Thursday, January 18, 2001

Low-profile choice dulls OSU's shine

        Jim Tressel must feel like a provisional prom date. He's the guy who gets the girl only if the girl can't find somebody better. He's a fallback position, an insurance policy, a stooge.

        He's the next Ohio State football coach, assuming nothing more tempting turns up before today's 4p.m. press conference.

        Andy Geiger's search for John Cooper's successor thus far has succeeded mainly in embarrassing the Buckeye nation. For two weeks, a position once considered among the most desirable in the country has been dissed almost daily by coaches with smaller salaries and more slender resources.

        Hiring Tressel fills the vacancy, but it does not quell the concern that there's something fundamentally wrong with the job — that the expectations are too high and the pressures too great. It does not explain how Geiger's screening process came to resemble a sieve.

Choice by default

        Does Walt Harris really have it so good at the University of Pittsburgh that he could decline an interview at Ohio State? Is the recruiting base so big at Oregon that Mike Bellotti could consider OSU a lateral move in his chase of a national championship? If the Oakland Raiders' Jon Gruden was supposed to be on a plane for Columbus Tuesday, what was he doing shopping for guitars with his son?

        Shouldn't coaches be salivating for this job instead of fleeing from it as if it were a chemical spill? Shouldn't Ohio State's search committee, scouring the country for the ideal candidate, be able to attract someone with a higher profile than Division I-AA Youngstown State?

        You have to wonder. A list of those coaches known to have rebuffed Geiger or his intermediaries includes Bellotti, Gruden, Harris, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Stanford's Tyrone Willingham. Presumably, there were other candidates whose names have not surfaced publicly. Apparently, Tressel was one of the few candidates whose ambitions outweighed his reservations.

        However qualified, Tressel is bound to suffer from the perception that he was selected by default rather than divine right.

        Whatever spin Geiger may apply to the story, Tressel reports to work looking like OSU's sixth or seventh choice. It's going to look bad, even if it works out brilliantly.

Goal: Ultimate victory

        Happily, appearances may prove a short-term problem. Soon enough, Tressel will be judged by his results rather than his resume. If he can beat Michigan on a regular basis, how he was hired will seem an act of providence rather than desperation.

        When Ohio State hired Woody Hayes in 1951, it was as a compromise choice. Hayes landed the job in part because of opposition to a second Paul Brown administration, in part because Don Faurot chose to remain at Missouri.

        Hayes' success and his staying power created a ponderous burden for his successors. Though Ohio State last won the national championship in 1968, its exacting standards have not shifted. It is not enough to win in Columbus; a coach must achieve ultimate victory to appease his public. John Cooper twice finished No.2 in the nation, and the average Buckeye fan considered him a failure.

        Few jobs are so demanding that they can frighten people as competitive as football coaches. Perhaps Tressel proved himself the right man for the job simply by being willing to do it.


Ohio State picks Tressel
Tressel may help Bucks in Ohio
Tressel will have to win over OSU fans

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