Ohio State got away with one high-profile recruit who was trouble. Maurice Clarett won the Buckeyes a BCS title and stamped Jim Tressel, two years removed from Youngstown State, as the hottest coach in the land. Ohio State upset Miami in overtime in January 2003 — the freshman Clarett scored the winning touchdown — and the program of Woody Hayes and Hopalong Cassady and Archie Griffin was again No. 1.
Clarett never played another collegiate down. He wound up leaving school after filing a false police report. (It involved a car he’d borrowed from a Columbus dealership.) In 2006 he landed in jail after pleading guilty to charges including armed robbery.
Clarett was trouble, but from an OSU standpoint he was worth it: He lifted the Buckeyes to a championship and didn’t get the program on NCAA probation in the process. In the merciless world of big-money football, that constitutes a victory. And if he went on to mess up his life … well, Buckeye Nation would always have the Fiesta Bowl.
Clarett was USA Today’s 2001 high school offensive player the year. In 2007, Terrelle Pryor won the same award. He signed with Ohio State — more than a full month after Signing Day 2008 — over Michigan and Penn State. On Tuesday he announced he was leaving school. He’d helped win a couple of big bowls (the Rose and the Sugar) but no BCS title. He’ll be remembered as the man who brought Tressel low.
Yes, there were others involved in the gear-for-tattoos case, and yes, Tressel could have saved himself had he told superiors what he’d heard when he heard it. But Pryor was the biggest man on the big campus from the moment he arrived, same as Clarett had been. The Buckeyes brought dishonor on themselves by allowing Pryor and four other players — all of whom had been assessed five-game suspensions — to participate in the Sugar Bowl, but hey, the Ohio State University had grown sick and tired of losing to SEC opposition.
On cue, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported Tuesday that a “former friend” said Pryor had made “between $20,000 and $40,000″ autographing memorabilia. (A.J. Green obviously was undercharging.) The Columbus Dispatch had already reported that the NCAA was investigating the cars driven by Pryor and other Buckeyes. (Yep, cars again.) And the Dispatch has reported that Tressel, who waited to share his knowledge of gear-for-tattoos with his bosses, nonetheless engaged in a telephone and text-messaging dialogue with a Pennsylvania businessman known as Pryor’s mentor.
One big-name recruit lifted Jim Tressel into the pantheon of championship coaches. Another big-name recruit was at the center of a storm that swept Tressel away. I’d call that a cautionary tale.
By Mark Bradley