As many of you probably have heard by now - unless you live under a rock - Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel announced that he would be stepping down as coach of the Scarlet and Gray. The university basically forced Tressel to take this action. If he hadn't, they would have done what just a few months ago E. Gordon Gee stated was unfathomable: Fire the Vest.
As a diehard Buckeye fan since the age of 5, I've seen the highs and lows of the program over the years. The Rose Bowl win over Arizona State in 1997, followed by the shocking loss to Michigan State when ranked #1 in 1998. John Cooper v. Michigan. Eddie George's 327 yard game against Illinois. Jim Tressel v. Michigan. Stanley Jackson and Steve Bellisari as QB1's. Joe Germaine and Troy Smith as QB 1's. The National Championship in 2003 followed by the stunning demise of Maurice Clarett the following season. The victory in the 1 v. 2 game against Michigan, shortly followed by back-to-back blowout losses against Florida and LSU in the BCS National Championship game. The list can go on and on.
As the events of the last few months have unfolded, the mindset of Buckeye fans has been extremely mixed. But after polling some friends about how they feel now that Tressel is gone, the reaction is largely that while they're sad to see The Vest go and they agree it was the right move, they want to say "Thanks for the Memories."
His reputation will be forever tarnished, and the books he wrote about living by the virtues of honesty and integrity will most certainly provide comedic entertainment for college football fans everywhere for generations to come. The media has protrayed him - and perhaps he deserves it - as a lying, dishonest individual that should never have let the program get to this level.
But the truth is that Jim Tressel brought more joy to this program that any of us ever could have imagined when he was announced as coach back in 2000. And he did it with no recruiting violations, unlike the scandal with Reggie Bush at USC. Sure, boosters paid college athletes. So what? It happens at every school, whether fans like to believe it or not. Ohio State just got caught, and Tressel got wrapped into the situation of trying to cover it all up. Anyone who believes in the fallacy of collegiate athletics (particularly football and basketball) as an "amateur" environment should look up to the ceiling above you because the word "gullible" is written above it. In my mind, when all is said and done I'll hold him up there 20 years from now in a light much like the way we Buckeye fans hold another tarnished Ohio State coach, Woody Hayes, on a pedestal.
So Jim Tressel, on behalf of Buckeye fans everywhere, I would like to say thank you. The lows we experienced, such as losses in the BCS National Championship games, were lows that most programs can only dream of. But the highs - 8 BCS games, a multitude of Big 10 titles, a National Championship and the oh-so-sweet 9-1 record against Michigan - those were moments that I will never forget.
In 2003, I went over to my buddy Curry's house to watch the 2003 National Championship game against Miami. After the victory, a group of us were so jacked up. We had just watched Ohio State's first National Championship since 1968, and wanted to go downtown on campus to celebrate with the masses. Even though we didn't do that, we all sat in agreement at his house and said "this is a night we will never forget." And it was. For that moment alone, thanks Tress, and wherever the road may take you, good luck.
So what exactly does this all mean for Buckeye Nation? I wrote about the effect it will have in on the Ohio State fan base here, but ultimately I'm not so sure what the effect will be on the program. Ohio State is still the predominant program in the Big 10. It still has a stranglehold on the Ohio recruiting base, and even if it loses scholarships over the next few years I find it hard to believe that the Bucks won't still challenge for Big 10 and National titles in the not so distant future.
If the NCAA does decide to bring the hammer down on the program to set an example for the future (which would be an unfair move on the NCAA's part), I think it could be a few dark years ahead for the boys in the Scarlet and Gray. People are directly pointing fingers at Tressel and ignoring the transgressions of the players. Why? When do we start holding collegiate athletes that think they are professionals accountable? Where did their sense of entitlement come from? Just because you're great at catching, throwing, or running with a football, why do you think you deserve something? That's not the way the world works. You have to pay your dues, bide your time, and earn the things that you receive.
How come everyone is just focusing on Terrelle Pryor, and not Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, or even the benchwarmers that get these benefits? When do we hold boosters responsible for treating these kids like they are demi-Gods, bestowing gifts upon them such as cars, jewelry and other items? And when do we look in the mirror and realize that maybe - just maybe - we take sports just a little bit too seriously? After the NCAA investigation concludes, I think we are going to be taking a deeper look into these questions.
Many Ohio State fans will hold the result of the last few months' investigation against Tressel. They'll say he ruined the program. And to those fans, I'd like to pose a question: would you rather have had Tressel go out this way after the 10 year run we just had or would you rather have never had Tressel at all?