Disappointed, he said. He let some people down, he said. He apologized.
All of it seemed so shallow. His were the kind of words unbecoming of a coach who prided himself on taking the moral high ground. But people found out Tuesday night that Ohio State coach Jim Tressel didn’t differ a bit from other renegade coaches: He put winning ahead of everything else.
That’s the only explanation for why Tressel would bend the rules to allow a fistful of his players to flout NCAA rules and then not own up to what he knew.
Tressel is a liar and a confessed cheat, and his misconduct ought to earn the man in the red vest what cheating coaches elsewhere have: a slot in the unemployment line.
For the sake of winning, Tressel trashed a sports program’s integrity, although that word and big-time sports often collide with integrity taking the worst of it.
His professorial demeanor unraveled Tuesday night as he faced TV cameras and a room filled with journalists—men and women who wanted to know how a coach did wrong when doing right was the only choice he had.
Talk about the urban code of not snitching, but that’s a loser’s rallying cry. Coaches at major institutions should know better. They should understand that snitching—rather, telling the truth—trumps everything else.
That’s a lesson a coach ought to be teaching the young athletes he brings into his athletic program. He recruits them, promises them a better life and a college education. He also promises to take them from crayons to cologne.
In the world of crayons, make-believe reigns. The realities of life in a grownup’s world forces these young athletes to mature, forces them to understand how the street life isn’t what they want to live. Play by the rules, and that’s the lesson Tressel should have been teaching.
He made a bad bargain with all of them. He preached values and integrity, and he had none of those traits himself. How can Tressel ever demand of them what he never demanded of himself?
When you win football games, maybe that doesn’t mean much. And Jim Tressel does win—lots of games. He beat Michigan, too, and that was most important of all.
To believe so is to embrace in the kind of empty-headed thinking that Tressel engaged in. He put winning above everything, and he trashed all the good work he had done in building Ohio State football into a powerhouse.
As Tressel put it: “I let some people down.”
So did every adult who’s cheated on a big stage. What lessons do men like Bernie Madoff, politicians like John Ensign, John Edwards or Tom DeLay, the Enron people and a coach like Tressel teach?
People should expect better of these men, and those who bled Scarlet and Gray should demand more from the man who led their storied football program.
Yes, he let them down, and he let down every graduate, every booster and every Buckeye fan. He let down every player who sweat and stressed and pushed himself to the limit to become better on the field and listened to Tressel’s hypocrisy off the field.
In the end, Tressel taught his players nothing, aside from how to lie and run afoul of rules.
For ignoring those rules, for damaging a university’s public standing, for sullying the football program, he got slapped with a two-game suspension and fined $250,000.
Such punishment didn’t suit the crime. Tressel was obliged to turn in wrongdoers, regardless of how well they played football or what the consequences were to his program.
One or two less football games won?
No big deal!
An athlete’s career short-circuited?
Tressel can’t sacrifice the whole for the few. When he did so, he compromised the whole, perhaps destroying it beyond repair. How can he ever hold his players accountable again for any wrong they might do?
Jim Tressel can’t, and because he can’t, he doesn’t deserve to keep his job as football coach of the Buckeyes.