The sick feeling growing in Ross Homan’s stomach had nothing to do with the breakfast he was preparing. The former all-Big Ten linebacker at Ohio State was in his kitchen early on Memorial Day when his cell phone began going off.
“I was making breakfast and my phone started blowing up with texts,” Homan told BSB. “For some reason I had a weird feeling that I knew what it was so I turned on ESPN and there it was. It’s sad it’s come to this.”
The news was that head coach Jim Tressel had resigned from the program after a 10-year career following revelations that he had lied about his knowledge of potential NCAA violations committed by his players. Already facing a five-game suspension to start the season, Tressel’s decision to step down was first announced to players still in town during the holiday weekend at a team meeting at 8:45 this morning.
His address to the assembled players – as well as a few members of the school’s board of trustees – lasted for about 30 seconds. The reverberations will be felt for years.
It did not take long for word to spread. Nader Abdallah, an OSU letter winner from 2007-08, said he was at work when he heard the news. A native of New Orleans, La., Abdallah and his family suffered through Hurricane Katrina but were helped by Tressel.
“He was able to talk to the NCAA to put my family in a house for six months, which was covered by FEMA,” he said. “Just having him be able to be supportive during that whole time with my family, he was there helping me.”
Although speculation on Tressel’s job security had been rampant since his role in the scandal involving six current players was made known March 8, those around the coach noticed no changes in his outward demeanor.
Homan, a sixth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings who is currently working out in Columbus, said he has been working out at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and would see Tressel each morning going through his usual routing: time on the treadmill and chitchat with those also working out before beginning his work day.
Former linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who received the news while in Dallas for a wedding, said he saw Tressel on Thursday and saw no indications of a pending resignation.
“I talked to him in person before I left to come down here and he was really the same guy in May of 2011 as he was in 2001 when he was hired,” said Carpenter, who lettered for the Buckeyes from 2002-05. “That’s who he is. I asked him how he was doing and he was fine.”
Former OSU defensive back Donald Washington, now a member of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, said he was awakened this morning by a phone call from his girlfriend telling him that Tressel had resigned. Like Homan, Washington has been working out at the WHAC in recent weeks.
As such, it took a few more phone calls to convince him to get out of bed and flip on the television.
“I would have never guessed,” he said. “I still can’t really believe it.”
However, Homan pointed out that the recent weeks had him unsure what might be down the road for his former coach. Last week, former wide receiver Ray Small told student newspaper The Lantern that he had sold memorabilia while was a student, adding that everyone was doing it. He later claimed the paper had not faithfully reported his claims, but it opened the program to a new round of scrutiny.
“No one really knew what was going on with all the allegations,” Homan said. “No one knew what it was going to come down to.”
Linebackers coach Luke Fickell will step into Tressel’s shoes for the season, after which a search will be launched that is expected to include candidates from both within and outside the program. Fickell had been named the temporary coach for the first five games of the season.
Abdallah said that although it is a familiar face keeping things warm for now, it will be a different feeling within the weight room.
“My first reaction was more shock,” he said. “Then it was extremely sad to me because when I go to the Woody Hayes I like to see Coach Tressel there and have a warm environment where it’s a good environment. I don’t know how it’s going to be now when I go over there. It’s extremely shocking to me – more sad than anything. I didn’t see it coming.”
Abdallah said he had spoken with Doug Worthington, a former team captain and fellow defensive lineman. Homan said he had heard from his brother Adam Homan, a fullback on the roster, but no other players.
“I’ve talked to a couple guys,” Washington said. “A lot of guys are shocked and saddened by the news. I think it was shocking to everybody. It really hit a place in my heart that he resigned. It really touched me.”
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