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Should Jim Tressel Have Been Fired?
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel
Posted Mar 8, 2011

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will be suspended for two games next season and will be fined $250,000 for knowing about the "Tattoo Five" situation back in April of 2010. While the penalties are harsh by college football coaching standards, were they enough? Should he have been fired? Where does the program go from here? The CFNers weigh in on the controversy.

CFN Analysis   

Should Tressel Have Been Fired?

By Pete Fiutak

No, however, there's a big, fat, Kirstie Alley-sized but ... if you want to make a case that Jim Tressel deserved to be canned, I won't argue.

My biggest problem with the entire episode going back to December is that I can't and won't accept that Terrelle Pryor and the rest of the lads did anything wrong. Let's get through all the NCAA mumbo-jumbo and all the hair-splitting; a college kid should be able to sell his own stuff.

Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, and the rest, didn't commit and real crimes; all they did was break a few silly rules that most college athletes bend whether they know it or not. If Tressel obstructed justice or tampered with evidence in a real, live criminal investigation, then there wouldn't be a question whether or not he should've been fired. But it's doubtful whether or not the average sports fan really understands that Tressel really didn't do anything criminally wrong, and neither did his players.

I'm never a fan of the everyone-is-doing-it defense, but if you're going to start firing coaches for sweeping things under the rug, you'd have a wholesale change of staffs at 120 football programs tomorrow. Whether it's dealing with Tony flunking TV, underage drinking, pot smoking, or any one of a bazillion other problems, coaches have to deal with various issues on a daily basis. If you've ever wondered what it means when a player misses a game or three for the ever-nebulous "violation of team rules," it's usually because the coach is trying to put out a fire. I'm not saying what Tressel did in this case is fine, but it's not like he did anything that's out of the ordinary in the college coaching world. Yeah, I'm saying you should hate the game, not the player.

However, and this can never be overstated, major college football head coaches (and basketball coaches at some schools) are the faces of their respective universities. Unless you live in Columbus, would you know there was a Ohio State without the football program? Throw out all the facts and figures you want about how much of a money drain major college football teams occasionally are, but it's almost impossible to measure the value from a public relations standpoint when the football team is on national TV every Saturday, or when a player goes off to the NFL, or when the head coach is giving an interview. You don't know who the top history professor is at Ohio State University, but you know who Woody Hayes was.

Because a major college football coach is more than just a guy who draw up Xs and Os, he has to be above reproach and there's no margin for error. It might not be fair and it might not be right, but a coach can't do anything wrong because, above all else, he represents the university, and if he screws up it's reflected on the image of the school. So if you think that Tressel's role in all of this reflects negatively on The Ohio State University, then firing him shouldn't really be that big a deal. It's Ohio State. It can find another phenomenal head coach.

But I don't think Tressel should be canned, and don't try to dismiss just what a colossal deal it is to suspend him for two games, even if it is Akron and Toledo, and fine him $250,000. While this remains a very, very sketchy fiasco, and the NCAA should have its say on the matter with a bit more investigation, give the school credit for dealing with this immediately.

For now, let Tressel pay his penance, understand that 118 other college coaches probably would've done the same things - with the lone exception likely being Joe Paterno - and understand that in the grand scheme of scandals it could've been far, far worse.

By: Barrett Sallee

Yes, Jim Tressel should have been fired.

Let me see if I have this right: Jim Tressel uses the trip to the Sugar Bowl to bribe the five suspended Buckeyes to stay in school, uses them to beat an SEC team in a bowl game for the first time ever, then gets pinched for not disclosing the information that got the players suspended when he first found out about it.

Yep, he’s definitely a senator.

I thought this situation would cost Tressel his job before the press conference Tuesday night, and the press conference itself didn't help the situation. Have you seen Tressel's e-mail exchange last April with the person informing him of this situation? The only person on the planet dismissed quicker than this unidentified individual was me at the 7th grade dance.

When Ohio State announced the suspensions of the “Tattoo Five,” part of its explanation was that the compliance department failed to inform the players of the rule that they couldn’t sell memorabilia. Tuesday night, Tressel again threw the compliance department under the bus by saying that he didn’t know who to report this information to when he first became aware of possible transgressions by his players. If that isn’t lack of institutional control, I don’t know what is. Since Tressel didn’t act on the information when it was brought to his attention, the onus falls on him.

The $250,000 fine is steep, even for a highly compensated college football coach. But a two-game suspension against Akron and Toledo? Come on. I’m sure Ohio State is really concerned about losing the state championship without its star players and head coach on the sidelines, but that’s just weak.

Will this cost Tressel his job? As of now, it looks like it won’t. But the wholesome façade of the sweater vest has been completely wiped away by Tattoo-gate. Lying by omission may not cost him his job right now, but it should have, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually does down the road.

