Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fall of the Mighty

  Jim Tressel resigned as the coach of the Ohio State University football team yesterday. In January, 5 players of his team were suspended for trading their memorabilia for tattoos and Tressel said he knew nothing about it until December of 2010. In March, with Yahoo Sports ready to publish an expose, Tressel admitted he knew about in April of 2010 but decided that he was protecting his players by keeping quiet. At the time, he was suspended for 2 games and fined $250,000 of his 3 million dollar plus salary. Eventually Tressel was suspended for the same 5 games as his tattoo-receiving players. But with a new Sports Illustrated expose uncovering 10 years of players receiving free tattoos and the revelation of quarterback Terrelle Pryor being investigated by the NCAA for receiving cars and other benefits made him too much of a liability to overcome the one national championship and several big ten championships he led his team to.

  Tressel losing his job is well deserved. When faced with scrutiny, he chose to lie about his actions and turn a blind eye to the actions of the players he was in charge of. But he shouldn’t be the only one heading out the door. OSU athletic director Gene Smith gave Tressel a vote of confidence just 2 weeks ago.
Either he knew what was going on and tried to ride it out or he was unaware how corrupt the cash cow of his 110 million dollar athletic empire was. Either way, he should be joining Tressel on the unemployment line. And OSU president Gordon Ghee should also be gone. 3 months ago he was quoted as replying when asked if he considered firing Tressel, “No. Are you kidding? I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me”.

  In his resignation letter Tressel said, ''We know that God has a plan for us and we will be fine,'' referring to himself and his wife, Ellen. I hope that God’s plan for Tressel doesn’t include more lying and turning a blind eye to the rules violations of the players of the school so desperate for victories that they give Tressel another chance.

  Today is the first game of the NBA finals and it is a rematch of the 2006 finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. I’m rooting for the Heat because I like their president Pat Riley. I’ve admired Riley ever since took over the Knicks in the early 90’s. He didn’t have the talent he had with the champion ‘Showtime’ Lakers of the 80’s, but he assembled a cast of tough guys like Xavier McDaniel, Derek Harper, Doc Rivers, and John Starks to go with Charles Oakley (the toughest guy in the NBA at the time) and Patrick Ewing and came within a whisker of beating up the league and winning the championship in 1994. He turned around the Heat franchise, but never came close to a championship until he assembled a veteran-laden roster around Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neill and won the title in 2006. Riley worked the same formula this year, surrounding Wade with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and a cast of bargain basement veterans to get to the finals. I don’t care for James very much, but I like Riley and would like to se him get another ring as a chief executive.

  Lost in the rise of the Heat and the Mavericks is the sad finish to the coaching career of Phil Jackson. Jackson won a record 11 NBA championships with the Bulls and Lakers over 20 years, but couldn’t get this year’s Lakers to play at their peak for more than 2 weeks straight this year. When the team had a chance to take home court for the playoffs, they lost 5 in a row and after scraping by the pedestrian New Orleans Hornets in 6 games had to face the Mavericks. The Lakers lost a big lead in the first game and were blown out in the second game and lost the next 2 games in Dallas to force Jackson to suffer his first playoff sweep in his last playoff series.

  I don’t think Jackson will coach again at the age of 65, but I wonder if a team will take the gamble and entrust their franchise to a man who led his teams to 11 NBA championships and owns 2 more rings as a player. As a player, Jackson was a typical 70’s player who smoked pot, but as a member of the champion New York Knicks, was afforded the celebrity to make his habits known and celebrated. It kept him from getting a head coaching job in the NBA for many years despite winning championships as a coach in the minor league Continental Basketball Association. Even when he was winning NBA championships, Jackson came in for ridicule on account of his adherence to Zen philosophies. If Jackson doesn’t get a chance to run a team, I’m very interested to see how he will perform as a TV analyst. Will Jackson be as outspoken as he appeared to be as a coach or will he succumb to the temptation to sucking up to any organization that may hire him?