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End of an era: Jim Tressel resigns

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor

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He roamed the Ohio State sideline for 10 years with his conservative attire and conservative play calling.

He basked in the glory of a national championship win and took heat for twice failing to capture the crystal football.

Now, after one tumultuous offseason shrouded with controversy and scandal, Jim Tressel is gone.

Tressel submitted his letter of resignation Monday morning, ending months of debate about his job status but leaving behind plenty of questions.

President E. Gordon Gee released a statement Monday morning saying assistant coach Luke Fickell will coach the entire 2011 season and that a search for a permanent head coach will not start until after the upcoming season.

Tressel was facing a five-game suspension and $250,000 fine for failing to report NCAA violations committed by his players.

“After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach,” Tressel said in his letter of resignation. “The appreciation that (my wife) Ellen and I have for the Buckeye Nation is immeasurable.”

Tressel, who didn’t apologize in his letter, wrote that the turmoil within the football program was becoming too much of a “distraction.”

“The recent situation has been a distraction for our great university, and I make this decision for the greater good of our school,” Tressel wrote.

Tressel could not be reached for comment. A man who answered the door at the Tressel household Monday evening said he wasn’t home.

In a February interview with The Lantern, Tressel said that as coach at OSU, “you can’t be perfect and you can’t get everything done.”

In a video statement, athletic director Gene Smith said he and Tressel met Sunday night after the coach returned from a vacation in Florida.

They met again in Tressel’s office Monday morning, when Tressel submitted his letter of resignation to Smith.

OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said Tressel called a meeting with his players at 8:45 a.m. to break the news to them.

Position coaches contacted players not present at the meeting, Smith said.

“There wasn’t a huge gathering,” Lynch told The Lantern. “The whole team wasn’t there, given the fact that it was a holiday weekend.”

Smith said he asked Fickell to become the team’s interim head coach before Tressel addressed the team.

“When we met with the team, Luke had an opportunity to share some things with the team,” Smith said. “He did an excellent job of talking about the things that are important.”

Athletic department spokesman Dan Wallenberg told The Lantern that there are no immediate plans for Smith to address the media.

On Dec. 23, 2010, the NCAA suspended quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas for five games for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits from Eddie Rife, owner of Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor. Linebacker Jordan Whiting also received a one-game ban.

Last week, Ray Small, who played receiver under Tressel from 2006-2009, told The Lantern he sold his Big Ten Championship rings.

A Sports Illustrated report Monday evening said 28 OSU players – including nine current athletes – exchanged memorabilia for tattoos.

“During the course of an investigation, the university and the NCAA work jointly to review any new allegations that come to light, and will continue to do so until the conclusion of the investigation,” Smith said in a statement. “You should (be) rest assured that these new allegations will be evaluated in exactly this manner. Beyond that we will have no further comment.”

Tressel received a series of emails from attorney and former OSU football player Chris Cicero between April and June 2010 detailing several players’ involvement with Rife. Tressel forwarded the information on to Pryor’s mentor, Ted Sarniak, but failed to inform Gee, Smith and the NCAA.

On Sept. 13, 2010, Tressel signed a document stating he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations. At a March 8 press conference, Tressel admitted to knowingly playing athletes who should have been ineligible.

At that press conference, Tressel said he didn’t think he needed to resign.

“That wouldn’t be something that would jump in my mind,” Tressel said, “unless there came that point in time where I said, ‘You know what? The best thing to do for those kids (OSU players) is if I do,’ and I don’t feel that way.”

OSU originally suspended Tressel for two games, but the coach later asked for his punishment to match that of his players. Fickell was to take over during Tressel’s absence.

“We look forward to refocusing the football program on doing what we do best – representing this extraordinary university and its values on the field, in the classroom and in life,” Smith said Monday. “We look forward to supporting Luke Fickell in his role as our football coach. We have full confidence in his ability to lead our football program.”

Tressel was scheduled to earn $3.5 million this year. Fickell’s salary has yet to be determined, Lynch said. Fickell earned $250,000 in 2010.

Lynch said Gee appointed a committee to advise him on “issues relating to our football program.”

