To the surprise of nobody, Jim Tressel stepped down as head football coach of the Ohio St. Buckeyes this afternoon putting to end the speculation of what his future would be with the program he helped revive into a national power.
It was discovered leading up to their Sugar Bowl game vs. Arkansas that a few players on the team, of which Terrelle Pryor was one, had sold a variety of items including championship rings, jerseys, and other memorabilia in exchange for cash and free tatoos. They were deemed eligible to play in that game (a game they won 31-26) and were to be suspended for the first 5 games of this upcoming season.
At this point in time eyes turned to Jim Tressel and when it started to come out that he knew about the situation and tried to cover it up, college football fans around the country started hollering for him to be suspended as well, be it for Lack of Institutional Control or any other justifiable reason they could come up with. When Ohio St. announced two games, it was mocked unanimously. Two games for a coach who covered up an offense, a suspension that JUST SO HAPPENS would have him back on the sideline for the Miami game after a soft opening two. So Ohio St. pushed it to 5 games.
For months now, with the 5-game suspension out there, sportswriters and analysts all wondered how he could hang onto his job with the avalanche of evidence piling up against him. It seemed like at times more incriminating facts were coming out daily. Tressel maintained the whole time he was “just trying to protect the young people.” Whether you believe that or whether you believe he was covering his own tracks is for you to decide.
One thing is for certain: this had to happen.
Though I haven’t seen anything to validate this, I’m of the opinion that Tressel was likely given the choice to resign or get fired. There was just no way they could keep this guy on the sideline. The Buckeyes program which goes before the NCAA in August is looking at severe penalties most likely, penalties that probably should exceed those handed down to the Southern California program. And keeping this guy on the sidelines after the first 5 games this year would have been the equivalent of spitting in the NCAA’s face.
Some suggested suspend him for the whole season. What does that really accomplish though? If the penalty is severe enough that he should have to take an entire season off, isn’t it likely an offense that can easily justify a firing? Lets be honest here for a moment. The only reason Tressel wasn’t fired the day this news came out is because he has been highly successful over his tenure at Ohio St., winning a national championship and qualifying for two other NCGs as well as a variety of other BCS Bowls. He has been dominant against Michigan.
Yet Ohio St. had to remove themselves of the Jim Tressel era to save face. If they kept this guy around with these sanctions hanging over the program, how do they ever save face when they fire a coach down the road who commits violations that aren’t as severe. Because again, this punishment will likely be large due to his behind the scenes moves. Coaches certainly have been fired for doing less than this before and many will be fired for less in the future. At Ohio St. though, by not removing him as football coach, they remove any leverage they have to be a strict enforcer of NCAA rules in the future. They’d be hypocrites. Essentially any coach in the Buckeyes future who was fired for less would probably be fired because he didn’t win as much.
So now what is next? Well for Tressel it may be the end. He’s 58, has been a head coach for 24 years, coach in some form for over 30 and has been an Ohio man for the last 28 years or so. There’s not many places to go. If he wants to coach again, he’ll get a job somewhere. Some AD at a small school, or perhaps even a D-1 school that wants to fill its stadium will give him a chance with a short leash, but his options are limited and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he hangs them up.
For Ohio St., names like Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Jon Gruden are being thrown around and I’d be interested to see if the job truly is as appealing as they make it sound. The Buckeyes program is among the best in CFB in terms of their history, fanbase, etc. but I think some may be skeptical to step into those shoes until after the verdict from the NCAA comes down. So I’d hold off for now on penciling in another elite coach.
One storyline that hasn’t factored into this whole story much that I find interesting is the diminishing stardom of Terrelle Pryor. When Ohio St., Penn St., Michigan and Oregon were all fighting for his signing in 2008, this kid was supposed to be a once in a lifetime talent. He was considered the LeBron James of high school football and was going to be the next Vince Young/Tommy Frazier for whoever got him with Heisman Trophy aspirations. And yet, here we stand 3 years later as he prepares for his senior year and he’s out the first 5 games. The Buckeyes have not won any national championships and have only been to one Rose Bowl. For someone who was destined for stardom, Pryor has never quite matched the expectations and praise he was allegedly destined for.
The support behind Tressel is tremendous right now. Buckeyes fans stick by the sweater vest and display their loyalty and love for him in all kinds of ways. But as the years pass and maybe Ohio St. is left in a cloud of dust that takes years to walk out of, how long is it really until the tide turns and the feelings change? In the world of college athletics, reputations and memories can change in a flash and over the course of the last 5-6 months, we’ve seen a man go from one of the most prestigious in the land to out of a job.
Yet, I still have a hard time really feeling sorry for him….
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