Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jim Tressel's Resignation

Yesterday, after I heard that Jim Tressel had resigned as the head football coach at Ohio State, I sent an e–mail to a friend of mine.

"Did you hear that Jim Tressel has resigned at Ohio State?" I asked.

"It had been building for some time after that stupid bowl decision," he replied. "Probably good for both the school and him. He'll get a job next year very easily at a top program."

I completely agree with his first sentence — and I agree with the second as well. I'm not so sure about the third. I'm kind of inclined to think this is it for Tressel — or that it may be a few years — possibly several years — before he returns to the sidelines.

It's hard for me to say, though. Tressel's decision really caught me by surprise — although, in hindsight, my friend's observation that this "had been building for some time" makes sense — and it may take me awhile to absorb it all.

Others don't seem as surprised.

Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports, for one, wants to know — What took so long?

"Any other coach would have been tossed aside months ago," he writes. "Tressel must have attended — and graduated cum laude from — the Richard M. Nixon School on how to handle a crisis situation. Yet another example: The coverup is worse than the crime."

That helps frame things for me. Tressel does remind me of Nixon in his determination never to admit to wrongdoing. Even his "defense" of his players' violations of NCAA rules against selling memorabilia — that these problems could be avoided if athletes were paid — smacks of the kind of arrogance I have come to expect from Ohio State coaches.

Which brings me to Mike Lopresti of USA Today, who put into words a thought that kept going through my mind.

For reasons I had not been able to pinpoint previously, Tressel's sudden departure reminded me of the demise of another legendary Ohio State football coach, Woody Hayes, who belted an opposing player following a turnover in a bowl game.

They were "[t]wo smart, determined, successful coaches [who] came to messy ends, each from [a] self–induced crisis."

Hayes was arrogant, too — in a different way, perhaps. But each in his own way believed that he and the Ohio State football program occupied a special zone. In that zone, Hayes was entitled to fetch a roundhouse to the chops of an opposing player on national TV, and Tressel was entitled to look the other way while his players ignored the rules by which all others must live.

("If the president does it," Nixon famously said, "that means it is not illegal.")

Nevertheless, Tressel was maybe the only thing sports fans in Ohio had going for them these days. Lebron James left Cleveland for Miami — where he will start playing for an NBA title tonight.

The Cleveland Indians are clinging to first in a pitiful American League Central, but they got hammered the day Tressel announced his resignation, and it is far from certain whether they will still be playing in October.

The Cincinnati Reds, thought by many to be a sure thing for the playoffs when the season began, are in a tailspin; they've lost seven of their last 10 games, and they are currently third in the National League Central.

And probably the less said about the Browns and the Bengals the better.

Tressel's status among suddenly embattled (and presumably embittered) Ohio sports fans may improve. After all, by the time he died, Hayes was remembered for his triumphs on the gridiron and not his indiscretion in the Gator Bowl.

And Nixon, too, was eulogized in glowing terms — nearly two decades after he resigned the presidency.

Time does have a way of healing all — or, at least, most — wounds.

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