November 25, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
36°F

Too little, too late for Ohio State

By Paul Newberry

Jim Tressel was just working the system. For much of the past decade, he knew his job was safe even while his program flouted the rules over and over.

The formula is well-known to everyone in the coaching profession: Win enough games, pad the coffers, capture a championship every now and then, and the job is yours unless you do something REALLY bad.

Tressel finally did something REALLY bad — covering up NCAA violations at Ohio State for close to a year — but you still have to wonder why it took so long for this day to arrive.

What we need is a death penalty for coaches. After two strikes, he’s done. For good.

Tressel would have been gone long ago.

Even before he got to Ohio State, Tressel ran afoul of the rules with his recruitment of the star quarterback at little Youngstown State.

Turns out, the man known as “the Vest” was just getting warmed up.

The sliminess went big time in the Big Ten, from the offensive coordinator who tried to arrange a loan AND a car for a recruit, to the future Heisman Trophy winner taking 500 bills from a booster.

There was never a shortage of Buckeyes on the arrest blotter, and the sleaze-o-meter was flashing like a slot machine when Tressel somehow figured out a way to get Maurice Clarett in school long enough to win a national championship before he traded his football uniform for prison scrubs.

No problem, coach.

As long as we’re beating Michigan and capturing trophies, it’s all good.

They could shut down these rogues if they really wanted to, but no one has the guts to take on deluded alumni who equate the success of athletic programs with the worth of their own lives? Certainly not Ohio State president/apologist Gordon Gee, who joked back in February that he had no intention of firing Tressel.

“Are you kidding?” Gee said. “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

This was AFTER the president learned his coach had known for months that several players, including starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were selling off rings, uniforms and just about anything that wasn’t nailed down to a shady tattoo-parlor owner. Instead of telling his bosses about the NCAA violations, Tressel decided to keep that juicy little bit of information to himself.

Well, this episode of “Columbus Ink” wound up leading to the coach’s cancellation. Tressel was unable to stave off the critics of his don’t-ask-and-definitely-don’t-tell policy by volunteering for a five-game suspension — same as his wayward players — and agreeing to pay a hefty fine.

Coming across a hypocrite to the very end, Tressel signed off his resignation letter by saying, “We know that God has a plan for us and we will be fine. We will be Buckeyes forever.”

As long as that plan doesn’t include another coaching job, we’ll be good with it. Some might be stunned by the seemingly sudden downfall for one of America’s top coaches (after all, Tressel was leading the Buckeyes to a Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas less than five months ago), but it never should’ve gone on this long.

The first major violation is enough to earn the head coach a one-year suspension, whether or not he was directly involved in the wrongdoing. Much like international doping standards hold athletes responsible for anything that goes into their bodies, a coach should be accountable for whatever is going on in his program.

A two-strike-and-you’re-out-rule would prevent someone such as Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari from skipping around the country just ahead of those pesky investigators. He had already moved on to his next gig when first UMass, then Memphis, had to forfeit any mention of their Final Four appearances because they had used ineligible players.

Likewise, Tressel would have been out before this latest bit of ugliness even had a chance to arise from the muck that is modern-day college athletics.

Maybe the schools could even work out a deal with the NFL, ensuring the sanctions are recognized by the pros so a scalawag such as Pete Carroll can’t bolt for a cushy job with the Seattle Seahawks right before the NCAA drops the hammer on his longtime employer, USC.

Of course, there’s little reason to believe the NCAA (puh-lease!) or the schools (double puh-lease!) have any real desire to get tough. There are too many people willing to write out big checks and look the other way, while pretending they care about cleaning things up.

For some insight into the wink-wink-nod-nod mindset that allowed the Tressel administration to carry on their rulebook-defying shenanigans for a full decade, check out the sign two students quickly put up on their porch in Columbus.

“Tressel Til I Die.”

Or listen to another of the sycophants who tolerated this sort of behavior for far too long, giving Tressel a gushy sendoff in a YouTube video.

“I do want to thank coach Tressel for his long service to our university,” athletic director/enabler Gene Smith said. “There were a lot of people that he touched in a highly positive way. We’re very thankful for his leadership during the years that we had great success on the field and off it. But more importantly, in the classroom.”

Even now, one gets the sense that Ohio State finally cut ties with its coach not so much because it was the right thing to do, but because it might help mitigate the inevitable NCAA penalties. The governing body came down hard on USC. The Buckeyes want to avoid a similar fate, which certainly wouldn’t have been possible with Tressel still on the payroll and other alleged violations coming to light on a nearly daily basis.

Maybe if Tressel had spent more time keeping an eye on his football team rather that writing not one, but two books on faith and integrity, he might’ve actually had a program that embodied those words. Instead, his career will be remembered for a joke going around Monday.

Jim Tressel, the coach who put the “vest” in investigation.

Contact Paul Newberry at pnewberry@ap.org.