The worst fears of Buckeye fans have come to pass. Jim Tressel has resigned as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. While the coming days and weeks will be filled with mostly unflattering post-mortems of the events leading up to Tressel’s resignation, sadly little attention will be given to Jim Tressel the man and his impact on the lives of the young men he coached in Columbus over the past decade.
Tressel’s departure from Ohio State was inevitable. His tragic mistake was signing off on the NCAA compliance document with knowledge that he was making a false statement. That sealed his fate. I think we’ll eventually find that this knowledge went beyond Tressel, but that doesn’t release him from responsibility for his part.
What ESPN and most of the journalists covering this scandal will miss is the true honor and character Tressel showed as head coach. Most importantly, it was these ideals that he instilled in his players that ultimately define his tenure.
Today we see many cynics taking their potshots at Tressel, insisting this event proves Tressel and his “Winner’s Manual” ethics were fraudulent. These pundits are ignoring the overwhelming testimony from players, however, who have glowingly praised Tressel for the positive effects his leadership had on their lives.
I witnessed this first hand in 2003 when Tressel and his staff recruited a student of mine. While other coaches told this young man what he wanted to hear, Tressel and his staff were nothing but honest about what his role would be at Ohio State and what would be expected of him. Ultimately, the young man heard what he wanted to hear and went to another school. He soon found out he had been lied to and regretted his choice.
It was during this time that I had a now prophetic conversation with Jim Heacock who was heading up the recruitment of this player. OSU had just endured the Maurice Clarett affair and Heacock and I talked about the fallout from that firestorm.
Heacock confided that he and the staff were concerned about Tressel’s propensity to “take chances” on kids with character flaws. Yes, those kids were talented, but Tressel was supremely confident in his ability to mentor and transform these young men.
In retrospect we now know that Tressel was successful in many cases. Read the testimonies of those who were affected by playing for Tressel. Troy Smith’s story alone is evidence of how Tressel’s tutelage and unswerving loyalty transformed a kid with a troubled past, making him a champion both on and off the field.
Sadly, the industry Jim Tressel toiled in is full of unethical folks both inside and outside the programs. In an atmosphere so rife with corruption, good men like Tressel become targets, their slightest missteps amplified.
Ultimately, it was Jim Tressel’s loyalty to his players that was his undoing. He could have thrown them under the bus, ruining their careers and saving his. He could have thrown the university to the wolves as well. It will soon become obvious Gene Smith was asleep at the wheel.
Jim Tressel’s departure at Ohio State is a sad loss of a man with character. College athletics needs more men like Tressel among its ranks. Sadly, the atmosphere is not conducive for good men lasting too long.