College Football: Tressel's fall a warning to other coaches
By Ralph D. Russo
In a profession that provides little in the way of job security, Jim Tressel was about as comfortable as a college football coach could get.
The man in the sweater vest won 83 percent of his games in 10 seasons with Ohio State. He went 9-1 against Michigan, won seven Big Ten titles and a national championship.
But when he committed the cardinal sin of college sports, covering up an NCAA violation in his program, none of his success on the field could save him.
While NCAA President Mark Emmert has talked tough in recent months about cracking down on rule-breakers with penalties severe enough to deter future wrongdoers, maybe Tressel’s departure from Ohio State will help send that message.
“It’s a tough situation for Jim and his family, but also I think if we’re going to find anything good in this it can be a wake-up call for (other coaches),” said former Baylor coach Grant Teaff, the president of the American Football Coaches Association.
“There are a myriad of rules. There’s no excuse for any of us missing those rules. It’s not an easy task, but it never has been. It’s always been a challenge but probably rightly so, because it’s an important job.”
Tressel was, of course, a trending topic at the Southeastern Conference meetings in Destin, Fla., on Tuesday, with reporters looking for reaction from his fellow coaches.
When a guy like Tressel goes down, other coaches pay particular attention.
“I know all this stuff that’s happening at Ohio State, every other coach out there, if ever presented that situation, I am sure they will think about how to handle it,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said.
Or as Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said: “There’s no question there’s lessons to be learned.”
The main lesson being: Don’t think for a second you are A) above the rules or B) won’t get caught breaking them. Oh, and C) no matter how noble your intentions might be, if you break the rules it could cost you your job.
Teaff said following the rules and doing what’s best for a player are not always the same thing.
“It may appear you’re not acting in the best interest of your student-athletes, but the rules may overshadow that particular feeling you may have,” Teaff said.
There were more than a few skeptics when Tressel said back in March — during a news conference that in retrospect was the beginning of the end for him — that he was trying to protect his players by sitting for months on an email that tipped him off to the memorabilia-for-tattoos problem.
It certainly seemed more as if Tressel was protecting his chances to win another Big Ten title. But if ever there was a coach who could have absorbed a 7-5 season, it was Tressel.
“There’s definitely pressure to win,” Petrino said, “but the relationship you build with your athletic director and your compliance and your chancellor is we’re all in it to win, we’re all in it to live by the rules and we all know that when one violation happens or two violations, I can walk into our athletic director’s office and our director of compliance and say, ‘Hey, look, we made a mistake here.’ And you self-report it and you live by what happens with that.”
It was Petrino’s Arkansas team that Ohio State played in the Sugar Bowl, where Tressel was allowed to use five key players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who were suspended for the first five games of the 2012 season for receiving improper benefits.
Ohio State beat the Razorbacks 31-26.
Petrino said he wanted to play Ohio State at its best, but added: “There’s no question that I don’t understand how they were eligible to play in the game. I just don’t and I never will.”
But that doesn’t mean he was happy to see the scandal come back to bite Tressel.
“I can’t say that I was surprised, but I feel for him. When something like that happens, you never like to see it,” he said. “I feel for him, his family. It affects a lot of other people within the state, the university, so feel for all of those people.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he and Tressel came up through the coaching ranks together.
“I feel like I guess if you were in the military you would say, ‘We lost a fine comrade in this whole thing,’” Saban said. “I don’t know the details of all the circumstances and situation there and certainly don’t want to comment on that. But certainly there were mistakes made and whatever and there are going to be consequences for it. I still think this is one of the finest people in our profession and certainly hate to see what’s happening happen.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long contributed to this report.
Ralph D. Russo can be reached at http://twitter.com/ralphdrussoAP
The Associated Press