Tressel’s Resignation Shocking, Not Unexpected
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The news of Jim Tressel’s resignation shocked the sports world Monday as one of the most successful and well-liked coaches in Ohio State history bid farewell to his beloved school.
“After meeting with University officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach,” Tressel said in a statement Monday.
“The appreciation that Ellen and I have for the Buckeye Nation is immeasurable.”
Former Head Coach Jim Tressel
Photo by Jim Davidson
While his abrupt departure may have surprised many as they woke from their slumber in the early hours of Memorial Day, it was hardly an unexpected move by Tressel or the Ohio State University, which made it clear they were ready to distance themselves from the embattled head coach.
“We look forward to refocusing the football program on doing what we do best – representing this extraordinary University and its values on the field, in the classroom, and in life,” OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith said, almost contentedly, in a statement.
“We look forward to supporting Luke Fickell in his role as our football coach. We have full confidence in his ability to lead our football program.”
To those who knew him, Tressel was a great coach and a better man who got caught up in something beyond his control. He protected his players at the risk of his own self and in the end, it was his undoing.
To the rest of the world, Tressel was a cheater who lied to cover up the fact he knowingly put ineligible players on the field last season in order to make a run at a national championship.
In reality, Jim Tressel was a football coach and a leader of men. He brought excellence to the Ohio State football program, on and off the field, for 10 years, but he also committed a major NCAA violation. One that almost always ends with this type of conclusion.
Maybe the Sports Illustrated article set to be released this week will even further tarnish the legacy of a man who brought Ohio State its first National Championship in more than 30 years, but the damage was already done.
If Tressel was not done in by the initial cover up of the emails he received last April, then his exit was facilitated by the slow leak of negative information that has continued to drip on Ohio State since Tressel’s press conference back in early March.
Road to Resignation
In December of last year, Ohio State was contacted by the U.S. attorney’s office about Ohio State memorabilia seized from the home and/or tattoo parlor of a man named Edward Rife.
After a brief investigation, the university self-reported to the NCAA that six players (quarterback Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver DeVier Posey, tailback Daniel Herron, offensive lineman Mike Adams, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and linebacker Jordan Whiting) had either sold memorabilia to Rife or accepted free/discounted tattoos from Rife’s Columbus tattoo parlor.
In accordance with Ohio State’s self-report, the NCAA hit five of the players with a five-game suspension, and Whiting with a one-game suspension. They were ordered to repay the money, but a technicality in the rule book allowed for all six players to be on the field in New Orleans for Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl matchup with Arkansas.
At the time, Tressel had told the NCAA that this was the first time he was made aware of the players’ involvement with Rife, who recent pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute and money laundering.
The Buckeyes would win the Sugar Bowl, due in large part to the contributions of the five players, but in mid-January Ohio State discovered emails on their server between Tressel and a Columbus attorney Christopher Cicero. The contents of these emails revealed that Tressel had been made aware of Rife’s involvement with at least two of his current players—Pryor and Posey—as early as April of 2010.
Ohio State self reports this violation to the NCAA, but news of it would not come to light until March 7, when Yahoo! Sports publishes the first story with an unnamed source revealing Tressel’s prior knowledge of potential violations committed by his players.
Ohio State holds a press conference the next day to announce the violations. During the press conference, athletic director Gene Smith says “at the end of the day, wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our coach.” University President E. Gordon Gee also jokes that he is more worried about Tressel dismissing him than the other way around.
Tressel is fined $250,000 and suspended for two games, but later asks for his suspension to be lengthened to five games in order to match those of his five players.
It was later revealed by Thee Columbus Dispatch that Tressel forwarded the emails he received from Cicero last April to a Jeanette, Pa. business man named Ted Sarniak, the mentor of OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Since that day, a steady leak of negative press has thrust Ohio State’s name back into the national spotlight again and again. First The Dispatch released a story connected one Columbus car salesman to as many as 50 OSU players or parents. Then Ray Small dropped the hammer with his story about “everyone” taking advantage of discounts.
Now with the Sports Illustrated story rumored to be bringing more heat Tressel’s way, the Ohio State University brass decided it was time to part ways with their head coach despite potentially negative blowback from the fan base.
They sold it as a resignation, but there is little doubt the decision came down from the top.
“In consultation with the senior leadership of the Board of Trustees, I have been actively reviewing matters attendant to our football program, and I have accepted Coach Tressel’s resignation,” said Gee, the same President who joked about Tressel firing him back in March.
“The University’s enduring public purposes and its tradition of excellence continue to guide our actions.”
By accepting Tressel’s resignation, the people above him are hoping to stop the bleeding. They are hoping the NCAA and the media will see them as being proactive in getting rid of the problem, but it’s too late for that.
They made their choice on whether to be proactive with Tressel back in March when they stood behind him despite the fact he lied to the NCAA. When the going got tough, they weren’t willing to put Tressel’s name before that of Ohio State’s.
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