Tressel Digs His Hole a Little Deeper
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 25, 2011
We were recently entertained by the musings of the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi, who voiced his opinion that Urban Meyer would replace Jim Tressel at Ohio State as early as 2012, when the latter’s missteps would force Ohio State’s hand in dismissing its national title-winning coach. Four days ago, the consensus — in this space and elsewhere — was that the support system in place for Tressel, one that included the university’s president and athletic director, was too strong to entertain the notion that this could be his last season along the sidelines in Columbus, five-game suspension or otherwise.
That was four days ago, before it was revealed that not only did Tressel hide extremely pertinent information from his superiors — not to mention federal investigators — in strict violation of his contract, he did so despite sharing that same information with the man deeply involved with Ohio State’s star quarterback.
How to go from bad to worse in four days; or, how to lose your job in four days; or, how to extinguish the goodwill accumulated over a decade in four days; or, how to go from the penthouse to the outhouse in four days. You get the idea. The lesson we can pass on to the young is simple: it’s one thing to lie, but another to perpetuate the original lie with lie upon lie, lie upon lie, until you’re defined by the story you’ve woven.
Welcome to Jim Tressel’s world. It began with a damaging, but survivable offense: he discovered via conversations with a Columbus lawyer, Christopher Cicero, that five of his players — you know the names — were trading various pieces of team paraphernalia in violation of N.C.A.A. standards. If Tressel opens up at this point, back roughly a year ago, his players get suspended, the program suffers, but he is a clear survivor.
Instead, he stayed quiet. He doesn’t tell his immediate superiors, even if his contract stipulates he must do just that in such situations. He lied then, continues to lie throughout the summer and was far from forthright earlier this month when a Yahoo! Sports report broke the lid on Tressel’s early knowledge of his players’ misconduct.
It’s now clear that Tressel was looking out for himself and his players, in that order, ahead of the good of the university and its athletic department. That he contacted Terrelle Pryor’s mentor — or handler, as some have called him — instead of Gene Smith or Gordon Gee shows that the trust that pair has in Tressel is far from reciprocated, which should place additional strain on the threesome’s already tenuous relationship.
So what can Ohio State do? I see three options:
1. Fire Tressel now. No one would argue with this decision: Tressel has done enough over the last 10-12 months to justify his dismissal, even if big-time athletic departments are far more willing to be lenient with a winner like Tressel. The simple truth is that Tressel has committed the four cardinal sins of college coaching — he broke the rules, he lied about breaking the rules, he violated his contract and he brought shame upon his university.
2. Place him on probation. This seems like Ohio State’s best option if it wishes to keep Tressel in the fold. Allow the N.C.A.A. to make its own judgment about Tressel and the program, but follow that up with self-imposed sanctions on the head coach. Don’t let him recruit anywhere but on-campus for a year; make a zero tolerance policy; do whatever it takes to punish Tressel without sending him to pasture.
3. Rally around Tressel. Why stop now? Why not continue this us-against-the-world mentality?
I have a hard time imagining Ohio State dismissing Tressel — I’d picture the third option coming to pass before the first. The second choice, however, would protect Ohio State’s best interest in two fashions: by keeping Tressel in place and by penalizing him for his actions.
Rivals can use Tressel’s missteps to their advantage, on the recruiting trail and otherwise, but he’s a survivor: winning 106 of 128 games since 2001 does wonders for a coach’s job security. Still, one wonders if his strong-voiced supporters inside the university will continue to be so vocal now that it’s clear that Tressel did not have their best interests in mind since the very beginning of this dreadful ordeal.
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