Ohio State President Says He Dismissed Former Football Coach

Jim Tressel didn’t resign as Ohio State’s football coach last year—the university’s president asked him to step down, according to an article in this week’s Chronicle.

“I made that decision,” Gordon Gee, Ohio State’s president, told The Chronicle’s Jack Stripling. “There’s no doubt about it. I do know this: No one doubts that I’m in charge.”

Mr. Gee’s story appears to break with the coach’s and Ohio State’s public narrative that Mr. Tressel had come to the decision on his own, Mr. Stripling reports.

In a statement Mr. Tressel released in May 2011, he said that he and university officials had “agreed” he should resign in response to revelations about a tattoo-parlor scandal. Gene Smith, the university’s athletic director, said at the time that the coach had “decided to resign.”

But Mr. Gee now says he himself made the difficult decision to dismiss the coach, who had spent a decade leading the program, including taking the Buckeyes to the 2002 national title.

Mr. Smith personally broke the news to Mr. Tressel, but Mr. Gee later called the coach, whom he considered a friend. Mr. Gee says he told Mr. Tressel, “I’m sorry this has happened, but we just had to move on.”

The decision followed Mr. Gee’s own blunders over the scandal. Weeks before the dismissal, the president was asked in a news conference if he had considered firing Mr. Tressel, who at the time had just been suspended for two games.

“No, are you kidding me?” Mr. Gee replied. “I’m just hopeful that the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

Mr. Stripling writes:

In the eyes of college-sports skeptics, Mr. Gee had committed a true gaffe, which is to say that he had accidentally blurted out a completely honest answer. This was proof positive, many columnists surmised, that the tail truly wags the dog in college sports, where coaches can bring down presidents more easily than the reverse.

Mr. Gee scoffs at the far-reaching conclusions many drew from his remark, but he concedes that his joking presentation was an indication of how greatly he underestimated the severity of the problems within the football program.

“Out of my 32 years, I will tell you this very pointedly: That was probably the most difficult issue that I’ve dealt with,” Mr. Gee says. “Because it involved so much public commentary, so much press, so much pressure internal and external. It involved the brand of the university. It involved issues that were more complex than I really fully understood.”

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