Full disclosure: I graduated from Ohio State in 2002. I was a junior when Jim Tressel was hired away from Youngstown State and in the nine seasons since my graduation, I've watched him get to eight BCS bowl games, win five of them, and capture seven Big Ten titles and a national championship.
And just as important, we've all seen him pulverize Michigan.
Top 10 NFL Buckeyes under Tressel
While I'm not exactly the most unbiased person when it comes to this subject, I can say his resignation on Monday is what needed to happen. As much as I think of Tressel as a guy, he knowingly broke the rules and any consequences that follow are on him, and not anyone else. I cover the NFL, and I'd say the same thing when referencing the Patriots' Spygate scandal, I'd say it when talking about players being fined for high hits, and I'm not going to start being a hypocrite now because it involves my school.
You knew the rules, you broke them. Story over.
But does that mean his career's over, too? Not necessarily. And the answer for Tressel might be at the level of football he's had 66 of his Buckeye players drafted to, and the level that his program served as a pipeline to.
My editor asked me this morning if I think Tressel could coach in the NFL. I didn't have to hesitate. Heck, yes. Of course, he could.
Tressel already operated as a CEO, running the flagship program of an athletic department with a nine-figure budget that ranks either first or second (jockeying with Texas) annually. He might be the highest profile figure in Ohio, in any forum, and was the state's highest-paid employee. There's no NFL spotlight that will glare brighter than the one he's already been under, nor will there be more responsibility with any professional team than he's already had.
He has crisis management skills -- having dealt with off-field flare-ups from the time he arrived in Columbus (remember Maurice Clarett, and search Marco Cooper on Google) -- that can be crucial for an NFL head coach. And yes, that's even with the knowledge that he didn't handle his own situation particularly well.
But as much as anything, there's this: He's incredible at getting a group of men pointed in a singular direction, and keeping that group on course. He won a national championship as the Clarett story was gaining steam in 2002. He came down on Troy Smith in 2005, suspended him, and got a Heisman season out of the quarterback in 2006. And even last year, with Tattoo-gate swirling, his Buckeyes won a BCS bowl game.
That's not avoiding his culpability in such matters. It's just that at the NFL level, managing those kinds of problems is just as important as preventing them, since you have less control over your players. While Tressel certainly could've done more preventing the problems, it's hard to say he didn't manage them well in the aftermath.
That shows, as much as anything, that he can get guys to buy in. So did his ability to recruit, his ability to win big games, and his ability to unify a state behind his program that had become fractured in its support during the John Cooper years.
But his game-management and talent-deployment skills are already there. I've also been told time and again that NFL clubs can count on players from his program to be well-schooled and fundamentally sound.
"Despite the recent events, program-wise, he ran it well, in terms of recruiting and development of talent," said an AFC team executive. "It's a competitive environment in practices and (in the) strength-and-conditioning area, and it's obviously a big producer of NFL talent. He has a good staff, and coached them in the elements of the Big 10 -- snow, rain, cold, etc. And he won a lot."
When asked if Tressel could make the transition, one AFC college scout said, "I really don't know why not."
Would he want to do it, though? That's the better question, and one I can't answer.
I also can't say, unequivocally, that he'd be a roaring success in the NFL.
But the tools -- in his ability to manage people, a team and a game -- are there in spades. Which is to say if he wants to give it a shot, Tressel wouldn't be in over his head.