Jim Tressel's Last Punt
January 4, 2011. Ohio State leads the Sugar Bowl 31-26 with just over 1 minute left. 4th down and short. Coach Tressel calls a punt to make Arkansas drive the length of the field to win. It's blocked and Ohio State is as good as dead.
The punt has made Jim Tressel famous. The punt you say???? Yes, the punt is said to be Coach Tressel's favorite play. If executed properly it is a thing of beauty. It soars through the air like a comet and pins the opponent deep in their own territory. It can change a game and it forces an opponent to beat your defense in order to score. Something that Jim Tressel teams don't allow to happen much.
But the final punt in Coach Tressel's Ohio State coaching career was not a thing of beauty. It was a debacle that almost cost his team a sure win. A monkey-off-the-back-shut-the-f**k-up-sure-fire win was almost lost because of a blocked punt? Not the way it's supposed to happen when you call your favorite play. Ah, but Coach Tressel was not finished with his punt executing days just yet.
Fast forward a few months and we all know what has happened since that joyous night for Buckeye faithful. Coach Tressel's name was drug through the mud. Coach Tressel's job was called for by famous alums. Coach Tressel was rightly suspended and fined for lying to the NCAA and his superiors. Coach Tressel continued to do his work.
There was blood in the water and the sharks were determined. SI decided to get in on the act and try to find some skeletons. They found a bunch of hot air instead. The hometown newspaper ran a failed investigative report, and then re-ran a failed investigative report from 2004. The distractions were not going to end.
Yet Coach Tressel bided his time as he always has. He delivered a fantastic recruiting class. He coached his team through spring practice. He named an Interim Coach, and then he decided to do what all great coaches do. With the blood in the water and the sharks swarming at a feverish pitch he finally called his favorite play. He punted. The hang time on this particular punt is going to be pretty long, but if executed properly it can be a thing of beauty.
Walking the Tightrope
There is a fine line between success and failure.
More than a coach. I have said it, and I believe it about Jim Tressel. The man who has built a mountain of support from former players, colleagues, and friends is watching his empire collapse around him. An empire that he built on hard work, tireless persistence, and faith in people is now in shambles. For what?
There is a fine line between mentor and enabler.
When you believe in the goodness of people you expect that they will choose the right path. When you present people with example after example of how to live life the right way you expect that the examples will be taken to heart. At some point, with some people, it becomes obvious that what you are preaching is not sinking in. You can lead a horse to water, but......then what?
In my mind, in the future, there will never be another coach at Ohio State like Jim Tressel. In many regards. There will never be such a successful coach. There will never be such an admired coach. There will never be such a beloved coach. There will never be such a questioned coach. There will never be such a troubled coach.
Coach Tressel walked a tightrope his entire career. The tightrope that comes from old school methodology, a desire to control all aspects of his program, faith in the goodness of people, and the deepest desire to win football games. Coach Tressel finally fell off the tightrope. He decided to go it alone and he lost his footing. Not even the safety net built on decades of hard work could save him this time.