Today marks the end of the NCAA penalty imposed on former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel. For five years, any school that wanted to hire Tressel to coach football would have had to “show cause” as to why it should be permitted to do so, and receive approval, before he could once again return to prowl the sidelines of the gridiron and coach young men about football, and life.
Five years is a long time, and this five-year period seems like it’s been been much longer. Ohio State football has moved on from the Tressel era and has enjoyed enormous success under current head coach Urban Meyer. True Buckeye fans will never forget Coach Tressel, however. He was the man who lifted the Ohio State program from a period of ever-present heartbreak and big-game failure and returned it to its rightful position as one of the preeminent programs in college football.
Coach Tressel remembers, too. He’ll always be a Buckeye at heart, but he hasn’t sat idle, pining for a chance to coach. He is a man with a lot to offer, and other people know it. He’s now the very successful president of Youngstown State University. Odd, isn’t it, that he has been effectively barred from coaching a sport, but he can run an entire university with 13,000 students — a university that has its own successful football team? But that’s just one of the many curious elements of the “tatgate” story — involving player violations of NCAA rules, in trading merchandise for tattoos, that the New York Times story linked above describes as “quaint” compared to some of the serious, criminal wrongdoing that has come to light in college sports since that time. The NCAA determined that Coach Tressel learned about the player misconduct, and he failed to report it — and that started the dominoes falling toward the five-year ban.
But even though the NCAA penalty has prevented Coach Tressel from formally coaching young men, that’s still what he does, informally but routinely. Eleven Warriors, an Ohio State football website, has a terrific reflection on Tressel’s continued connection with his former players and assistant coaches and what steps he takes — instinctively, reflexively, as part of his core and character — to try to help them. In the Webner family, we know what kind of person Coach Tressel really is from our own personal experience, when he befriended our family’s most diehard Ohio State fan, Aunt Bebe, became her pen pal, and then graciously showed up for her memorial service. It’s the kind of small but deeply meaningful personal gesture that is all-too-uncommon in the modern world.
Rules are rules, and Jim Tressel made a mistake. We’re human; we all do. But no imposition of an NCAA show cause order could ever change what kind of person Coach Tressel is, deep inside. This is a good man, and what he’s done and continues to do just confirms it, over and over again. Our very best wishes go with him.