Rob Todor didn’t see it coming.
Or maybe he did.
On April 26, The Vindicator’s sports editor wrote: “Jim Tressel needs to go.”
Rob’s logic: “Even if he believes he acted in the best interests of his players — a flawed premise, without question the fact is, Ohio State is going to take a substantial hit from the NCAA in terms of lost scholarships and television revenue.”
The column, along with the scarlet A1 promo for it, was incendiary in some circles. Readers called. Advertisers balked. At a Youngstown State University event, some long-time Penguin supporters would not look Rob in the eye.
In terms of Tressel’s career, April 2011 must now seem like the good old days. His resignation — conveniently timed during a holiday weekend and just before we all got a chance to read what Sports Illustrated had to say — rendered any debate over his future very, very moot.
But in terms of the entire sad Tressel mess, Rob was not just brave. He was right.
The Vindicator, like most media, shares some of the blame for the outrage that followed not only Rob’s column but other less-controversial swipes at “The Senator’s” image, however. It’s hard for some fans to correlate two key images:
A.) The saintly, church-going, vest-wearing, football genius who just cares too gosh-darned much about his kids.
B.) The duplicitous patriarch who, like too many coaches past, broke rules before the game even started and who created and promoted a self-branding that was, at best, hypocritical.
That neither image is exactly fair is not the point. The point is that “A” got promoted while “B” was rarely scrutinized. So, at the end of this ugliness as the NCAA swooped vulture-like on the Tressel coaching carcass, the media began focusing more on image “B.” And readers and fans were outraged at what appeared to be a sudden piling on.
Perhaps the media were too preoccupied too early on in giving Tressel the benefit of the doubt. Let me illustrate by using the Vindy’s files.
On Feb. 16, 2000, the NCAA came out with a report detailing the 1994 incidents involving quarterback Ray Isaac and Penguins booster Mickey Monus. Cars and cash were involved. Quoting the report:
“The committee concurred with the university and the enforcement staff’s conclusion that violations of the NCAA constitution occurred when the university failed to take appropriate action in January 1994 to investigate reported violations of NCAA legislation after receiving information indicating violations had occurred.”
The interesting part:
“... the university president held a series of five meetings within the next month with institutional staff members including the faculty athletics representative, the executive director of intercollegiate athletics, the head football coach and the compliance officer. In these meetings, the executive director of intercollegiate athletics and the head football coach assured the president that these allegations were baseless.”
“There was no in-depth investigation of the information received in 1994 regarding possible NCAA violations. When asked why no in-depth review was conducted, the former director of athletics stated that he believed a disgruntled former employee had made the anonymous allegations to the NCAA. The head football coach agreed.”
That unnamed “head football coach” went on to become disgraced Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel. Now if you are reading these report details for what seems like the first time, it very well may be. The story in The Vindicator on Feb. 17, 2000, back on the sports page with no scarlet promo from A1, did not quote these details.
In fact, the story by our beat writer at the time began “Integrity is a word that is very important at Youngstown State University.”
The story is revealing for this Tressel quote, however: “We never told anyone we were wonderful. We never told anyone we were perfect.”
Aw, shucks. Not perfect and, in an eerie premonition, not exactly forthcoming.
As it was explained to me back during the mini-firestorm last April: “You just don’t understand. Around these parts, Tressel is like God.”
Oh, the dangers of building up someone from the Valley into a graven image.
Maybe Jim Tressel today is exactly who Jim Tressel has always been. The media are just getting caught up.