The fact that Terrelle Pryor is following Jim Tressel out the door at Ohio State should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed their relationship.
On Memorial Day, Tressel resigned his post as head coach of the Buckeyes as the program awaits its date in front of the NCAA committee on infractions. Eight days later, Pryor issued a statement saying he would not return for his senior season. Both are the subject of the NCAA’s investigation into the program.
In his 37 years of coaching, it is unlikely that Tressel has shared a bond with a recruit like the one he enjoyed with Pryor. It was formed when the Buckeyes began recruiting the five-star quarterback prospect out of Jeannette, Pa. and forged as Pryor’s recruitment dragged past National Signing Day.
Immediately upon announcing that he was signing with the Buckeyes on March 19, 2008, Pryor was asked to explain his decision.
“I felt comfortable with Coach Tressel,” he said, sitting behind a table onstage in his school’s auditorium. “It was my choice.”
In the immediate aftermath, Tressel held a teleconference to discuss landing the biggest recruit in the class of 2008. Asked when he realized he had a special talent on his hands, Tressel used language never replicated during the next three signing days.
“I think it was a couple of years ago when we saw highlight film clips and it was, ‘Hey, this guy is extraordinary. He’s one of the special ones,’ ” he said that day. “It doesn’t take a whole bunch of analytical skills to turn a film on and see how good he was.”
The son of a coach, Tressel had been taught from a young age to reward seniors within his program. The lesson applied directly to him during his career at Baldwin-Wallace, where his father, Lee, named him the starter for his senior season.
“The senior, it was his job,” said Ken Preseran, who backed up Jim at Baldwin-Wallace during his senior season. “Obviously if it wasn’t going well the head coach would make a switch, but the senior was up. The senior was first up. It was his job to lose.”
The Buckeyes opened the 2008 season with incumbent Todd Boeckman under center. In addition to having been named first-team all-Big Ten during the previous season, Boeckman was a rare sixth-year senior who had undergone both grayshirt and redshirt seasons.
After paying his dues for all those years, Boeckman was tossed to the side after a poor performance against USC. Four games into his freshman campaign, Pryor had the reins.
It seemed that the quarterback could do little wrong in Tressel’s eyes. When he spoke out in support of Michael Vick with the now-infamous line “Everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me,” the coach defended him. When it was pointed out that Pryor wore “Vick” on his eye black, Tressel replied that he was too short to see that high up on Pryor’s face.
Even the university cut Pryor a break. When the Buckeyes opened up the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Texas, Boeckman lined up at center while Pryor was split out wide. The freshman saw 29 minutes of playing time compared to six for the senior in the 24-21 defeat, but it was Boeckman who had the loss permanently affixed to his record as a starter, not Pryor.
The situation continued into his junior season. After the quarterback engaged in a shouting match with quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano on the sidelines during one game that was picked up by television cameras, Tressel first downplayed the situation before questioning whether the reporter who had asked it had ever played a team sport.
So it was when Tressel was confronted with information that Pryor and a teammate had been trading memorabilia for tattoos, the coach promised to get on it but instead kept the information to himself. Pryor and five teammates were eventually suspended for their roles in the scandal, but Tressel successfully fought for their right to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Ironically, Pryor and his fellow suspended teammates were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl only after they signed pledges to Tressel that they would return for the 2011 season.
“They wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case,” the coach said at his first press conference in New Orleans.
Now we know that Tressel knew all along that Pryor and a teammate should have been ineligible for the entire 2010 season. Tressel is gone, and now so too is Pryor.
When Pryor took to a podium to address the media during photo day before his junior season began, he followed Tressel as the only members of the program to do so. He faced the north, closed end of Ohio Stadium and moved the microphone higher, joking of Tressel: “He’s a little short.”
Asked how he had grown from his freshman season, Pryor said, “Just from being around the guys I’ve been around and being around Coach Tressel, who is the greatest example for young men.”
Now Pryor has followed that example and left the program. After everything the two had been through, it somehow seems fitting.
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