Wally's Warning

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 07/08/2012 1:27 PM
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Football
Wally's Warning
By John Porentas

I met a person a number of years back - lets call him Wally for the sake of this article - who never worked for OSU, but had some real insight about somebody of great importance at OSU at the time.

Wally was a long-time football coach at both the collegiate and high school levels, and told me a story about his first season as an assistant coach at the collegiate level.

Wally's team opened the season on the road that year, and Wally drew the assignment of doing bed check. When the curfew hour arrived, Wally made the rounds at the team hotel to make sure everybody was in bed. What he found was not particularly good.

Two players were missing, the starting quarterback and the star middle linebacker. Wally was beside himself, and immediately reported the situation to the head coach. The head coach instructed him to keep an eye open for the players and let him know if they showed up. Wally did just that, and saw the two stumble back to the hotel just after the bars closed, the bars they had been patronizing until they were asked to leave. Wally reported back to the head coach and went to bed

The next morning Wally went to his head coach and asked who he was going to play at quarterback and linebacker, because certainly the two truants who staggered back to the hotel in the wee hours could not play and had to be disciplined.

The head coach said that he would without question apply appropriate discipline. Wally left the room satisfied that things were under control and wondering who would start the game at quarterback and linebacker.

The game kicked off, and to Wally's surprise, the two players who had transgressed the night before were in the starting lineup. Wally was stunned, but didn't make a scene during the game. When the game ended however, he confronted his head coach, demanding to know why he had played the two players who had flaunted team rules.

"He looked at me and said 'Wally, sometimes the discipline that is handed out to a player has to be in relationship to the quality of his backup,'" Wally told me many years later.

Wally was stunned, and so was I when Wally told me the story.

The Connection

That story was told to me about 9 years ago, and I've never repeated it since, but today seems like the perfect day to talk about it.

The head coach that Wally worked for in his first college job was named Tressel. It was not Jim Tressel, or Dick Tressel, but rather their father, Lee Tressel.

I never forgot the story, and often wondered during Jim Tressel's tenure at OSU if he would operate that way, because the day Wally told me his story, he also said that Jim Tressel would operate the same way. At the time, I wondered if that could possibly turn out to be true.

The evidence accumulated consistently through the years. Tressel often said that discipline was handed out "internally" and the level and method of discipline was determined on a "case by case basis by the head coach" as opposed to via a system of specific and known consequences for transgressions. I actually snapped my head up from my notepad at a press conference one day when Jim Tressel said in a joking tone and with a wry little smile on his face that "sometimes the discipline has to reflect the quality of the backup," the very words verbatim that Wally had ascribed to Lee Tressel when he had told me the story years earlier. Tressel's remark that day drew a nice laugh, but not from me. I knew he wasn't kidding.

Jim Tressel, a man of principle and self discipline in every other aspect of his life, had learned from his father that the pressure to win in college football sometimes short-circuits the sensibilities of otherwise very sensible men.

Why Today?

That story came to mind today with word that Urban Meyer had without hesitation handled the Storm Klein situation in a way that was unambiguous and clear. It is not a happy thing in any way that Klein put himself in a position to face the wrath of his head coach. Every aspect of that is both sad and disheartening. What is both clear and happy is that when it comes to discipline and consequences, Meyer will not treat any member of his team differently, no matter his level of skill or the quality of his backup.

I don't know if Urban Meyer will be successful at OSU. That remains to be seen. Make no mistake, Meyer will be remembered for wins and losses more than any other thing. What Meyer has demonstrated, however, is that he isn't likely to succumb to the trap that really undid Tressel.

Tressel and his team operated in a culture in which players were not treated equally in matters of discipline. In the end that cost him his job and, I would argue, was no favor to the players who were granted privilege. They got a distorted view of the way the world works and how consequences impact lives.

That, it now appears, isn't likely to happen under Meyer. We'll see if it helps him win football games too. A big part of me hopes that will be the case, not for the wins themselves, but rather for the notion that doing the right thing and being successful are not mutually exclusive. Another part of me says "We'll see".

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