By Richard Cirminiello

It pays to compile goodwill throughout your career. Any career. Jim Tressel may have used up all of his this week.

Tressel blew it by not coming clean with Ohio State officials when he learned of player improprieties last spring. He knows that now, but you don’t can a successful head coach and face of the program, as some are suggesting, over this kind of a blunder. You punish him and allow him to recover, as the University plans to do. For failing to be forthright when he should have, a two-game suspension, a $250,000 fine, and a metaphorical public flogging seems about right considering all the good Tressel has done over the last decade.

Tressel has his job, but his national image may be in disrepair for the foreseeable future. The public can be slow to come around and downright ornery when it feels as if it was duped, which might be the case with the coach. To no one’s fault but his own, that pristine persona of “the Senator” or “the Sweater Vest” or whatever lovable moniker you choose to give him has been permanently smudged. And if you’ve gotten to know Tressel or read his book, “The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life”, you’d understand that that’s the harshest punishment of all.

Had this news come in December, would Tressel have coached in the Sugar Bowl? Just wondering.

By Matt Zemek

This is in one sense a very easy question to answer, and yet in another sense, it’s impossible to answer. On an immediate level, of course Jim Tressel should have been fired. He knowingly and intentionally told bald-faced lies to the NCAA, doing in many ways what Bruce Pearl did. Is a Tressel-Pearl comparison an airtight one? No, but there are enough similarities to make a comparison legitimate on a broader and more overarching level. Not merely lying, but lying so brazenly and openly – in open contradiction of previous public statements and assertions that were voiced with more than a little firmness – should not be tolerated from any public figure, leader, or highly-paid state employee. In that narrow context, Tressel and Pearl (and Rick Pitino and a few select others) should not be coaching big-time sports. The common person would certainly be fired for committing the same sins at a 9-to-5 job. Coaches shouldn’t be held to a different standard.

Ah, but that last sentence is a pesky one: “Coaches shouldn’t be held to a different standard.” Actually, they are, and that’s the very foundation for the case in support of retaining Jim Tressel as Ohio State’s coach.

You see, coaches should not be made into messiahs or supremely moral figures. These are men paid to win games; that’s the law of the jungle, the governing principle of the college sports industry. While Tressel has been exposed as a fraud and a phony, and while the egregiousness of his lies is breathtaking and immensely disappointing to behold, it also has to be said – with as much emphasis as one can possibly muster – that Tressel and his brother coaches were not and are not the lead architects of this system. Coaches are participants (willing ones, but still limited figures) in a superstructure that is beyond their control.

Tressel should not be entrusted with the kinds of decisions he had to make over the past year, in two separate ways: First, the actual NCAA rules that were violated by “The Ohio State Five” are terrible rules that never should have been on the books. Players should be able to sell memorabilia and make a buck in return for their stardom, which generates a lot of cash for their respective schools. Tressel shouldn’t have to police so-called “wrongdoings” that aren’t really wrong. That’s one part of the larger dynamic.

The other sense in which coaches are merely pawns in the system is as follows: They shouldn’t have a police function to begin with. Being forced to police players and prevent them from breaking bad (silly, unnecessary, counterproductive) rules is a sorry circumstance in its own right, but being expected to act like a lawman is even more ludicrous. This is what an athletic director and a compliance staff are supposed to do. The big issue at Ohio State is what compliance officers and AD Gene Smith have been doing all this time. Why were the right questions not asked of Tressel, and if they WERE ASKED, why did Smith and his staff in the athletic department not act in accordance with generating (or preserving) the right responses to various situational difficulties?

Tressel didn’t create this NCAA system, this broken and bloated labyrinth of senseless rules and wayward governance that is creating such waste and corruption throughout intercollegiate athletics. Yes, he did add to the problem – and he insulted the intelligence of a lot of people he’s played like three-dollar fiddles over the years – but Tressel is ultimately working and acting within the framework of an ecosystem that rewards bad behavior and encourages a manufactured plausible deniability (i.e., looking the other way). Only when the NCAA… and the BCS (looking at you, John Junker in your Fiesta Bowl bunker)… and college presidents… and athletic directors all come under fire for their negligence and greed should coaches then be treated just as harshly. If you insist on Tressel’s firing without pointing out the grievous sins of every higher-ranking administrative figure in the entire scholastic-athletic-industrial complex, your sense of appropriate and proportional punishment has not been properly calibrated. Yes, on an immediate level, Tressel should be fired for all his naked lies, but within the lens of the big picture, he’s hardly the first person who sinned. Don’t throw stones at the Sweater Vest; be sure to clamor for reform of a broken and disgusting system that makes the Jim Tressels of the world act the way they do.