June 12, 2011

The Tressel File

Since I started covering OSU sports for TheClevelandFan.com more than three years ago, writing about the Buckeyes (and pretty much all sports) on the blog has dried up almost completely. Once you crank out a couple thousand words about a game...or about a scandal...over there...and say anything else that's left to say at the TCF message boards...the urge to say what you think is pretty much sated.

Genuinely curious and sincere friends and acquaintances of mine who know I cover the Buckeyes will ask what I think about the ongoing turmoil in Columbus, and I always have to resist the urge to say "go read the 12,000 words I've written about it over the last three months and then if you still have any questions, come talk to me". And that's mostly because I can't do justice to the issue in a 2-minute conversation, (even though I suspect what they want is the 2-minute version)

What I've been missing to this point is one link I can send to people who really want to read what I've written on the subject without sifting through links at my TCF archive to find what they want...and now I'll have one. Here's a summary of my related TCF articles since December when the players' violations were disclosed...most recent first...

(Updated 6/18) - Buckeye Leaves - 6/18 - How heavy will The Hammer be when it finally falls on OSU?

Buckeye Leaves - 6/11/11 - Fickell in, Pryor gone, and questions about who'll be coaching the offense.

OSU: Reaching For the Bottom - 6/4/11 - Tressel resigns and OSU fans wait to bottom out.

Buckeye Leaves - 5/28/11 - on the undisguised glee of the national media, and my errant prediction, two days before the resignation, that Tressel will fight on.

Buckeye Leaves - 5/1/11 - after the NCAA "notice of allegations" went public and the media feeding frenzy got restarted.

Buckeye Leaves 4/9/11
- thoughts on the impact of Tressel's 5-game suspension.

The Tainting of Tressel - 3/10/11 - my first article following the OSU press conference...contains links at the end to other reaction from various writers and pundits.

Sugar Bowl Preview - 1/4/11 - first coverage of the Tat5 player suspensions.

My own opinions on the state of OSU athletics are bound to come through in the articles. It is opinion journalism after all. I haven't tried to mask my feelings. Early on I was admittedly in the camp that hoped Tressel would be able to survive the cover-up he had engineered, because I believed then, and still believe today, that the positive side of his ledger at OSU outweighs the negative. Clearly, the university administration shared this view at the outset.

But I also acknowledged soon after his knowledge of the memorabilia sales was disclosed that I would understand completely if the university felt it had no choice but to sever ties with him. And it wasn't long until it became clear that there could be no happy ending at OSU as long as Tressel remained in place as head coach, suspension or no suspension.

There are many people inside and outside of the Ohio State community who simply do not believe that Athletic Director Gene Smith and/or his compliance department were never told anything by Tressel about the player violations. I have no insight into that of course, but Smith's handling of the whole affair, from the press conference to the shifting strategies on whether or not to support Tressel at the NCAA hearing, has been weak and inconsistent. President Gee has said Smith's job is safe. I can't imagine why. Then again, they said much the same thing about Tressel's job back in March.

With the benefit of hindsight and a little bit of knowledge of Tressel, one can guess at the way his vision of himself as a developer of young men, and his traditional insistence on keeping everything "in house" may have combined to let this situation get out of control. Tressel's capacity for patience and forgiveness has seemed boundless, and it has worked to his detriment before. The players who saw fit to take advantage of it (Ray Small comes to mind) made no friends among teammates who saw them receiving seemingly endless second chances.

Terrelle Pryor was known to ignore the set of rules that was set up to govern all the players, and as a result he was not well-liked among his teammates either. And we now know that Tressel's under-reaction to the last of Pryor's misdeeds ended up costing both of them their Ohio State careers.

Maurice Clarett was forced out of Ohio State after one season based on his own selfishness, and ultimately his law-breaking, but he stands as yet another example of Tressel's commitment to helping his players, no matter how badly they have abused his patience in the past. Clarett had his hand out for every possible benefit, legal or illegal, he could derive for being an Ohio State football player. He embarrassed his coach and his teammates, and infuriated OSU fans in the days leading up to the BCS title game in Jan. 2003, demanding to be flown back home for a funeral at OSU's expense, calling out the administration in the national media for their refusal to do so.

No one deserved Jim Tressel's good graces or forgiveness less than Maurice Clarett did. But when Clarett was getting out of jail years later, there was Jim Tressel, working quietly behind the scenes to help him land a contract to play professional football, and offering support and advice for a man he could just as easily have shunned. Last week, Clarett spoke up in defense of his coach, placing the blame on the players themselves for rules violations. A spot of reciprocal loyalty, however belated.

One lesson to draw from this whole affair is that always looking to do what seems best at the time for the player, isn't always what's best for the team...nor obviously, for one's career. It's notable that Tressel's players past and present are fiercely loyal to him. The former Buckeyes in the national media that have been the first people asked to comment on the situation... Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Spielman and Robert Smith primarily...never played for Tressel, and are speaking as "outsiders" to the program as currently constituted. I have yet to hear one of Tressel's players from a decade of coaching at OSU say one derogatory word about him...beyond the obvious...he made a mistake.

It looks as though Luke Fickell has the deck stacked against him to become Tressel's long term replacement. He goes into the 2011 season with a program in turmoil, with star players suspended, a coaching staff in limbo, and national speculation about the next man to have his job going on all around him. In an open contest for the Ohio State job, he probably wouldn't even get an interview, having never held a head coaching position, and being tainted by his close association with the now disgraced Tressel.

That said, he is extremely well thought of in Columbus, and shows great promise as a head coach. Could be he's the right man, at the wrong time. It will be fun to watch to see what he makes of his opportunity.

Posted by dan at June 12, 2011 11:16 AM