meyer is going to be such an unbridled success. And while I think that he is going to have great teams, he will be hard pressed to be more successful as a coach than Jim Tressel. For some reason, even before the scandal, in the eyes of some Ohio State fans, Tressel was seen as second rate. Part of that frustration was due to an always conservative offense. But in terms of production and winning game, Tressel was amazing. In 10 years, he beat Michigan 9 times, went to 8 BCS Bowl games (winning 5 of them), he won eight 10-win seasons, and won the Big Ten title 7 times.
Le’s not forget going to the national championship three times (winning one). In his final six seasons, Tressel never lost more than 1 conference game in a single year. While he did have some frustratingly close games against bad teams, I can think of only one loss in his entire tenure where a truly better Ohio State team lost to an inferior opponent (2009 loss at Purdue).
With the tattoo scandal, actions of the players were the original sin, and if Terrell Pryor and company had not received benefits which were against NCAA rules, Tressel would still be the coach of this team. But they did break rules, and Tress knew about it. And Tress lied about it. After the initial news of this scandal, and with the heat which came on the program, the digging was going to continue. To think that Tressel was ever going to legitimately get this program back under control and restore the sense of pride which Ohio State fans expect was always just wishful thinking.
Tressel built a program around integrity with a philosophy of teachable moments through the game. When he found himself in a situation where he could have (and should have) done the right thing, he lied. He lied to the university and to the NCAA on multiple occasions. And he lived a lie every single day that he was aware that he had players who had broken the rules, while he carried on with a program with the facade that they were obeying the NCAA’s guidelines when he was fully aware that they were not. Even in his resignation, based on his handling of the situation, it wasn’t that Tressel had suddenly become honorable. He resigned because he was going to be fired. The university new the scandal was going to get worse and that another shoe was about to drop, and you can be sure that they told him to take himself out like how the Nazis took down Erwin Rommel.
On the day Jim Tressel resigned, I wrote: “The program is going to be all right. Tressel could have left now, or he would have been forced out later as the program kept declining as he continued to lose control. I say now is a better time than in the future, because with him leaving now, the rebuilding process can start and there is one less distraction.”
There is a renewed sense of optimism. Through all of the struggles the program endured over the past year, Ohio State has come out, seemingly on top with the best coach in America and the program seems to have a new sense of swagger.
Tressel should resign