I used to think Jim Tressel was scum. Covering up his players' transgressions, hiding them from his school and NCAA. But I've been reading over the allegations, just doing some sittin', and some thinkin', and I'm man enough to admit I was wrong. Jim Tressel is the ideal coach for a big-time program in today's college football.
The Columbus Dispatch is still hitting this one hard, revealing a new cache of phone calls and emails. After Tressel was tipped off that Terrelle Pryor and others were selling memorabilia for tattoos, he sprung into action. Just hours after hearing about the problem, he followed up with the tipster. He called Pryor's mentor. He exchanged 33 text messages and phone calls with Pryor himself. He called the home of an FBI agent, who just happened to be a personal friend and the father of a former player. And in this flurry of communications, Jim Tressel managed to avoid doing one key thing:
But OSU records don't show a single call or email from Tressel to the Ohio State compliance office in which he could have reported his players' apparent violations of NCAA regulations.
This, of course, is the source of Tressel's five-game suspension and $250,000 fine (so far). But he isn't fired, even with all the just cause in the world. Because Ohio State knows what it has on its hands in Tressel: a man who's going to keep his mouth shut and take the fall for his employer.
The man doesn't hold some patent on boring, predictable Tresselball. Which is to say, no one hires a coach just to coach. Being a college football coach carries a job description somewhere between day care supervisor and parole officer: you keep your players in line as best you can, and you provide a face for the program through good times and bad. You protect the program from itself.
Jim Tressel could have run to the Compliance Office the minute he heard about Pryor. The school would have investigated, would have been forced to go to the NCAA, tail between legs. But do you know who self-reports violations? Small-time programs.
Tressel's plan was near perfect: do his own investigation to make sure no one knew about the transgressions, and then never say a word to anyone. It almost worked, too. He kept a lid on the allegations for eight whole months, and won a Sugar Bowl in the process. His cover-up might still be working if not for disgraced lawyer Christopher Cicero running to the media.
Risk management is another job for coaches, and Jim Tressel did the calculations. He judged that the greater good would be served by chancing that he could keep this quiet. And why did he do this? Not for his own skin — he would have gotten off scot-free if he had immediately reported the violations — but for the good of the program. Jim Tressel, company man.
Everything he did, he did for OSU. He tried to keep them out of trouble, at risk to himself. Don't think they're going to forget that. So while he's an embarrassment now, don't expect them to fire him, and don't expect any other program to hesitate before snapping him up. His school throwing him under the bus by releasing copies of his emails? That's just the way it has to be. Because he can take it. Jim Tressel, silent guardian, watchful protector, is the hero Columbus deserves and the one it needs right now.