Commentary

Jim Tressel's demise was inevitable

Originally Published: May 30, 2011
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

When the end came Monday, the Ohio State administration spoke loudest with what it didn't say. University president E. Gordon Gee said only that he accepted head coach Jim Tressel's resignation. That's the first time in months that Gee spoke publicly about Tressel without sounding like a tween gushing over Justin Bieber.

In the news release, athletic director Gene Smith spoke only of the future, not of Tressel's 106 victories, seven Big Ten conference championships and 2002 BCS championship over his 10 seasons in Columbus. In an announcement posted on YouTube on Monday, Smith waited until the final 20 seconds of a 3:05 video to thank Tressel for his service.

It would be easy to convict the former Buckeyes coach with his own testimony. His 2008 book, "The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life," has 268 pages of maxims, philosophy and kitchen-table wisdom that the coach failed to follow.

"Discipline is what you do when no one else is looking!" (p. 73) is a keeper.

[+] EnlargeTressel
Icon SMIJim Tressel leaves Ohio State with 106 victories, seven Big Ten conference titles and a national championship.

But taking delight in his demise feels hollow. In the end, a quiet resignation on a holiday weekend, Tressel left behind a sport mystified that a coach so smart would commit career suicide.

If the Ohio State administrators appeared baffled by the facts of Tressel's culpability, his colleagues in the coaching business were flummoxed by his actions. In nearly every in-depth interview I conducted with a head coach this spring, Tressel came up. The coaches yearned for some nugget of information that would explain the inexplicable.

There is an inherent tension between a head coach and the athletic department's NCAA compliance official. But a coach withholds information from compliance at his own peril. Before Tressel ever signed an NCAA form last September saying that he had not withheld information of any violations, he didn't tell his own people.

"Jim's deal is a lesson," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said last month. "Anything that comes up, you've just got to give it to compliance right now. In our world today, you think it's not going to be found out eventually?"

Our world today, indeed. Ohio State discovered Tressel's knowledge of the tattoo parlor case in January only by digging up e-mail correspondence from April 2010.

"I tell our players all the time," Riley said. "As soon as you start going down the wrong track and you start doing something wrong, the clock starts ticking until the day you get caught, because it's going to happen."

Others marveled at how Tressel had appeared to survive. "Lies to the NCAA. Are you kidding me?" a Big 12 head coach said. "I guarantee you I'd have been fired a long time ago."

[+] EnlargeGene Smith and  Jim Tressel
AP Photo/Terry GilliamAD Gene Smith, left, released a short video statement Monday regarding Jim Tressel's resignation.

Gee, the university president, refused to see that Tressel had lied, dissembled and hid information from the NCAA. Gee refused to consider that Tressel, who knowingly played ineligible student-athletes, should pay with his job.

Ohio State didn't fire Tressel, the first time the university didn't force out a coach in the past 60 years. John Cooper won 72 percent of his games at Ohio State and made the College Football Hall of Fame, but he got the door in 2000. He didn't beat Michigan enough. Earle Bruce won 75 percent of his games at Ohio State and made the College Football Hall of Fame. He was fired in 1987.

And Woody Hayes won 76 percent of his games, made the College Football Hall of Fame and remains a statewide icon more than two decades after his death. Hayes committed acts that would have been grounds for firing at many schools long before Ohio State fired him in 1978. The university defended him longer and louder than anyone believed possible because of his ability as a coach, as a teacher and a molder of men.

Until it couldn't, which brings us back to Tressel. He won 83 percent of his games. He will someday make the College Football Hall of Fame. Ohio State loved how he represented as a coach, a teacher and a molder of men.

Chapter 10 of Tressel's book is entitled "Responsibility." The chapter discusses how Tressel stresses to his teams to accept responsibility and "do right." With his resignation, Tressel performed the former for not performing the latter. There could be no question that he would fail to survive. Coaches who do not tell the truth to the NCAA do not coach.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com