When it comes to big time college athletics, I live by modus operandi that it's only lying, cheating or stealing if you get caught. Numerous schools toe or cross the line of right/wrong and are able to work and find success without penalty
Unfortunately for the entire state of Ohio, Jim Tressel did not.
Formally resigning today, Memorial Day no less, The Vest regime is now finito in Columbus, and for a college basketball aficionado like myself, it begs the question: who is our sport's equivalent to Tressel? Whose impact on their school/community lights a candle to Tressel, meaning his sudden resignation for being bad would cause similar ripple effects throughout his legion of fans?
A few coaches come to mind:
Roy Williams - The comparisons stack up: age, recent accomplishments, importance of team to the school and community. North Carolina is as much a basketball-first and basketball-thirsty school as Ohio State is for football. In terms of personality, both command incredible respect from both fans and foes. If Tressel never faced what he's currently going through, he would almost unquestionably find success in Columbus for as long as Roy will in Chapel Hill. The major discrepancy here is that this isn't Tressel's first rodeo with an infractions committee. Williams has never been accused of anything dirty during his entire career.
- Billy Donovan - While they are 13 years apart in age, the quick ascension to the top in the past decade for both Tressel and Donovan is strikingly similar. Billy Ball has managed to win two national championships since he took over the Gators program in in 1996. He's gone 360-147 during that time and, for lack of a better term, built up incredible job security that's re-assuring to fans. They have a familiar face manning the sidelines that probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Much like Tressel had become, there's no doubt that the program is in good hands for the next 10-15 years. Tressel had quickly built that same feel in Columbus until it came crashing down over the past few months. Sure Gainesville is football-first, but in terms of pure accolades and name-recognition, these two had a lot in common up until this morning. If you're curious, Donovan is my pick for the college basketball equivalent of the former Ohio State head football coach.
- Thad Matta - Together they were the two Knights of Columbus for the past seven years, during which time Matta led the Buckeyes to four Big Ten regular season championships and one national championship game appearance. But the argument breaks down when you acknowledge that guys like Sullinger, Turner and Conley always had to play second-fiddle to Prior, (Troy) Smith, and Ginn. If Matta were to suddenly resign or get canned due to pending NCAA penalties, fans would probably bat a few eyes...then look forward to the annual Scarlet and Gray Game.
Bruce Pearl - Only because we just saw this happen a few months ago, and because Pearl was (I believe) destined for great things in Knoxville. He had re-built pride in the program in short order, seemed to be securing bigger and better recruits year-over-year, and was well-liked by fans because of his unique personality. Tressel was beloved too and served as a bit of a savior, but the comparison is a bit of a slap in the face. Instead, consider Pearl as the poor man's Vest. The two share similar arcs, Pearl's just comes on a much smaller scale.
Venerable coaches like Boeheim, Calhoun and Krzyzewski being asked to step down for various reasons would of course send shock and awe throughout college basketball. But it wouldn't be fair to compare them to Tressel's departure because they've been at their respective posts for a long, long time. Without that holy trinity of coaches, it wouldn't be a small omission the game, but rather a gaping hole that the program, the sport, would feel for a long time. Frankly - and this is my casual-college-football-fan take on the whole matter - I think Ohio State will be just fine, and the sport as a whole isn't going to feel "less than" this coming fall.