Life after Ohio State

Cooper, Bruce know how Tressel feels

By Tim May

The Columbus Dispatch


Jim Tressel might be lying low and feeling even lower, but his two predecessors — Earle Bruce and John Cooper — attest that there is life after being Ohio State’s football coach.

Cooper even made that point to Tressel’s wife, Ellen, at the Memorial Tournament. He was working as a charity volunteer in a hospitality tent when he said she appeared.

“I hugged her neck and said, ‘Ellen, great to see you out here,’” Cooper said. “And I told her, ‘Tell Coach to get out here, too. Hey, he doesn’t have anything to hang his head about. Get out. Enjoy life, for goodness sakes. Don’t let somebody else determine whether you are happy or not.’”

Tressel, who already was to be suspended the first five games this season for an NCAA rules violation, was encouraged to resign a week ago by president E. Gordon Gee and the board of trustees through athletic director Gene Smith. Cooper was fired by athletic director Andy Geiger following the 2000 season after 13 years. Bruce was fired by school president Ed Jennings the Monday before the 1987 Michigan game during his ninth season.

One day they were running one of the nation’s premier college football programs. The next day, they weren’t.

“Jim probably feels like his whole life has been taken away from him, really, because when you are the football coach at Ohio State, that is your life. It has to be,” Bruce said. “But you know, check the record, and it is fired or resigned under pressure for Ohio State coaches.

“The job is something else. I don’t know who would want this job. I remember hearing that after Woody was fired.”

Bruce took it anyway in 1979, replacing Woody Hayes, because of allegiance to his alma mater.

“But other guys talk about it being a nemesis and wouldn’t even consider it,” Bruce said.

He outran the nemesis for almost nine seasons. But after being fired, he still had one game to play, The Game, which turned out to be one of Ohio State’s greatest wins over Michigan.

“I don’t think they [Jennings and the administrators] thought we could win that game after I was fired,” Bruce said. “But I wanted to coach against Michigan, because I thought our only chance would be if I was the coach, because I could put that aside and concentrate on Michigan while a lot of people on my staff had a lot of difficulty putting it aside.”

Cooper was 64 when he was fired the day after a lopsided loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. He thought for a time he might try to coach again.

“But then, you’re not going to get an Ohio State, or a Notre Dame, or a Southern Cal-type coaching job at that point,” Cooper said. “If you want to coach you have to go some place to try to rebuild a program, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

Bruce, now 80, was 56 when he was fired. He went on to coach at Northern Iowa and Colorado State before ending his career coaching arena football for two years, including the Columbus franchise in 2004.

“I needed to keep coaching,” Bruce said.

Tressel, 58, who was making $3.7 million per year, likely doesn’t need to keep coaching from a financial standpoint. But if he wants to work in college athletics, he is obligated to appear Aug. 12 in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions. It likely will issue some level of “show cause” penalty that would make him effectively unemployable by another college for a period, but when that period is up, he could pursue other jobs.

But what job comes after Ohio State?

“Reality sets in, you’re probably not going to get one of those premier jobs like you had,” Cooper said. As for the sting of being relieved of duty, “I don’t think you ever get over that.”

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