Jim Tressel latest to learn coaching Ohio State football never ends well
Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, touts itself as the "cradle of coaches." Ohio State, in Columbus, has been known for decades as the graveyard of coaches. That means a coach can go from cradle to grave in two hours' driving time. Jim Tressel's ride lasted more than 30 years. In that sense, he is a survivor.
Ohio State needs a new football coach, and as soon as the locals find a man who can win all his games, graduate all his players, follow all the rules, abstain from wine, women and song and beat Michigan by at least 50 points without running up the score, the school will be all set. The position calls for one part man and four parts myth.
Tressel deftly sold the myth. In the last few months we've seen the man. He cheated and he lied, and now he is deservedly gone. More than three decades since getting into the coaching game, first with Akron, then with Miami, Tressel has left the profession, presumably for good.
So now what? How does Ohio State replace Tressel? How does a school rebuild a mirage?
Urban Meyer is the hot name, and he should be. He won two national championships at Florida. He will be 48 years old when the 2012 season starts. Meyer is from Ohio, but more important, he is of Ohio -- he understands what Ohio State football means there. Near the end of the 2006 season Ohio State and Michigan were the nation's top two teams, Florida running third. Meyer -- very stridently, very publicly -- kept taking verbal shots at the Wolverines in an effort to influence poll voters and bolster his program's argument for a BCS title game spot. That, of course, came easy to him. Like a true Ohioan, Meyer rips Michigan in his sleep.
The simple answer is to hire Meyer, but the simple answer is not always the right one. Should a stress case really take one of the most stressful coaching jobs in the world? Coaching at Florida almost killed Meyer -- even after he won two national championships. How do you think he would handle the pressure at Ohio State?
If the Buckeyes can get Meyer for 10 years, then great. But who knows if he'd be signing on for 10 years, 10 months or 10 days? He had decided to quit Florida after the 2009 season, then changed his mind after going through one practice in preparation for that season's Sugar Bowl. Then, after the Sugar Bowl, he took a leave of absence, which he apparently spent texting recruits and drawing up plays. He made it through one more season before finally resigning.
How do you think Meyer would handle his dream job, where the expectations are even higher? How would he handle his first loss to Michigan?
Besides, in Columbus, Meyer would not get to replace Ron Zook. The Buckeyes' next coach will have to live up to the old image of Tressel, not the recent one. Ohio State fans will expect their coach to run a clean program and win as much as Tressel did -- as though his winning and his rule-breaking were unrelated. Tressel won nine of his 10 games against Michigan, including the last seven. How can the next coach match that?
There is a word for coaches who win nine games a year while running a clean program in Columbus: "Goodbye." It is easy to say winning is all that matters at Ohio State, but that's not really true. Ohio State has perfected the American art of building up heroes and tearing them down later.
Folks in Columbus tired of Woody Hayes' temper; of Earle Bruce's habit of going to the racetrack (and -- gasp -- of winning nine games a year); of John Cooper's failure to understand The Game against Michigan, against whom he was an unforgivable 2-10-1; and now, of Tressel's deceit.
Coaching at Ohio State never ends well. This is not opinion. It is historical fact. The U.S. has fought five major wars since an Ohio State football coach left on his own terms.
Tressel was forced out by mounting evidence of his lack of control over the program. Before that, John Cooper was fired for losing to Michigan too much. Before that, Earle Bruce was fired because he wasn't Woody Hayes. Before that, Woody Hayes was fired because he was Woody Hayes.
And before Hayes arrived in 1951, three coaches -- Wes Fesler, Paul Bixler and Carroll Widdoes -- had resigned at least partly because of the intense pressure of the job.
This brings us back to the early 1940s, when Paul Brown left, on his own accord, for pro football.
The last seven Ohio State coaches combined to win 74 percent of their games, and they were all forced out.
Jim Tressel was one of those coaches who always talks about teaching the kids life lessons. You would hope he learned a few himself lately. You would hope that Ohio State learned too. But history says otherwise.
Sometime before the spring of 2012 a bright, workaholic coach will be introduced as the permanent coach at The Ohio State University, and that man will probably talk about how fortunate he feels. Going to Ohio State is exhilarating. The hard part is getting out.