Jim Tressel wasn’t just another college coach.
He told us so.
He peddled the message of integrity and honor along with a series of inspirational books such as “The Winners Manual For the Game of Life” and “Life Promises For Success: Promises From God On Achieving Your Best” while touting doing “the right thing.”
And he sold the image with that professorial look and Mr. Rogers sweater.
But it turns out that Tressel could be as much an under-the-rock fraud as your average Wall Street swindler. He told one lie and then another, attempting to obfuscate his knowledge of one Buckeyes scandal while creating another crisis that finally led to his departure Monday.
There is a fresh, high-profile lesson there for all those who place college coaches on too high a pedestal. Cheer them for their victories, salute them for their championships, but remember an admirable winning percentage isn’t necessarily a sign of exemplary behavior. Beating Michigan regularly doesn’t automatically confer wisdom. Bowl game invitations don’t certify character.
While they are points too often lost on fans who, by the very definition, are “fanatics,” you could also say the same about OSU administrators. The Buckeyes debacle is a reminder of what can happen when administrators find it easier to wave pom-poms than do their jobs.
Less than three months ago, well after Tressel’s deceit was discovered, OSU president E. Gordon Gee was asked if he had considered firing Tressel. “Are you kidding? I’m just hoping that the coach doesn’t dismiss me,” Gee responded, immediately telling you how deep in the Ohio Stadium turf his head was stuck.
Two weeks ago the school’s athletic director, Gene Smith, also gave Tressel a public vote of confidence.
We are left to speculate on what changed their minds, be it mounting public opinion, additional revelations, the rising prospect of severe NCAA sanctions or a combination of all of the above.
But something — and there is nothing like NCAA gumshoes prowling the corridors to provide a little religion — prompted the powers that be in Columbus to finally begin asking the kind of questions that were months overdue.
Just as sadly, it apparently took the convening of “a special committee,” as Gee put it, to help him see his duty and obligation. And, maybe, to give him the requisite backbone to carry out a change that needed to be made.
Schools, especially marquee BCS ones such as Ohio State, reward their coaches handsomely. Tressel was getting a reported $3.7 million this year. Of course, they ask a lot in terms of victories and championships. And sometimes not enough in integrity.
If Wall Street financial folks aren’t above cooking the books to preserve their considerable salaries and perks, we shouldn’t assume that some coaches are beyond turning a blind eye or contorting the truth to protect their goodies either. Too many have already demonstrated they will.
Tressel, it turns out, wasn’t any different. He was just the latest and slickest.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.