Monday, September 21, 2009

'Fire' Tressel? Have OSU fans gone crazy?

He used to be icon, a sports god of sorts. Coach Jim Tressel could have run for Ohio governor and won handily as a write-in candidate. But the only time people use the word "run" with Tressel's name now is when they cry about wanting to run the man out of town.

They want to fire Tressel for losing too many big games.

Well, what must the talk be like among Southern Cal alumni these days after coach Pete Carroll lost another game Saturday to an unranked opponent?

For college football fans, I have a bit of advice for you: relax, no college coach is going to beat everybody; a football program like the Washington Huskies is also ready to spring an upset.

Going through a football season is a minefield, as Tressel and Carroll know well. Each weekend holds the prospect for a good team to end up on the wrong side of the score. Last Saturday was Carroll’s team’s turn. But other coaches will follow suit as the '09 season rolls on.

That’s the lesson for feckless Buckeye fans to learn. They aren’t satisfied with a coach who has made everybody who bleeds Scarlet and Gray forget the John Cooper era.

Now, let me confess straightaway: I was never keen on my alma mater’s decision to hire Tressel in the first place. I didn’t think a coach from a football program like Youngstown State had proved he was capable of stepping up to the Major Leagues, because the demands at an elite Division I program like Ohio State trumped whatever challenges Tressel faced at YSU.

But Jim Tressel understood Ohio State football, a fact he made plain on the day his hiring was announced. He talked boldly about righting the many mistakes of Cooper, who never grasped the importance of beating Michigan. Tressel revived what had been a one-sided rivalry, and his success at defeating the Wolverines hastened coach Lloyd Carr’s departure.

Year after year, he’s brought that victory home, which is far more important to OSU football than losses to the Trojans.

I learned years ago that fans – and my fellow OSU alums -- are fickle. For them, it’s all about what a coach like Tressel has done for them lately. Even then, no coach can win enough to satisfy a certain segment of Buckeyes fans; not even the late Woody Hayes could do that.

Ask Trojans fans or people who follow Oklahoma about losing. They know it, too. Coach Bob Stoops has a championship ring and a fistful of Top 10 finishes; he also has a loss to Boise State in a bowl game and to Brigham Young this season. Has Stoops won enough in Norman to satisfy OU fans?

A few days before the Toledo game, I listened as Tressel fielded questions about the USC loss. On his weekly radio show, he faced criticism from the faithful; he felt the anger and frustration of men who measure their manhood on how well their alma mater does. They seemed to want Tressel to commit self-flagellation on the airwaves. He didn’t.

While he acknowledged their disappointment, Tressel never let their feelings define him or his football program. He came across as man self-assured about the direction his team is headed. He put the focus on his football tomorrows and not on his football yesterdays.

Too bad so many Ohio State alumni can't do likewise, which is a pity. But they need to remind themselves that Tressel has done more good than bad with his program.

He has one NCAA championship, the same number as Les Miles and Stoops have. Tressel's total is one more than Cooper and Earle Bruce combined were able to win and one more than any other coach in the Big Ten, not named Joe Paterno, can boast of.

Shouldn’t that appease people awhile?


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