“This is the strangest life I have ever known”, a line from The Doors song “Waiting for The Sun”, grabbed me the first time I ever heard it as a catch-all for explaining existence, and I am struck again by it now as the Jim Tressel saga winds on.
I somehow doubt Tressel and Jim Morrison have much in common aside from a first name (although some might say the “Lizard King” moniker fits both), but the latter’s haunting lyric certainly applies to Ohio State and its former coach these days.
Whether they suspected Tressel was clean or dirty all along – and there is plenty of room for many actions of the typical college football regime to fall in between – I doubt many fans of Ohio State or any other school really expected the time to come that he would be undone by a public revelation of unethical practices (especially one executed in such foolish manner). Long ago lines were drawn between those who assumed he was free of major violations because he’d never had any proven against him and those who felt he had never had any proven against him because he was just too good at getting away with them to ever be caught.
In that sense, perhaps his reputation was already made in the eyes of many, although the way it ended assures all unbiased accounts of his life and career will include the fact he was found unequivocally guilty of unethical conduct and that brought an end to his magnificent run. Stories of his possible connection to wrongdoing otherwise likely would have been relegated to footnotes, but that’s no longer the case.
Even in a world that seems to get more complicated by the day, one is hard-pressed to find a more paradoxical person than Jim Tressel.
He’s unquestionably done a lot of good in the community and the sports world.
He’s helped shape the lives of thousands of young men who played for him. Those players helped him build an impressive resume that brought him great prestige and personal wealth that in turn made it possible for him to continue winning and help even more people.
The misdeed that undid him leaves reasonable people to debate what his motivation was not only this time but in all times. Was he simply trying to keep star players eligible for a run at the national championship that had eluded him for seven seasons (there is little doubt that those back-to-back championship game losses ate at him), or did he really think he could teach his players a better lesson than the NCAA could? Or did he just think it was something he could get away with?
It is easy to cynically conclude he spent a lifetime in coaching merely trying to scratch the right backs that would allow him to further his fame and fortune, but I think on balance he is a good man whose actions are mostly motivated by a sincere desire to help people.
Much of the vitriol spewed at him since his sin of omission was revealed spawns from resentment of his often faith-based messages about living the best life possible. People resent a fraud more than a genuinely bad person (that’s not news), but this is an unfortunate symptom of how things sometimes get lost in translation.
Espousing the virtues of a perfectly lived life do not translate into the expectation of actually living perfectly. Every play is designed to result in a touchdown, but that’s only contingent on every part working as it was designed, and never mind those people on the other side intent on doing everything possible to gum up the works.
No one thinks every play will yield six points – and very few do – but such a goal is important to further the cause. And no coach in teaching how to execute a play spends much time talking about how not to do things despite his understanding that things will certainly at times not be done right despite the best intentions.
Coaches, like players, are human, and they know not every play call will be made at the right time. They are subject to greater scrutiny and bear more responsibility for their actions, too, as owed to their greater experience and compensation.
And so that brings us to today. Tressel is justifiably out of a job, Ohio State is looking for a new coach while bracing for further punishment, and Buckeye fans are left to question both what they were watching for the past 10 years and what will come down the pike next.
As far as the song goes, I’m not only thinking of its most iconic lyric but also the title.
Tressel, his former team and its fans sit now, more than two months from his day in NCAA court, wondering what will happen now that spring has sprung.
Waiting for the sun, waiting for someone to tell them what went wrong.Follow @marcushartman