Greeson: Lies again take down a top coach

Greeson: Lies again take down a top coach

May 31st, 2011 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, left, sits next to E. Gordon Gee, Ohio State University president, during a news conference Tuesday, March 8, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State suspended Tressel for two games and fined him $250,000 for violating NCAA rules by failing to notify the school about information he received involving two players and questionable activities involving Buckeye memorabilia. Tressel also will receive a public reprimand and must make a public apology. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

Don't spit into the wind. Don't complain about your mother-in-law's cooking. Don't play poker with anyone who has a nickname of a city. And don't ever lie to the NCAA.

Jim Tressel hung up his scarlet sweater vest Monday, resigning as the head football coach at Ohio State. Tressel stepped down amid a growing controversy that started with players selling and trading gear and memorabilia and mushroom-clouded almost weekly with details about lies of omission and cover-ups.

Tressel, who became aware of the players' NCAA violations last spring, did not inform his bosses or the NCAA of the events when he learned of them, and he later lied and covered up the acts. There have been more accusations and allegations since - from previous players saying they sold items to reports of car dealers giving OSU football players and their families extra benefits - but the dishonesty cooked Tressel's goose.

This was the only way this could end, of course - yet another Ohio State coach leaving in disappointing circumstances. For all the success the Buckeyes have enjoyed, no football coach since the 1940s has left there without being fired or being asked to leave or resigning amid controversy.

Tressel had to go, regardless of the asinine assessment by Ohio State president Gordon Gee, who originally joked about Tressel's job status that he hoped Tressel would not dismiss him.

Ohio State adamantly defended Tressel when the allegations were first reported, not unlike how Tennessee originally supported basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

As with Pearl, as more details became known about Tressel's loose association with the rules and with the truth, a highly successful coaching career was finished. In each case, the weight of facing the NCAA with Pearl or Tressel still on staff seemed too daunting.

Tressel left, hoping his resignation would be one final act that showed his devotion to Ohio State. His resignation letter, which ended with "We will be Buckeyes forever," though, will not serve the Buckeyes as well as a pink slip would have.

The timing of Tressel's resignation has been linked to possible allegations and news in an upcoming Sports Illustrated story on Ohio State's recent troubles. It also could have been linked to the recent NCAA ruling that denied an appeal from Southern Cal and upholding the penalties levied against the Trojans that include 30 fewer scholarships and a postseason ban this year.

College sports in general and college football in particular have been assailed by negative PR in the last year. Bowl game officials who are morally bankrupt and recruiting stories that make fathers look like street agents and street agents trying to be fathers have become so common that the increasing concerns revolve more on proof and evidence more than on guilt or innocence. It's becomimg less about whether rules are being broken and more about whether the people within the program know about the violations.

"There are no other NCAA violations around this case," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said last December when the school divulged the misgivings of five Buckeyes, including start quarterback Terrelle Pryor. "We're very fortunate we do not have a systemic problem in our program. This is isolated to these young men, isolated to this particular incident. There are no other violations that exist."

What he may have meant to say was that he knew of no other problems. And that's where corrupt programs walk the dotted gray line of ambiguity in regard to NCAA rules. There is no place where ignorance is more blissful than the world of big-time college football.

Until the coaches and/or administrators know, the violations most often are secondary against the program and more stringent against the player. That is unless there are lies being issued to the NCAA - then all bets are off and no one is safe.

Seriously, if a year ago someone asked you to name the most job-secure college football coaches in the country, Tressel had to be at or near the top of that list. This morning his career is finished.

The truth hurts.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.