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Ohio State's Tressel: The danger of sticking by your stars

For anyone who pays attention to leadership issues, there are a number of concerning things about the news that Ohio State University head football coach Jim Tressel is being suspended for two games and fined $250,000.

For one, Tressel did not share information he received in an email about a potential NCAA violation for months with Ohio State higher-ups, despite wording in his contract that required him to do so. All coaches know, as one ESPN analyst put it, that not sharing such information is a "cardinal sin" in the eyes of the NCAA.

In addition, there was Tressel's comment that "I don't think less of myself in this moment," despite this being a news conference announcing he would be suspended for two games and fined $250,000 of his estimated (and comfortable) $3.5 million salary, while the offending players--who sold memorabilia to a tattoo parlor owner--have to sit out the first five games. (Tressel says he didn't share the information he learned because he thought it was confidential and didn't want to interfere with a federal investigation surrounding the tattoo parlor owner.)

But what may be the most questionable is the response of Ohio State officials. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith apparently said in the news conference that "wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach," and that he never seriously considered firing Tressel. "He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly." Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee took the glorification one step further. When asked whether he considered dismissing Tressel, he reportedly replied with a laugh. "No, are you kidding? Let me be very clear. I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."

I realize that football coaches--particularly winning ones with long histories as icons at certain big state universities--are celebrities on college campuses. And whether or not Tressel's actions are a fireable offense is not for me to decide. But for two of the top officials at a university to pledge seemingly unconditional support for an employee right after he has violated his contract--Gene Smith and the university president are supposedly the ones in charge here, remember--raises questions about how seriously the university is treating the matter. It may have suspended and fined Tressel, but the NCAA could still reject those penalties and make sanctions of its own.

No leader or employee, no matter how beloved, how great of a performer or how integral to an organization's success, should be given unconditional support. And by saying that "wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach," Smith is implying just that. President Gee's comment, meanwhile--that he hopes "the coach doesn't dismiss me"--may have been made in jest, but it sets a tone that's completely out of tune for such a serious moment. Tressel may be an Ohio State icon, but it's Smith's and Gee's job to remember that even stars fall to Earth, and have to play by the rules.

By Jena McGregor

 |  March 9, 2011; 12:15 PM ET |  Category:  Sports leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Posted by: familynet | March 11, 2011 3:59 AM

The entire Tressel-Ohio State thing is a travesty ! the Coach should be gone forever ... At the University administrators should be ashamed of themselves ... not to mention the NCAA, who lets the $$$ wag their #@#@ tail ................
There just is no defense ..... so, now let's here the Ohio-tribe begin ...........................
Balz .......

Posted by: loretoguy | March 10, 2011 6:24 PM

Tressel is slime.

Everyone knows it, the OSU fans/administration are just in denial about it because he's so successful on the field.

The fact that OSU is trying to suspend him for LESS time than his players got is a bad joke.

If the NCAA weren't equally corrupt, not to mention toothless, they'd suspend him for all of next season and take away all of OSU's bowl money from this year.

Posted by: etpietro | March 10, 2011 1:27 PM

UMBRO89,I understand your allegiance, but wrong is wrong. And this is not Tressel's first transgression. Just the first time he's gotten caught. He ran off players like Sammy Maldonado (transferred to Maryland) to create opportunity for Maurice Clarett. In Maldonado's case, Tressel lied to the kid's parents about his work ethic in practice. The parents caught him in a lie when the mother produced video of the player not being allowed to participate in practice. Clarett, he never had a chance. The result was a nat'l championship at the expense of a life ruined. Now, it's also coming out that Terrel Pryor was loaned cars from an area dealership. He even "test drove" one car from a dealership all the way back home to Pennsylvania. You still think Tressel's innocent? You think this happened without his knowledge? Columbus aint that big a town. And he had the nerve to tell those kids if they declared for the draft, they couldn't play in the bowl game. Pryor isn't technically proficient enough to go the league, yet. But Tressel's reasoning had nothing to do it Pryor's welfare. It was hypocritical and selfish. He should be dropped on his head Fired! This is why you guys had a crazy man like Woody Hayes. Yes, the University President & AD are cowards. But they are not to blame. Tressel is. If the NCAA has the guts, they'll suspend Tressel for the year. Make him coach a Pop Warner team, if he's "jonesing" to coach, give his salary to youth/homeless shelters that are not politically affiliated (otherwise some Tea Bagger front will get it) because most coaches are right wing secret agents.
Look at the state of affairs: these players got a couple of dollars and a couple of tatoos for lying, a kid at BYU got suspended for having consensual sex and a kid at Baylor, whose mother works several jobs to pay the bills accepted loans several years ago from his AAU coach have all been suspended. Baylor is the same school that several years ago, a player killed his teammate and the head coach conspires to sully the victim's character and say he was dealing drugs. These coaches are the ones who are being idolized? Are you kidding me? Really? Impeachment proceedings against a sitting President were started for a lot less.

Posted by: ktaylor15 | March 10, 2011 12:36 PM

As a native Buckeye, Columbus-born, OSU football fan since early Woody, and Ohio State alumnus, let me say Jim Tressel is the best OSU football coach in my memory. He rates high in all areas.

That said, more to qualify my comments than to glorify Jim Tressel, I agree with your comments completely. He should know what his contractual and ethical obligations are. His first obligation is to the University, and that was not reflected in his actions last spring. In light of the high regard he is held locally, and, I believe, nationally, this revelation was a surprise. It is an embarrassment to the University and to one of the largest alumni groups in America.

In addition, I agree with your characterization of comments by AD Smith and president Gee. Obviously, they have been drinking too much of the Tressel kool-aid. It does demonstrate the influence of someone who orchestrates serial football wins into sequencial championships, keeping 100,000 fans coming to Ohio Stadium every autumn Saturday and the attendant positive PR and TV dollars coming to Columbus. Gee and Smith know who is the real Big-Man-On-Campus.

Still a Tressel fan. Of Gee and Smith - not so much.

Posted by: Umbro89 | March 9, 2011 6:22 PM

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