In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on June 1, 2011 at 8:16 am

Jim Tressel had us all fooled. I mean those bright red sweater vests, the smart white shirts, and the studious, bespectacled look sucked us all in. Articles written about him called him “senatorial” and praised his “integrity.” Admit it, outside of Joe Paterno, you thought that Jim Tressel would be the last coach on earth caught up in a titanic NCAA scandal. And yet, here we are. The man. The myth. Gone.

Tressel’s career at Ohio State is over. Done in by what the Columbus media has dubbed “Tattoo-gate,” and maybe soon to be “Car Deal-gate.”

Ten years, 106 wins (9 vs. Michigan), and the Buckeyes only National Championship in football in the post-Woody Hayes era. Big numbers in a town that’s big on football. Ironically, Tressel may have followed too closely in Woody’s footsteps. Both men were wildly successful coaches who went down in flames fanned by their own stupidity — Woody’s temper and a nasty right hook, and Tressel’s “Nixonian” refusal to face the truth as the evidence piled up in front of him.

Although, in the end, Tressel’s failure to be truthful with OSU officials and NCAA investigators may not have been enough to save him from himself, or the downward spiral that has brought the Buckeye football program to its knees.

And horribly for Ohio State fans, the worst is yet to come. The NCAA investigation doesn’t simply end with the Tressel resignation. Oh no. It will gain new momentum as folks who remained quiet to protect Tressel turn on him now, possibly to save themselves. And, while the NCAA might look favorably on the OSU decision to remove Tressel, the sanctions could still be severe. Think forfeits of entire seasons, lost scholarships, lost TV revenue, lost bowl appearances. All of which could add up to staggering damage to recruiting, and even to the head coach hiring process. (Does Urban Meyer really still consider this a dream job?)

The newest revelations are clearly the most damaging and very likely proved to be the tipping point in Tressel being forced out. OSU officials had heard the rumors of Sports Illustrated’s cover story planned for its June 6th edition. And, last Friday, when SI called seeking comment, those same officials learned the awful truth. SI never got a comment from OSU or Tressel. And within 72 hours, Tressel was out.

Tressel’s Memorial Day ouster was so sudden that it literally forced Sports Illustrated to publish it’s investigative piece on-line Monday night (May 30th).

In a nutshell, SI reports the improper sale and/or trading of Buckeye memorabilia and autographs by current and former Buckeye players reaches all the way back to 2002 (Tressel’s second season at OSU), and involves more players (28) than either Tressel or the university itself had previously revealed. The five players (including star Terrelle Pryor) currently facing 5-game suspensions next fall for their involvement in accepting tattoos in exchange for Buckeye memorabilia are really just the tip of the iceberg. And, both SI and the Columbus Dispatch are reporting that the NCAA has opened up an investigation that solely focuses on quarterback Pryor and his use of anywhere from six to eight different expensive cars since arriving on campus in 2008. And folks, Pryor’s deals are just a small part of some 50 auto purchases involving other players, family and friends that have caught the eye of the NCAA, so far.

Tressel, of course, is not new to the scandal scene. Ohio State knew this when it hired him in 2001. Questions followed Tressel from his previous job at Youngstown State where his star quarterback, Ray Isaac, received cash and a car allegedly without Tressel’s knowledge. Similar stories involving Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith later played out at Ohio State. Again, allegedly without Tressel’s knowledge.

And, those are just some of the bigger problems that have dogged Tressel along the way.  SI’s story indicates that Tressel was involved in questionable activities dating back into his days as an assistant under Earle Bruce at OSU.

Here, courtesy of the Sports Illustrated expose’, is a perfect example of the Tressel you really didn’t know until now.  The story was told to SI by an unidentified former colleague of Tressel at OSU in the 1980’s:

“One of Tressel’s duties then was to organize and run the Buckeyes’ summer camp. Most of the young players who attended it would never play college football, but a few were top prospects whom Ohio State was recruiting. At the end of camp, attendees bought tickets to a raffle with prizes such as cleats and a jersey. According to his fellow assistant, Tressel rigged the raffle so that the elite prospects won — a potential violation of NCAA rules. Says the former colleague, who asked not to be identified because he still has ties to the Ohio State community, “In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That’s Jim Tressel.”

