Jim Tressel resigned as the football coach at Ohio State University Sunday evening and while it doesn’t close the door on a potential scandal it could very well soften the blow of possible NCAA sanctions. It also opens the door wide open for speculation that Ohio State will turn to former Florida coach Urban Meyer as the coach to come in and right a listing ship.
If Ohio State calls Urban Meyer will it be an offer he can't refuse?
After a week in which a former player said players regular sold memorabilia and championship rings for cash along with getting special treatment for cars and apartments in Columbus and a car salesman linked to earlier reports involving 50 Buckeye players getting special deals claiming that Ohio State’s compliance department was less than forthcoming, Tressel’s resignation wasn’t a complete surprise although perhaps unexpected at this particular time.
In a statement released to the media Monday, Tressel said, “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 appreciation that Ellen and I have for the Buckeye Nation is immeasurable."
The NCAA will still continue its investigation into Ohio State on the original charges that Tressel lied to the NCAA on at least two occasions: (1) prior to the 2010 football season when he knew that five players had violated NCAA rules and (2) prior to the Sugar Bowl when he said he had become aware of the transgressions by the five players at a much later date than when he in fact found out what had gone on. The five players sold their championship rings and other memorabilia to the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor, who last week entered a guilty plea on Federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
Almost certainly, the NCAA will also investigate the claims by a former Ohio State player about other players selling their rings, etc., which is a clear violation of NCAA rules (it cost Georgia’s A.J. Green four games last year when it was revealed that he sold a bowl game jersey), and the most recent allegation by the car salesman that Ohio State compliance knew about every car that he sold to players, which seems to contradict Ohio State compliance’s claim that it barely knew the salesman and didn’t do deals with dealerships.
With the potential of major sanctions looming, Tressel resigned, and that has the potential to soften the NCAA blow. There is precedent that when coaches resign prior to their day in NCAA court or the school pre-empts and fires the coach in question that the NCAA eases up on the sanctions. When the University of Florida went on a serious NCAA probation in 1984, then UF president Marshall Criser fired football coach Charley Pell in an effort to soften the blow. Florida admitted to 109 NCAA violations and was handed one of the most severe probations in NCAA history.
While waiting its fate from the NCAA, Ohio State named assistant coach Luke Fickell as its interim coach for 2011. Fickell is a fromer Ohio State player and the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach who has been on Tressel’s coaching staff since 2002. Fickell will probably get consideration to become the permanent replacement for Tressel if he does well in 2011, but the amount of damage done to Ohio State’s reputation as a school that does things the right way might require that the school go after a big name coach without a trace of scandal attached to his name.
Obviously, the speculation will turn to former Florida coach Urban Meyer, who led the Gators to two national championships in six years before resigning in December citing health and family reasons. In his time at Florida, Meyer compiled a 65-15 record and won the 2006 and 2008 national championships. In 2006, the underdog Gators beat Tressel and Ohio State, 41-14, in the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona.
Meyer resigned at Florida after an 8-5 season, the only five-loss season of his collegiate coaching career, which also includes two years at Bowling Green (17-6 record) and Utah (22-2 record that includes a 12-0 season in 2004). Sandwiched between a 9-3 record his first year at Florida in 2005 and the 8-5 record in 2010 were a 13-1 2006, 9-4 2007 and 13-1 records in both 2008 and 2009.
Meyer is taking a year away from coaching and working as a college football analyst with ESPN, but there is widespread speculation that this will be a one-year gig, two at the most, and that he will return to coaching shortly. He’s admitted that he still has the coaching bug so most of the people who know him and work with him at ESPN think it is simply a matter of when, not if he returns to coaching.
Although Meyer has adapted to Florida and warm weather quite nicely, the lure of Columbus and Ohio State could be compelling. Meyer served as a graduate assistant at Ohio State under Earle Bruce in 1986-87 and holds a master’s degree in psychology from the school. A Buckeye fan while growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer has a portrait of Woody Hayes hanging in his Haile Plantation home in Gainesville.
Meyer’s undergraduate degree is from the University of Cincinnati and he still has family in that city, including his elderly father, who has been quite ill the last couple of years. Wife Shelley is also a Cincinnati graduate who, like Urban, grew up a Buckeye fan.
So, the ties to Ohio State are strong and a call from Columbus might be the offer that Meyer can’t refuse. While it wouldn’t be surprising to see Meyer issue a denial that he (a) is interested in the job and (b) has had any contact with Ohio State regarding the job, this could be a situation similar to the one Bear Bryant experienced back in 1958 when he was coaching at Texas A&M. Alabama fired J.B. “Ears” Whitworth after going 2-7-1 in 1957 and 4-24-2 in his three years on the job.
When explaining to reporters and Texas A&M boosters why he was leaving after four years in which he had built the Aggie football program into one of the best in the nation, Bryant replied, “Mama’s calling.”
If Ohio State chooses to pursue Meyer for the coaching vacancy, will Meyer hear the sounds of Mama’s voice calling him to Columbus?