Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Michigan fan reacts to the Tressel story

It’s been a week.  A week since I started burning couches on front lawns in celebration of Jim Tressel’s resignation.  A week since I misunderstood the rules of vacated wins and prematurely celebrated the end of Ohio State’s win streak over Michigan.  A week since I talked to my dad, a loyal OSU fan, about how corrupt that program is.  No, wait, none of those things happened.  I’m a Michigan fan who is disappointed with what’s going on at Ohio State.  Depending on how long I keep your interest, I’m going to tell you why.

Let’s start with a couple of key points.  Despite claims to the contrary, this is a big deal.  I quickly dismiss the arguments of OSU fans who whine about the rules.  Rules are rules, and in every walk of life we come across rules we think are stupid.  Can’t wear jeans to work even though you’ll never see a client that day?  You put your suit on.  Can’t go 35 in a school zone even though it’s virtually impossible to idle at speeds much lower than that?  You go 20 or you get a ticket.  Point is, we follow the rules because society, businesses, and organizations, have order.  We keep that order by following the rules.  Ohio State didn’t.

I’m disappointed by the resignation of Tressel for a number of reasons.  Primarily, and this is NOT Ohio State’s fault, Tressel was sold to the public as a beacon of all that is good and right with the world.  This is a man that (clearly irrational) people named their children after.  He was Woody Hayes the pacifist, Earle Bruce the consistent winner, and John Cooper with appreciation of the rivalry.  I can vividly remember listening to talk shows discussing Tressel as potentially running for office, and I can remember thinking that he would’ve won by a landslide.  In the eyes of many, he was the perfect coach.

Year after year Tressel won recruiting battles, produced a top five team, and waltzed into a BCS game.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  He was brilliant.  I was jealous.  I couldn’t poke holes in the guy.  I could take cheap shots at his wardrobe, but for most of my adult life, I’ve been wielding a gun with rubber bullets because of Tressel.  I used to scoff at the occasional OSU fan who called him too conservative, wondering what the hell else he could do for the school than win more than eight out of every ten games, dominate recruiting, and create a gap between Michigan and Ohio State that has never been seen before.  Literally, never.

With that out of the way, I’ve said for a decade that Tressel was a “blind eye” coach.  My counterpart, Jeff, can vouch for that.  First it was Ray Isaac at Youngstown State, then it was Maurice Clarett, then it was Troy Smith, and now it’s the group of idiots who traded honor and tradition for ink.  Eventually, even the most adamant defender of Tressel and OSU has to recognize a pattern.  Previously, the man with sleeveless sweaters was able to plead ignorance, over and over again.  This time he responded to an email.  No more denials.  No more pleas.  The perfect coach is now perfectly imperfect.  The beacon of light flickered and faded, casting a shadow of doubt and inconsistency.  For me, a dyed in the wool Michigan fan, it was disappointing.

As Michigan fans, we endured Bill Martin’s attempt to cram a square peg into a round hole with Rich Rodriguez.  We watched him behave like a man having a seizure on a trampoline on our sidelines.  We wondered how a guy could come to Michigan and promise the revered “1” jersey to a freshman defensive back.  We watched Bill Martin slink into the shadows like he just got done stabbing Monica Seles, and we watched our football program sink to levels that we couldn’t imagine.  Throughout all of that, we watched Ohio State dominate the Big Ten, compete for national titles, and be portrayed as an example of a perfect program.  Ohio State fans will never understand how distant the image in the rear view is of the 2006 game.  Divergent paths, indeed.

Things changed this off-season.  New AD Dave Brandon removed Rodriguez from Ann Arbor, and despite what many have said, Michigan got it’s man in Brady Hoke.  Personally, I haven’t been that excited about Michigan football since the day before they lost to Appalachian State.  Hoke was the guy to go toe to toe with “The Vest.”  A juxtaposition of style and behavior that was befitting of the rivalry.  Fred Flintstone meets Ned Flanders.  I was excited for 2012, knowing the gap in recruiting created by Lloyd Carr’s sinking ship and Rodriguez’s inability to understand the Big Ten would leave too big a gap for a 2011 win.  I fully expected Brady Hoke to make hay in the rivalry and we’d see everything both fan bases love about it.  Then this happened.  Make no mistake, I wanted Hoke to beat Tressel, and I am confident he would have.  Unfortunately, I’ll never get the chance to see that happen, nor will the OSU excuse makers.

My disappointment starts with the Hoke/Tressel reason, but it certainly doesn’t end there.  Despite my belief that Tressel knowingly turned a blind eye on previous occasions, I loved the guy.  I still think he’s a good person, I still think he loves OSU, and I still think that he ultimately cares about the kids he coaches.  I don’t feel that way about Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Pete Carroll, or Nick Saban.  There was a gap between who Tressel was and who the other coaches are.  That character trait is the reason that I loved Bo Schembechler and am leading the Brady Hoke bandwagon.  To have that image irrevocably damaged bothers me.

One more thing that I feel needs to be mentioned.  Gordon Gee and Gene Smith should be ashamed of themselves.  Jim Tressel harbored more goodwill for that program than anyone since the Clemson-puncher (see Woody Hayes).  It’s foolish to think that those guys, and the compliance office, and the entire remaining coaching staff, had no idea what was going on.  Tressel has gone from a hero to a speed bump as the bus he’s been thrown under rolls over him.  If I were an Ohio State fan, I’d be outwardly and vocally upset about the fact that the best coach they’ve ever cut a check to (sorry, Woody) has been a sacrificial lamb strictly for the purpose of avoiding extreme sanctions.  The Vest was forced to resign, despite procuring legal help, because OSU intends to blame Tressel for a sweeping organizational problem in an effort to prevent further sanctions.  I am extremely disappointed to learn that this program, despite the rivalry, is capable of being that short-sighted and ignorant.  Of course, at the end of the day, I will remember OSU fans and their criticism of Michigan’s ONLY NCAA football sanction for practicing too much.  What is it they say about karma?

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