Jim Tressel got Bruce Pearl fired.
No one at Tennessee would ever say it, but I don't care about that. Tennessee is the same place that said Pearl would weather this storm and remain as coach. The storm came. Pearl got washed away. So now I don't believe a word Tennessee says -- and I won't believe a word Tennessee says until it has removed its overmatched athletics director. If Mike Hamilton is talking for Tennessee, I'm not listening.
|Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel knew at least two of his players were violating NCAA rules. (Getty Images)|
Could Bruce Pearl do the same to Jim Tressel?
I believe so, because public perception is everything to Ohio State, and to Tennessee -- it's the tail wagging both those dogs. Look at Tennessee, where cheating didn't do in Bruce Pearl. Lying to the NCAA didn't get him fired. Neither did losing to Michigan by 30 points in the NCAA tournament.
Public perception buried Pearl.
And Jim Tressel provided the last shovel of dirt.
Pearl was surviving the scandal, just as Hamilton hilariously said he would months ago. Everywhere Tennessee went for a road game, the local paper wrote about its ethically empty basketball coach. Every time Tennessee was on national TV, the announcers talked about its ethically empty basketball coach. Those were shots to the body, wearing on Pearl, wearing on the people above Pearl -- and above Mike Hamilton, too.
But nobody ever got knocked unconscious by a body shot.
Jim Tressel provided the KO blow. It was a sucker punch to Pearl's glass jaw. The facts of the cases are different, but the underlying ethical emptiness was the same:
• Pearl committed an NCAA violation and tried to hide it from the NCAA.
• Tressel learned of NCAA violations and tried to hide it from his bosses -- and therefore, from the NCAA.
When Pearl committed his blunder, the people at Tennessee -- blinded by the revenue he generates -- forgave it. Excused it. Rationalized it away as a mistake, but not a fatal mistake. Certainly nothing that warranted firing a winning coach. Tennessee was so close to the situation, it couldn't see the forest. It kept staring at that Bruce Pearl money tree.
Then came Tressel. Doing the same basic thing.
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And that, Tennessee could see. Hell, the whole world could see. Most folks were outraged by, and even embarrassed for, Ohio State. How could a school keep a coach who did what Tressel had done? Insane, when you think about it. Tressel learned that his best player, Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor, had committed an NCAA violation that would jeopardize his eligibility -- and Tressel did nothing. Told nobody. Sat on the information and built his 2010 season around Pryor's offensive skill-set.
And then in late December, when the NCAA came calling and Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith asked Tressel about Pryor's violation -- trading on his celebrity by selling goods to a Columbus, Ohio, businessman -- Tressel played dumb. Said he didn't know about it. In other words, he lied.
And Ohio State kept him? Suspended him for just two games? Hahahaha. Laughable. Ohio State made a mockery of itself, and everyone but the most blindly loyal Buckeyes fans knew it.
Even the people at Tennessee knew it.
That happened two weeks ago. When did Tennessee turn on Bruce Pearl? About a week ago. That's when Hamilton went on a local radio station and revealed that Pearl's job was in jeopardy after all. That stunned Pearl, stunned Tennessee fans, stunned everyone. It was a 180-degree spin from Tennessee's position for months, even after the NCAA had called Pearl a cheater and a liar in its notice of allegations Feb. 22.
What happened in the last two weeks?
Jim Tressel happened.
Tennessee understood, finally, what it had done, what it had condoned and -- most importantly -- what it was going to face. It took the Tressel fiasco for Tennessee to realize the NCAA was going to devastate its basketball program if Bruce Pearl were still the coach. Even with blindly loyal Volunteers fans gathering in support of their ethically bankrupt coach, Tennessee did the right thing on Monday by firing Pearl -- but don't give the school much credit. It did everything wrong, from start to finish, until stumbling onto the only resolution acceptable: firing a coach who would dare try to cover up NCAA violations.
Now the focus falls to Ohio State, and public perception will weigh heavily on the Buckeyes. For the second time, Tennessee has set the bar for responding to an ethically empty coach. The first time, Tennessee went for the in-season suspension. The SEC sat down Pearl for eight games, and that was good enough for Tennessee. And so it was good enough for Ohio State, which sat down its own ethically empty coach, Jim Tressel, for the first two games of the 2011 season.
Two games became five games after the Buckeyes gauged public perception, which bordered on ridicule, and accepted Tressel's offer to increase his own suspension. Which I don't believe for a second, by the way. Tressel lied to his own boss, but I'm supposed to believe he's telling the truth about his five-game suspension? Not gonna happen.
But now, here's what happened: Tennessee raised the bar from suspension to dismissal. Tennessee learned from Jim Tressel that its coach had to be fired.
So what did Ohio State learn from Bruce Pearl?