That, my friends, is hypocrisy with a capital you-know-what!

The bottom line, of course, is that Tressel’s image and his reputation are shot.  Totally shot.  All the rumor, all the innuendo, all the behind the scenes ugliness will now surface. And there’s little Tressel can do to save even an inkling of the schoolboy facade behind which he used to hide.

Sadly for Tressel, he is in a way the victim of a system that is inherently unfair to the players and, hence, to the coaches who are charged with policing them.  Cars, cash, contact with people of questionable character, and illicit drugs are the bane of every college coach’s existence. Players know the rules and some – the selfish ones – will tell you they just don’t care.  We’ve read several recent interviews with former Buckeye players that said they just wanted their piece of the college football pie.  The school’s making a mint off me, so where’s my cut? What’s one championship ring when you have 3 or 4 of them? What’s the big deal with swapping an autograph or a jersey for something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford?  Like an expensive tattoo.

Coaches, naturally, have to care about the rules.  They don’t have a choice. NCAA rules can be unfair, even unreasonable at times, but you’re stuck with them. If one is broken, no matter how much it might hurt, the coach needs to fess-up and face the consequences.  Jim Tressel knows exactly what lying to his superiors and the NCAA leads to.

28 players and 9 years of various alleged NCAA violations are hard not to have some knowledge of. Right, Jim?

And, why after you were informed of the “tattoo problem” in a former player’s email did you stubbornly continue to let athletes play in games when you knew they were ineligible? Was winning so important that you were willing to lose it all in the end? I guess so.

All that said, however, there’s still plenty of blame to go around here.

Where were Ohio State’s NCAA rules compliance people for the past decade? The Sporting News quotes a car dealer as saying that OSU compliance director, Doug Archie, knew players were buying cars, and even sent them to the dealership in question.

Where was the Buckeyes’ Athletic Director, Gene Smith?  Did he just put all his trust in Tressel?  Was he really blind to all the stuff going on in his department?

And, where was the university’s president? Gordon Gee was cracking jokes about this matter during the “Jim Tressel Apology Tour” back in March with lines like, “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”  I guess it’s not so funny anymore.  Especially since some folks
are beginning to call for the heads of Gee and Smith next.

So, where does leave Ohio State football?  Luke Fickell is the interim head coach. And, let me emphasize the word INTERIM here, so recruiting for 2012 will be interesting. Fickell, of course, was due to coach the first five games of the 2011 season anyway thanks to the initial suspension of Tressel for his attempted cover-up of his players’ actions. Pryor and four other returning players will also miss the the first five games for their transgressions.

Or will they?

CBS has hinted that the suspended Buckeyes will re-consider turning pro.  But, with the NFL in a lockout mode, a supplemental draft might not happen in time for a 2011 season.  If there even is a 2011 season.

As for Tressel?  Well, he is permanently stained by this mess and serious NCAA sanctions could, and should, follow him to a new school that might hire him.  There’s always the NFL for him, too.

But, one thing that needs to happen is everyone needs to stop referring to Tressel as a “future Hall of Fame coach.” He didn’t play by the rules – intentionally, or not. Would he have gotten the star recruits to play for him at Ohio State had he truly been as strict as his former image seemed to suggest? Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe Terrelle Pryor passed on playing for Penn State because he knew that Paterno would demand that he play by the rules.  No extra benefits for anyone.  We’ll never know.

It’s funny how times and perceptions change.  Three years ago while I was writing about the Joe Paterno-Bobby Bowden career wins race for another website, the Tallahassee-based writer for the Associated Press chuckled to me about the PSU and FSU fans who got so worked up over Joe’s and Bobby’s won-loss records. He assured me Jim Tressel would win more than both of them when it was all said and done.  I think most folks would have agreed with him, at the time. Currently, Tressel is 160 wins behind Joe.  Fifteen, or so, more strong years at OSU and, who knows, Jim might have equalled Paterno’s record.  Assuming Joe ever retires.

Now, I wonder if Jim Tressel will ever coach anywhere again.  Period.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:

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