Jim Tressel said he’d “get on it ASAP” and didn’t get on it at A-L-L, and now the famous Ohio State coach has been fined a quarter of a million bucks and precluded from coaching two games. And that giggling you hear is from other coaches who’ve long believed the man in the sweater vest is just as, er, human as anyone else in his cutthroat business.
Stipulation: Tressel is a good coach, one of the best, and seems — I say “seems” because he goes to great lengths not to reveal much about himself — to be an OK guy. But his program at Youngstown State was penalized (and Tressel cited for not investigating closely enough), and his BCS title with the Buckeyes was won largely on the legs of the infamous Maurice Clarett. Now this.
When last Tressel’s team played, it was with five players, including the noted quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who had been handed NCAA suspensions for their part in the memorabilia-for-tattoos case that had, in April 2010, been called to Tressel’s attention via e-mail. (This prompted the “ASAP” response, which was followed by … nothing.)
Even some Buckeye fans were appalled that The Ohio State University would stoop so low as to use players who’d already been banned for five games in the crass attempt to break that 0-for-forever postseason losing streak against the SEC. (Mission accomplished, FYI: Ohio State beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, barely.) But now Pryor and Friends get to sit at the start of the 2011 season, and suspended alongside them, at least for the first two games, will be the coach who’d been given reason to be suspicious long ago.
At a press conference Tuesday night, OSU president Gordon Gee — not to be confused with Gordon Liddy — was asked if he’d considered firing Tressel. “No,” Gee said. “Are you kidding?”
All kidding aside, someone needs to ask: What exactly does it take for a big-time coach to get fired? Consider:
• Bruce Pearl is still coaching Tennessee basketball after admitting he lied to NCAA investigators and then, four days after his sobbing admission, managing to make illegal contact with recruit Jordan Adams, a junior from Lawrenceville who plays at Oak Hill Academy.
• Jim Calhoun is still coaching Connecticut basketball despite being cited by the NCAA for failure to foster compliance, which means he didn’t much care if anybody around him was cheating.
• Jim Tressel still gets to coach Ohio State after doing nothing when he should, at the barest minimum, have asked, “Is this true?”
Pearl was suspended eight games (by the SEC); Calhoun has been suspended three games (by the NCAA); Tressel will be suspended two games (by OSU). But not one of them has been fired for not doing what the the NCAA and every self-respecting university would identify as Job 1 — respecting and playing by the rules. The president of The Ohio State University even laughed off the suggestion: “I’m just hoping [Tressel] doesn’t dismiss me.”
And there you have it, an admission in the form of a joke. The same Gordon Gee who sought to put sports in their place by abolishing the athletic department when he was president at Vanderbilt now turns into Henny Youngman and essentially concedes that this particular football program matters more than the the reputation of his current university.
And people wonder why so few take this blather about “student-athletes” seriously. The cold truth remains as it has been for decades: If you’re a student-athlete in a cash-cow program, you’re an athlete first. And you’d better believe your coach is the biggest man on campus.
By Mark Bradley