This Memorial Day began fairly similarly to last year’s for me.
As the time ticked past 9 a.m., I stretched out in my bed for a few last winks of sleep as the early-morning sun began to overheat my third-floor bedroom.
This year, I was able to turn on the French Open and wake up at my own pace. Last year, that wasn’t the case.
A year ago, my phone started to buzz just as I was regaining consciousness. Immediately, I knew what it was going to be about. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw who was on the other end on the caller ID – a media friend who would only be calling at this hour with important news.
Jim Tressel had resigned.
It wasn’t a lightning bolt out of the blue. Tressel’s reputation – and by proxy, that of the school and the athletic department – had been getting dinged repeatedly in the media and the court of public opinion ever since his March admission he had not reported what he knew about players receiving extra benefits from a Columbus-area tattoo parlor owner.
In the week leading up to Memorial Day, the school’s student newspaper, The Lantern, published a story with comments from former wideout Ray Small in which he admitted he had also sold gear and that players received discounts on cars and didn’t pay attention to NCAA rules in Tressel’s program.
The story was a significant hit in the court of public opinion when it came to Tressel and his program, and rumors were rampant leading up to Memorial Day that Sports Illustrated would be publishing a blockbuster story that night that would detail everything that had run afoul of NCAA rules in the program.
Of course, that story turned out to be more fluff than bite, but it didn’t matter. Tressel was already gone by the time the story hit the internet that evening.
In his resignation letter to athletic director Gene Smith, Tressel wrote, “After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach.
“The recent situation has been a distraction for our great university and I make this decision for the greater good of our school.
“The appreciation that Ellen and I have for the Buckeye Nation is immeasurable. We have been blessed to work with the finest group of young men in America and we love them dearly. In addition, we cannot thank you enough… the high school coaches we have worked with these many years.
“We know that God has a plan for us and we will be fine. We will be Buckeyes forever.”
Smith released a video statement about the situation later that day, and with that, perhaps the most successful era of Ohio State football – one that included nine wins vs. Michigan, eight BCS bowl appearances, seven Big Ten championships, three national title game bids and the 2002 national title – was over.
Of course, everyone knows what has happened in the meantime. Longtime Tressel assistant and former OSU player Luke Fickell – long rumored to be a potential successor to Tressel when the coach did retire – was promoted to head coach. Players talked of coming together and uniting under the trying circumstances, but the strain coupled with injuries, talent defections and too much youth led to a 6-7 record and Gator Bowl loss. It was OSU’s first losing season in more than two decades.
Two days after the regular season ended, Ohio State hired former Florida coach Urban Meyer, an Ohio native and two-time national championship winner. Under Meyer, the Buckeyes have talked about revolutionizing what was often viewed as a staid offense while scoring a number of high-profile hits on the recruiting trail.
Time will tell whether Meyer’s program will be more successful than Tressel’s. The bar is certainly sky-high.
In the meantime, Buckeye Sports Bulletin and BuckeyeSports.com will be doing a few things to commemorate Tressel’s tenure at OSU. On Wednesday, we’ll publish a story here on the site about the players’ reaction to the ups and downs of the past year.
But the big piece of the puzzle will be our cover story in the print edition of June’s Buckeye Sports Bulletin. BSB staffer Marcus Hartman has talked to a number of local and national media commentators to get their thoughts on Tressel’s legacy one year after his resignation, a perspective piece Buckeye fans will not want to miss. (Remember, you get a subscription to BSB with a year subscription to BuckeyeSports.com.)
There will also be some other interactive components as we look back on the legacy of one of the greatest, most discussed and in the end most controversial coaches in Ohio State history.