During a March 8th press conference acknowledging that Jim Tressel had committed major NCAA violations, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee uttered his embarrassing “I just hope he doesn’t dismiss me!” blast in reference to his then-head football coach.
On May 30, Tressel resigned, reportedly under pressure from the powers-that-be at the university. So, what exactly transpired during those 83 days that caused one of the most respected head coaches to — perhaps forcibly — step down in disgrace?
In arguably his most extensive and in-depth comments since Tressel’s resignation, Gee spoke to reporters, as Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, in a hallway at the Ohio Statehouse after testifying before a committee regarding a constitutional commission bill.
“We had the facts as we had them in our first news conference,” Gee said. “Those were arrived at very shortly after I had gotten back from China. We’d done the things we had to do and I got off an airplane and was immediately confronted with the issue.
“But the decision made at the time was based on what we knew, number one, and number two, was based upon what was an incredible body of work as the football coach and as a university citizen.
“We have a process at the university in which we do not immediately make decisions. We try to be deliberate and that was the process. Two months later, I think there were a lot of additional facts, and I think there was also the reality that we were facing serious issues. And the coach realized that and made what I think is the best decision on behalf of the university, which was to resign.”
Gee went on to add that “there was an accumulation of issues which were very troubling to the university.” Oh boy, were there ever. In the time between the initial March press conference and Tressel’s late May resignation, the following “accumulation of issues” and additional public black eyes for the program transpired to create an untenable situation for both the coach and the school:
— March 11: It was revealed by attorney Chris Cicero, the former OSU football player who first contacted Tressel in April of 2010 via email regarding potential NCAA violations committed by current players, revealed that Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey were the two players he knew of that had potentially received impermissible benefits.
— March 25: A report surfaced that Tressel forwarded the emails he had received from Cicero to Jeanette, Pa., businessman Ted Sarniak. Sarniak has been Pryor’s mentor for the past several years and served as the point man in the quarterback’s recruitment. The Columbus Dispatch wrote at the time that Tressel “shared the information with someone he thought could help his star quarterback even though he said he didn’t tell his bosses.”
— Late March/early April: Former OSU provost and current Oregon State president/NCAA Executive Committee chairman Ed Ray verbally hammered Tressel on at least two different occasions, saying that “it’s a good thing I’m not on the Infractions Committee” because he considers himself to be “a hanging judge“.
— April 18: OSU graduate and golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, in an attempt to defend Tressel, ripped into the school’s administration.
“I’ll promise you that Tressel wasn’t the only one who knew what happened, I’m going to bet you the university, I’m going to bet you (president E. Gordon) Gee and I’m going to bet you (athletics director) Gene (Smith) and everybody else knew, and Tressel probably took the hit for it. Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong, I don’t know. …
“I can’t imagine the rest of the university didn’t know what was going on. Jim, who is a terrific guy, maybe he decided to take it on his own shoulders. I don’t know. That could well be. I’m not privy to that. I just like him a lot.”
— April 25: Ohio State receives its official notice of allegations from the NCAA, which stated in part that “Jim Tressel, head football coach, failed to deport himself in accordance with the honesty and integrity normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics and violated ethical-conduct legislation.”
— April 26: Former Ohio State players Kirk Herbstreit, Robert Smith and Chris Spielman — all part of the ESPN broadcasting umbrella — refused to bite their tongues when it came to their alma mater or its then-coach.
— May 7: Prompted by a Columbus Dispatch investigation that began in 2007, OSU’s associate athletic director and head of compliance told the paper that the school will take a look into the sale of at least 50 used vehicles to student-athletes — mainly football players — and their relatives.
–May 26: Former OSU wide receiver Ray Small said in an interview with the school’s student newspaper that he, along with several other unnamed football players, sold OSU memorabilia such as Big Ten title rings as well as receiving special deals on the purchase of vehicles due to their status as athletes at the school.
— May 30: On the same day that Tressel resigned, it was reported that both the NCAA and Ohio State were already in the midst of conducting independent investigations into cars driven by Pryor over the past few years.
— May 30: On the same day Tressel resigned, Sports Illustrated released an explosive and damning expose’ into Tressel’s time at both Ohio State and Youngstown State, although the article itself has come under fire on several fronts since it was published. The school was made aware of the content of the article on the Friday before Tressel resigned, leading some to speculate that the accusations contained in the piece played at least a minor role in the timing of the resignation.
So, yeah, Gee was correct; there was “an accumulation of issues which were very troubling to the university.” But, we can even admit that, even as we feel he’s an insufferable buffoon when it comes to football, Gee made an excellent point about the university as a whole.
“This is a national black eye, there’s no doubt about it,” Gee said. “The university itself has not been damaged. Our fundraising is up, our student applications are up, but now we need to make our case on the national stage that it’s a great university and when we stumble we take appropriate action to make sure we correct (those issues).
“But just remember, our university is doing very well. I live in the world of the university, which is a magnificent university doing very well. And I live in the world of football, in which we have problems we are addressing.”
Certainly the situation swirling around the football program doesn’t help the university’s image on a certain level, but it can do nothing to change the fact that it’s a hell of an academic and research institution. Some things are indeed more important than football, and what the majority of the students are in Columbus for is just that.
Regardless of how many black eyes the football program accumulates.