Miami of Ohio is called the “Cradle of Coaches.” The Ohio State University is slightly less known as “The Graveyard of Coaches.”
Jim Tressel is the latest in a long string of coaches who have been fired, forced to resign, or pushed to resign, going back at least 8 decades.
Tressel was 106-22 at Ohio State with one national title and a 9-1 record against Michigan, the most significant statistic for Ohio State fans. His immediate predecessor, John Cooper was 111-43-4, but only had 2 wins and a tie in 13 years against Michigan. Earle Bruce from 1979 to 1987 was 81-26- and 5-4 against Michigan – not good enough. The legendary Woody Hayes from 1951-1978 was 238-72-10 with three national titles in 1954, 1957 and 1968 (defeating USC and O.J. Simpson in the Rose Bowl), and 16-11-1 against Michigan. All 4 were fired. Woody struck one too many players – a Clemson player on live TV during the 1978 Gator Bowl. John Cooper was hired because his Arizona State Wildcats defeated Michigan 22-15 in the 1987 Rose Bowl, but he couldn’t follow up in Columbus. Woody succeeded Wes Fesler, who in 4 years was 21-13-3, but 0-3-1 against Michigan, and the losing coach in the famous, or infamous, “Snow Bowl” in Columbus which the underdog Wolverines won 9-7 on a blocked punt. Fesler was out in the cold two weeks later.
Francis Schmidt, coach from 1934-1940, resigned under pressure after losing to Michigan 40-0. He was succeeded by the great Paul Brown.
Paul Brown left on his own in 1944 for the war effort, but Ohio State refused to rehire him when he returned. Instead, he went on as one of the most successful and famous NFL coaches.
The key to winning at Ohio State is to be a good coach and to consistently recruit the top high school players in Ohio. Tressel was an outstanding recruiter and a great coach. He did not need to cheat to win, but winning was his drive in life.
Tressel’s transgressions are by now well known in the age of the internet. 6 players, including 5 starters, traded championship rings, jerseys and other sports memorabilia for tattoos. That’s a violation of NCAA rules.
The history of players selling tickets or memorabilia for cash is a long one. Even though illegal, but commonplace, decades ago, the NCAA has become aggressive in recent years in enforcing its rules.
Christopher Cicero, a lawyer who played for Ohio State, emailed Coach Tressel on April 2, 2010 that players had been selling signed memorabilia to a tattoo parlor owner. A series of emails followed. The coach buried it for 9 months until the emails surfaced. The players should have been ruled ineligible for the upcoming season, but they included star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Boone Herron.
Coach Tressel signed a compliance order with the NCAA on September 13, 2010, asserting he knew of no NCAA violations and has reported to the school and knowledge of possible violations.
Don’t feel sorry for Ohio State. They made a Faustian Bargain when they hired Tressel a decade ago. He was a highly successful coach at Youngstown State, winning 4national titles with a record of 135-57-2, but he and his program were under investigation by the NCAA for alleged violations when he made the move to Ohio State. They knew he was a risk, but they also knew he was a winner. Besides the NCAA cleared him, although it found a lack of institutional control at Youngstown State. That meant Tressel, who was also Athletic Director. The NCAA found that the star QB was paid at least $10,000 and provided the free use of cars by Mickey Monus, former Chairman of the Youngstown State Board of Trustees. Coach and AD Tressel told Youngstown State’s president that the charges were baseless.
Another applicant for the Ohio State position was Glen Mason, the highly successful coach who revived the Minnesota Gophers and was an Ohio State grad. He could not beat Michigan though.
President Gordon Gee of Ohio State hasn’t helped the debacle. He was asked at a news conference on March 8, 2011 if he would be firing Tressel. The President’s response: “No, Are you kidding? … Let me just be very clear; I’m just hopeful he doesn’t dismiss me.” Gene Smith, Ohio State’s Athletic Director, stated at the same press conference “This is our coach and we trust him implicitly.”
President Gee earns $1.6 million annually as the highest paid president of a public university.
This press conference was held after disclosures that Tressel knew of the players’ transgressions since April 2010, and did not inform the University (President Gee, AD Smith, or the Compliance officers) and thus filed a false statement with the NCAA. His material omissions and misrepresentations were grounds for immediate termination, but he kept his job for 11 more weeks after blindsiding his employers.
The United States Attorney’s Office informed Ohio State on December 7, 2010 of the problems. The Athletic Department was told the next day. Coach Tressel said on December 9 that this was the first time he heard of the players’ involvement with the tattoo parlor.
He failed to add that his autograph was on some of the meorabilia.
Ohio State self-reported the violations to the NCAA on December 19 and declared six players ineligible. The NCAA responded three days later by holding the players could play in the bowl game, but 5 were suspended for the first 5 games next season and the other player for only one game.
Ohio State discovered the emails on January 13, 2011 and on March 8 announced it suspended the coach for the first two games next season and fined him $250,000 - hence the press conference that day.
Coach Tressel explained he had promised confidentiality to Cicero, and didn’t know therefore who to disclose the information to at Ohio State. However, Tressel did contact Ted Sarniak, Pryor’s mentor/Godfather/sugar daddy in Mentor, Pennsylvania.
Tressel was a winner, and that’s what mattered.
The University on March 8 essentially sanctioned his coverup.
Tressel misrepresented his knowledge presumably because he had a great team which could be playing for the national Championship. Even after Ohio State lost to Wisconsin, 31-18, his Buckeyes could still play in a BCS Bowl. Ohio State defeated Arkansas 31-26 because the six players, who should have been suspended, for the season and then the bowl game, were allowed to play in the game. Winning meant everything.
We now know that several players, especially star QB Terrelle Pryor, may have received special favors on cars. The Columbus Dispatch reported that possibly 50 suspect transactions are being investigated. Pryor even drove up to the special meeting on Monday with a recently purchased 2007 Nissan 350-Z when Coach Tressel informed the players of his resignation. The dealers involved in the car transactions said that they had run the deals through the University’s Compliance Office. If so, OSU’s problems will mount, and more forced resignations can be expected.
We also know that the tattoo deals have been going on for years and include more than these six players.
John Wooden may have turned a blind eye to Sam Gilbert, and Woody Hayes to a similar supporter, but that was then; this is now. Ed Martin was devastating to Michigan’s basketball program.
Ohio State is in the midst of a $2.5 billion fundraising campaign. President Gee is an excellent fundraiser. Both Ohio State and USC know that their fundraising is much more successful when their football teams are winning championships.
President Gee had another questionable statement on November 24, 2010 in an
interview with AP. He was asked if Boise State or TCU should be in the BCS Title game. His response “I do know , having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like a murderer’s row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day.”
He may not have noticed that TCU beat Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin being the only team to defeat the Buckeyes this year, 31-18.
President Gee has now stated that the attention makes it feel like the University has gone through a tsunami. If it has, it is of the University’s making. Coach Tressel made a series of bad judgments and The Ohio State University was unwilling to take decisive action early.
Ohio State and the football program will pay a high price for these violations – perhaps on the magnitude of USC. If not, the USC family has strong reasons to complain about an inequality of treatment.
The cardinal offense was lying to the NCAA. The act of stupidity was forgetting that emails are eternal.
Coach Tressel will now have more time for his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.