The committee, made up of seven past and current Board of Trustees members and university administrators, included Alex Shumate, chair of the Committee on Trusteeship; Jerry Jurgensen, Board of Trustees member; Brandon Mitchell, the graduate/professional student trustee for the Board; Geoffrey Chatas, senior vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer for OSU; Joseph Alutto, executive vice president and provost for the Office of Academic Affairs; Robert Duncan, former chairperson of the Board of Trustees; Christopher Culley, senior vice president and general counsel for the Office of Legal Affairs.

Lynch said he didn’t know how often the group met or when its last meeting was. He also said Gee was “out of the state” until late Monday night and could not be reached.

Committee members did not immediately respond to The Lantern‘s request for comment.

How Tressel’s resignation will affect the ongoing NCAA investigation into the football program remains unclear. OSU has until July 5 to present a response to the NCAA’s notice of allegations sent to Gee on April 21. University representatives – including Tressel and Fickell – are scheduled to meet with the Committee on Infractions on Aug. 12.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said OSU “has consistently reported” its findings to the NCAA, and that Tressel’s resignation is a result of his cover-up.

“His resignation today is an indication that serious mistakes have serious consequences,” Delany said.

Former OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis said Tressel took too much of the blame.

“It just amazes me how everything is being put on Tressel,” Laurinaitis told The Lantern. “Yeah, he allegedly lied … but you can’t babysit every single player on your team. If a kid gets a DUI are you going to blame the kid or blame the parents?”

Malcolm Jenkins, who played cornerback under Tressel from 2005-08, said Tressel looked out for his players’ best interests.

“He’s the victim in all of this. All he’s tried to do is look out for his players and now it’s twisted to make it look like he’s the mastermind behind this,” Jenkins told The Lantern. “He didn’t automatically go snitch on his five players; he withheld it, which is wrong by NCAA standards, but he’s looking out for these kids like they’re his own. He could’ve been selfish and saved his neck.”

Tresse
l compiled a 241-79 record in 25 years as a head coach at Youngstown State and OSU. He won four I-AA championships at Youngstown State.

Tressel took over for John Cooper on Jan. 18, 2001, and immediately guaranteed at halftime of OSU’s basketball game against Michigan that night that his Buckeyes would beat the rival Wolverines 310 days later.

In his second year at OSU, the Buckeyes won the National Championship, beating a heavily-favored Miami Hurricanes team, 31-24, in double overtime.

Tressel amassed a 106-22 mark at OSU, earning his 100th win Oct. 9, 2010, against Indiana.

The Buckeyes won, or shared, the Big Ten title seven times under Tressel, who guided OSU to a 9-1 mark against Michigan.

OSU reached the National Championship game in 2007 and 2008, but lost to Florida and LSU, respectively.

Laurinaitis said Tressel’s perceived image of perfection set him up to fail.

“Because Tressel wrote a book about his principles and then he screws up once, (everyone) thought he was perfect,” Laurinaitis said. “That’s the kind of thing that bothers me. Everyone makes mistakes and he’d be the first to admit it.”

Tressel departs with the third-most victories of any OSU coach, behind Woody Hayes (205) and Cooper (111). Tressel’s .828 winning percentage tops both Hayes’ (.761) and Cooper’s (.715).

OSU football historian Jack Park said Tressel’s decade of winning will speak louder than his offseason of controversy.

“His legacy here as far as football at Ohio State will always be extremely high,” Park said. “It’s been tarnished a little bit here at the end because of his resignation. The same thing happened to Woody Hayes.”

Tressel told The Lantern in February that he did his best to match the lofty expectations placed upon his role each year.

“I know this: I’ve tried very hard. And I know there have been some good things that have occurred and some ones that haven’t been so good, neither of which have been because we didn’t try,” Tressel said. “I think our intentions have been good and I’ll always feel whenever that day comes that we tried like crazy. I also know that at Ohio State, you can’t win enough games and you can’t visit enough patients in the hospital and you can’t write enough encouraging notes to the military and you can’t send out enough little football cards to the kids that write in.

“I know you can’t be perfect and you can’t get everything done, but while you’re the Ohio State coach, you’ve got to work like crazy and do the best you can and feel good about trying.”

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