Chris Spielman had a couple of minutes to talk while watching his daughter play softball Tuesday night. He didn't need much time to process the latest blow against Ohio State's program, reputation and future.
Terrelle Pryor did what reputable football players -- Leaders and Legends they tend to call them in the Big Ten -- never do. Ever. Terrelle Pryor quit. He quit on his teammates and the fans. The morally bankrupt kid quit on himself. He didn't even have the stones to show his face in public and say it himself. He did it through his lawyer with a statement, apparently leaving Columbus with more cars than guts.
Pryor came to Columbus to play in a pro-style offense. He left it as a pro, if the compensation from selling memorabilia to a scumbag tattoo parlor owner is only the beginning of what the NCAA will eventually uncover. You don't punt your career in June because the supplemental draft is suddenly so attractive. You leave because the alternative would have meant NCAA crucifixion or worse: disgrace. It's possible that after winning three Big Ten titles, Pryor's off-field conduct got to be too much for interim coach Luke Fickell.
|More on Ohio State|
Note to prospective NFL employers: Skip the player interview, go right to the game film. You can be sure it doesn't lie.
First, Tressel. Then, Pryor. Ohio State cannot jettison baggage fast enough. It's so bad that .828 (Jim Tressel's winning percentage) and 31-4 (Pryor's record as a starter) were not worth keeping. If you believe they left of their own free will at this point, you're on something. It's clear now that what we don't know means Ohio State should be preparing for some long, cold, nuclear winters.
"You don't know how long it's going to take to dig out," said Spielman, whose greatness as a Buckeye is surpassed only by his greatness as a man. "I wouldn't be surprised if they get USC-like sanctions."
Quitting is against everything Spielman believes in. This is a former Lombardi Award-winning, All-Pro linebacker who once left the NFL to tend to his ailing wife. He had the insight earlier this year to predict that Tressel, a man he respected, wouldn't make it to the regular season. You don't quit around Chris Spielman. It has to pain him to watch a great football franchise, his alma mater, crumble brick by brick.
"It's all surreal to me; it's crazy," he said. "It takes some twisted plot. It's a tragedy, is what it is."
A tragedy that doesn't seem to register as much as it should in Columbus. There was a general feeling before Tuesday that the entire program was ready to move on without its quarterback. If there was a team bus, Pryor had been thrown under it. Freshman Braxton Miller shows the same promise Bucknuts couldn't wait to see from Pryor three years ago. Now with the NCAA walls closing in, one of the most successful quarterbacks in Ohio State history has cemented his legacy. It will include that 31-4 record, those three Big Ten titles and character flaws the size of Ohio Stadium.
|Terrelle Pryor's actions not only lead to his early exit, but took down Jim Tressel too. (US Presswire)|
"It's so strange," he added, "he [Tressel] hooked his wagon to this guy."
The defrocked coach can't be blamed totally for this one, huge mistake among many. It's clear the program doesn't have enough character guys. That doesn't make it unique in college football. Everybody wanted Pryor. There were a load of schools willing to overlook the warning signs, among them having to deal with Pryor's "mentor," Ted Sarniak, a 67-year-old businessman from the quarterback's hometown.
"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]."
Not enough to take a loaner car to Pennsylvania just so mom could check it out. You or I would have to go through a criminal background check just to take a test drive off the lot. All Pryor had to do was play, get better, let the NFL absorb him at some point and he would have had the undying love of Buckeyes. In the end, he wasn't abused by the system. He turned it upside down and shook it by the ankles until all the change fell out of its pockets. ESPN.com reported an unidentified former friend said Pryor made between $20,000-$40,000 signing memorabilia in 2009-10.
Please don't make him a victim. Make him the face of Ohio State at this point in its history. It's a history that includes Tressel's three best players. Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith and Pryor all had NCAA issues. In the end, Pryor had a hand in taking down two coaches. It's still tempting to think what the quarterback would have done at Michigan under Rich Rod. That's assuming Pryor would have stayed clean, which is probably assuming too much.
"It seemed to me," Spielman said, "that Coach Tressel had a different set of rules for Pryor."
There is mounting evidence. Along with other teammates, the quarterback was allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl when he "promised" Tressel that he would come back for his senior season. The whole episode is so long ago and so irrelevant it made Spielman pause to consider its absurdity. The coach who hid the fact his players were competing while ineligible, made a deal with them that shouldn't have been possible in the first place.
There has to be more to come from the NCAA, right? All of it negative. We're still two months away from the infractions committee hearing. A return to innocence now seems years away for Ohio State, if ever. For Spielman, it was right in front of him on Tuesday.
"I've got to go," he said through the phone, "my daughter is coming up."