(6/8/2011) In January of 2003, a little known and even less recruited gangly chemistry nerd from Sterling Heights Michigan helped capture the hearts and minds of a “Nation” when he helped The Ohio State Buckeyes end a 34 year drought by beating a dynastic Hurricane team in an epic game for the ages. For Buckeye Nation, it almost seems like that fading memory was but a figment of our imagination. At the time, it seemed like a worthy debate as to whether it was more improbable that such a kid could lead the Buckeyes to a championship or whether a coach in only his second season could pull off such a trick. Such debates are but a luxury for The Nation now left to wonder, how did it all go so wrong?
It all started with a press conference of sorts. In February of 2008, a dual-threat quarterback from the Keystone state, seated next to his mother, called a press conference just to let us know that he was delaying his decision on where he was going to matriculate. At the time, a two sport star from Jeanette High School in Pennsylvania, Pryor was the number one recruit in the country and all ESPN could talk about (ESPN 8 was originally the Terrelle Pryor Network. Okay, not really, but that day may not be too far off). I remember thinking back then, is this kid worth all of the trouble? I can now answer that question.
I honestly think the seeds of Coach Tressel’s demise can be traced back to January 8, 2007–a 41-14 loss to the Florida Gators. For Tressel, it must have seemed like the game of college football had changed over night—the formula that worked so well in 2002, the one whereby a collection of good kids with a star or two mixed in here or there (I exaggerate some as Cooper had recruited a bunch of great defensive players, but note that before adding Clarrett, there wasn’t a bunch of stars on offense) simply wasn’t good enough to beat the elite teams any longer. And of course, the pressure only mounted even more when a steady but unspectacular Krenzel wanna-be left the Buckeyes again on the wrong side of the championship landscape in the 2008 BCS loss to LSU. With the legions of never relenting scarlet and gray clad Buckeye fans again unsatisfied, the Senator chucked the 2002 championship formula bluepirnt, forgot the experiences of Troy Smith and Maurice Clarrett, and looked to transform his team into what he believed it needed to be in order to win that elusive second crystal ball.
The winningest coach in Ohio State’s glorious history will undoubtedly consider this his biggest tactical mistake.
Terrelle Pryor eventually picked “the University of Ohio State,” but not before jabbing at the press by suggesting that they only cared about him because he could “ball,” and suggesting that he alone might be able to get “Tressel over that hump.” You see, for Terrelle, from the start, it was always about him, and the Senator will never be able to say that he wasn’t warned about the precarious path he chose to travel. As they teach One L’s in Law School, caveat emptor baby.
The years that followed were littered with examples of what would ultimately be chalked up to immaturity, a position Coach needed to adopt because he had put all of his championship eggs in the Terrelle Pryor basket. Whether it was an untimely decision to support Michael Vick, who thought it reasonable to groom dogs to kill each other for his personal amusement, or comments like “everybody kills people,” or calling what some consider a Buckeye legend a “fake Buckeye” because he had the nerve to criticize Pryor, Tressel continued to look the other way because his quarterback was 31-4 on the football field, a two time winner of BCS bowls, and a perfect 3-0 against that School Up North.
As it turns out, Pryor was just getting warmed up. As the leader of the Tat Five (perhaps the only time Pryor “led” at Ohio State), he swapped valuable collectibles meant to commemorate his achievements in Columbus for discounts on tattoos and God knows what else. Despite the fact that an investigation had been opened up regarding an unseemly number of vehicles driven by this supposed poor scholarship athlete (as a point of comparison, I drove one used hand me down car during my four year undergrad career, but I digress), Pryor showed up at a team only meeting after Coach was fired, in a used 350-Z with temp tags, knowing the cameras would be rolling (there is some debate whether the purchase was legitimate—the point is, Pryor could have cared less the impression this created for him and his teammates). Now, just a day ahead of an ESPN report suggesting Pryor took money for autographs, the quarterback, having contributed to his coach’s firing, the same one who promised to come back in 2011 and face the music for his role in Tattoo-gate, abandons his teammates for a mess he partially created by way of an insincere statement released by his attorney, claiming of all things, that his collegiate career is over because “he is too much of a distraction to the team” (why not do a hat grab presser here Terrelle? In one hand you can have a Toronto Argonauts cap and in the other, a San Jose Sabercats cap). Add me to the clan of Buckeye faithful rubbing my hands together with a not so satisfied but definitely audible ”good riddance.”
Perhaps Terrelle decided it was time to move on after getting his “protector” axed. See ya in the Arena Football League Terrelle!
In the end, it was all about Terrelle Pryor. Though Tressel tried to help Pryor “grow up,” there was only so much Tressel could do with a kid who was determined to put himself before everything and everyone else. As a friend of mine once said, “Shit don’t shine, it just crumbles.” Amen brother.
Chris Spielman, the great former Buckeye linebacker, who calls it like he sees it, hit the nail on the head: “I think we live in an age of narcissistic kids, with Facebook[,] who think they’re owed something,” Spielman said. “Start living with five guys [in an apartment], start paying bills. It’s really sad. They haven’t done anything [to be so entitled].” I will never defend the hypocritical NCAA’s slave-trade-money-grab that exploits kids to fuel a multi-billion dollar industry under the guise of “non profit” work. That said, it is still troubling that we live in a society where today’s kids feel like they should not have to roll up their sleeves and earn what they believe to be rightfully theirs. I guess it should not comes as a surprise to anyone that kids that are doted on and pampered throughout their adolescence and high school playing days feel that they should not have to wait until they earn their degree to begin collecting pay checks (and by earn their degrees, I mean take a few watered down courses, play a few seasons of ball, quit, and go to the NFL early).
Spielman isn’t the only one saying this either. To quote an infamous Ohio traitor, Desmond Howard, “[t]he way these coaches recruit these kids, they make them feel like they’re the cat’s meow, that the program can’t move forward without them at the school,” Howard said. “When you recruit them that hard, then you gas them up on who they are, you give that guy a sense of entitlement.” Howard went on to say “I was told by a giant, Bo Schembechler, that no one man is bigger than the program. Not even (Schembechler). He was larger than life. For me to sit there and this guy tells me nobody’s bigger than Michigan, that’s all he had to say.”
Whether Tressel created the monster or simply couldn’t control it is beside the point. For today’s college coach, the 5-star athlete is a double edged sword–while you might need a number of these kids to win a championship, just one bad one can level a program. Don’t believe me, just ask Tressel, who just lost the only job he ever wanted. Or, pull a Trojan fan aside and ask them what Reggie Bush has done for the program lately. Buyer beware indeed.
Despite losing back to back championships in 2007-08, come August 12, 2011, my guess is that Buckeyes’s fans would kill for another Chemistry nerd under center going forward.