CHICAGO – We all saw this coming. And that “we” includes Jim Tressel, who told his coaching colleagues two weeks ago at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago: “They (the NCAA) have my head on a platter.”
On Memorial Day, a time this country stops to remember those who paid the ultimate price, Tressel got pink-slipped for hiding NCAA violations from his bosses and attempting a sloppy cover-up. A pending Sports Illustrated story promises to further expose him and his program, which had players seemingly oblivious to the rules by cashing in autographs and rings for free tattoos and discounted cars.
Tressel’s resignation letter to athletic director Gene Smith stated that after meeting with university officials, his immediate departure was “in the best interests of Ohio State.”
Tressel’s departure leaves a series of questions, namely: Will it lighten the severity of pending NCAA sanctions, which could include a postseason ban, vacating victories and a loss of scholarships? Will recruits jump across the border to schools such as Michigan and Penn State?
But the question for The Ohio State University is: Who will coach Ohio State beyond 2011? Interim Luke Fickell, installed for Tressel’s planned five-game suspension, has the job this season.
Bodog.com handicaps the horse race like this: Urban Meyer (3/2), Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops (5/2), analyst Jon Gruden (3/1), Nebraska coach Bo Pelini (10/1), Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio (12/1).
Meyer left Florida citing health reasons, and one source with ties to him said there’s no chance he’ll be ready to coach again in 2012.
Tressel’s 10-year legacy includes his omnipresent sweater vests, his domination of Michigan (9-1), his .828 winning percentage and seven Big Ten titles, coaching his team to a terrific performance in the 2003 BCS title game against Miami and a terrible one four years later against Florida.
Ultimately, though, many will remember Tressel for allowing Maurice Clarett to sully Ohio State’s name and for this evolving “Tattoo-gate” scandal.
Tressel became a powerful and curious force at Ohio State. I often wondered: Was he truly the straight-laced and mild-mannered man he appeared to be amid a profession of frothing lunatics? Or was it an act?
Tressel was the master of letting damaging charges slide off his back. His best player at I-AA Youngstown State, Ray Isaac, got cash from a booster. But that didn’t prevent Tressel from landing his dream job.
Tressel deflected a New York Times story about academic fraud regarding Clarett by saying he hadn’t read the story.
Once, when asked: “A year ago you stood here and said Maurice Clarett was a fine person. Do you still feel that way?”
Tressel responded politely, saying he recently had sent Clarett a T-shirt and cap and wished him good luck.
The man had a knack for avoiding pressure like a quarterback shakes the blitz.
But this time, there was no escape. Like Woody Hayes, Tressel leaves Ohio State with his reputation in tatters.