Will officials at Ohio State University now, finally, consider firing head football coach Jim Tressel?
The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that the school is facing severe NCAA penalties in the wake of Tattoo-Gate. The paper obtained a copy of the NCAA's "notice of allegations" given to Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, and while the school appears to have avoided the dreaded "failure to monitor" and "lack of institutional control" penalties, the NCAA nonetheless has accused Tressel of dishonesty for hiding violations by seven current and former players who sold awards and equipment to a tattoo parlor owner.
Remember, though the school itself didn’t find out about a U.S. Attorney’s office investigation of a local tattoo parlor owner and the players selling their memorabilia until December of 2010, Tressel knew about it eight months prior to that, in April of 2010, when he received an email from a Columbus attorney and Ohio State fan who was privy to information regarding the U.S. Attorney's investigation.
But Tressel did not notify the school or his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, that he knew about the investigation or the allegations.
The situation has spiraled out of control, and here are seven reasons why the university needs to fire Tressel now.
Trust us on this one—college presidents everywhere shook their collective heads with disgust when Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, asked at the March press conference if he ever considered firing Jim Tressel for not telling university officials that he knew about the federal investigation, said, “No. Are you kidding? Let me be very clear—I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
Gee, Gordon, can you get any more ridiculous? Or embarrassing?
Firing Tressel would be the chance for Gee to salvage some credibility among his peers and set an example that college presidents are still in control of college athletics.
Jim Tressel is not a saint.
That’s not to say he’s not a good guy, either. He’s just not this mythic figure Ohio State fans love to think of him as. In fact, there’s a troubling history here.
Lest Buckeyes fans think that Tattoo-Gate is Tressel’s first brush with NCAA problems, well, it’s not. It was at Youngstown State where Tressel first ran into trouble with the NCAA.
According to an ESPN.com investigation, “Star quarterback Ray Isaac was taking money from a booster from virtually the moment he joined the team in 1988. A few hundred here, a thousand or so there, including $3,800 during the 1991 championship season. In all, Isaac got about $10,000, plus the use of various cars, during his career.
"Ray 'The Colonel' Isaac was Tressel's original Maurice Clarett, a Youngstown kid with quick feet and open palms who would lift his team, and coach, to new heights. Isaac's benefactor was Michael 'Mickey' Monus, chairman of the university's board of trustees and the CEO of the rapidly expanding Phar-Mor discount drug store chain...
"This much is certain, based on an ESPN review of legal documents and other sources: Monus was no stranger to Tressel. A huge sports fan, Monus could be found on the sidelines during Penguin games. He was on the university athletics committee that hired Tressel. And, according to court testimony that eventually brought the Isaac payments to light, it was Tressel who directed Isaac to Monus at the start of his freshman year.”
Tressel took over the OSU program in 2001. A year later, his 2002 team raced to the national championship behind a dynamic young freshman running back named Maurice Clarett.
Turns out, Clarett was anything but dynamic off the field. After his freshman season, Clarett became the focal point of a New York Times story that claimed he received preferential treatment from a professor. The school’s investigation did not turn up sufficient evidence of academic misconduct.
Nonetheless, Clarett never saw another down after helping OSU to the national title. He was suspended for the 2003 season for filing a false police report for claiming more than $10,000 in cash and merchandise were stolen from his car—a car he "borrowed" from a local Columbus dealership.
This time, a school investigation ended with then-athletic director Andy Geiger saying that Clarett did take improper benefits, and that was that.
Jim Tressel was hired on Jan. 17, 2001.
On Jan. 18, during an Ohio State-Michigan basketball game in Columbus, Tressel took the microphone and told the crowd in his now-famous speech: “And you’ll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and most importantly, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.”
Well, one out of three ain’t bad.
OSU fans are obviously willing to overlook all the problems in the Buckeye football program because of Tressel’s amazing success—a national championship, three national title game appearances and a 9-1 record in 10 years against Michigan.
Problem is, there isn’t a lot of pride in the community or the classroom. In 2005, for the second time, a Tressel recruit was suspended by the NCAA. This time, quarterback Troy Smith was put on the sidelines by the NCAA for the 2005 Alamo Bowl and the first game of the 2006 season after finding he received both cash and loaner cars. Smith led OSU to the national championship game that season, however, winning the Heisman Trophy in the process.
Now, with Tattoo-Gate, when will OSU officials realize that where there’s smoke, there’s fire?
In the Columbus Dispatch report, the newspaper noted that in the NCAA notice of allegations, the NCAA warned Ohio State that it could treat the school as a repeat offender, given OSU's previous cases in which former quarterback Troy Smith took money from a booster, and former basketball coach Jim O'Brien gave a recruit $6,000.
Ah yes, the O’Brien case.
As far as the NCAA is concerned, this isn’t a “Jim Tressel messed up one time” type of thing, and it isn’t confined to the football program.
Ohio State fired O’Brien in 2004—ironically, it hired the coach to clean up the NCAA mess left by Randy Ayers, which is a whole other story—and there were no open-ended allegations about this one. O’Brien admitted giving money to 7'3" potential recruit Aleksandar Radojevic.
“I am advised that my firing is because I was asked to and tried to give assistance to a young man's family who was in dire financial straits,” O’Brien said in a statement at the time. “The assistance in no way influenced the young man in his decision to attend OSU and, indeed, the young man did not enroll at OSU.”
Bottom line—Jim Tressel lied.
Yahoo! Sports reported in March of 2011 that Tressel had prior knowledge of the scandal and failed to tell his athletic director or the school’s compliance department until January of 2011. Tressel was suspended by the school for the first two games of the 2011 season—a punishment that he personally extended to five games to match that of his suspended players—and fined $250,000.
The NCAA is still investigating the situation. At the time, Tressel said, “Obviously I'm disappointed that this happened at all. I take my responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously and for the game of football. I plan to grow from this. I'm sincerely saddened by the fact that I let some people down and didn't do things as well as I possibly could have.”
But he lied.
He knowingly played several ineligible athletes during the entire 2010 season, he lied to his own school about his knowledge of the case, and he lied when he signed an NCAA Certificate of Compliance in September of that year indicating he had reported any knowledge of possible violations to the school, when in fact he hadn’t.
We’ve seen people from all walks of life get fired over far less. Then again, they’re not 9-1 against Michigan in the last 10 years.
Urban Meyer is not going to return to coaching less than five months after stepping down at Florida.
But he might next year.
Meyer and Ohio State are a natural fit. A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer was a graduate student at the university and was an assistant coach under Earle Bruce. It truly is one job, along with Notre Dame, that Meyer would come out of his self-imposed retirement for.
OSU could easily tap Luke Fickell as the interim coach for 2011 and turn to Meyer in 2012.