I will always remember March 8, 2011. It was a day at 610 WTVN radio when we were celebrating the 80th birthday of legendary Buckeye coach, WTVN analyst and college football Hall of Famer Earle Bruce. The celebration never happened. Work got in the way---the kind of work that spoiled the day for Coach Bruce and most of Buckeye Nation.
When Earle was coach, he famously called a 1987 home loss to Indiana, "The darkest day in Ohio State history," but March 8, 2011 was darker. It was on that fateful day that the story broke of Jim Tressel's NCAA misdeeds.
It was revealed that Tressel received an e-mail---in April of 2010----telling him that some of his players were apparently breaking NCAA rules. Among other things, they were selling memorabilia for cash, an obvious violation of NCAA rules. Records showed that Tressel responded: "I will get on it ASAP." He didn't.
The Tressel cover-up, which was outed seven years ago today, immediately meant a two-game NCAA suspension for the Buckeye coach. Within 2 1/2 months, it meant his job, as he was fired on Memorial Day, with Ohio State letting the world know with a clunky "YouTube" announcement from Director of Athletics Gene Smith.
With Tressel out, Luke Fickell was elevated to interim coach. It turned into a tumultuous 2011 season, when quarterback Terrelle Pryor, a key figure in 'tattoo-gate', was through with his college career, multiple other players were in and out of NCAA trouble, and the Buckeyes went 6-7, losing six of those games by a touchdown or less. To make matters worse, the NCAA was pouring over everything--including rouge boosters, with a fine-tooth comb.
Enter Urban Meyer. The perfect coach in an imperfect situation. Meyer, after a year away from coaching after winning two national titles at Florida, was hired November 28th with Ohio State's program in danger of slipping into mediocrity. The situation seemed to go from bad to worse when the Buckeyes were banned from post-season play in 2012. Seniors on that team were allowed, per NCAA rules, to transfer without penalty. None of them did.
With a sophomore quarterback named Braxton Miller, and a group of seniors led by John Simon and Zach Boren--a class that Meyer, to this day, credits for holding the program together, Ohio State shockingly went 12-0. The Buckeyes would win 24 straight games to open the Urban Meyer era, before losing two in a row (Michigan State and Clemson) to end the 2013 season. Then came 2014---the injury to Braxton Miller, the week two loss to Virginia Tech, the rookie quarterback named J.T. Barrett, the undefeated Big Ten season, the injury to Barrett versus Michigan, the three remarkable games by Cardale Jones, the emergence of Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and an incredible sophomore class--and yes--a National Championship. Who does this? Who wins a national title, only three years removed from major NCAA violations?
No--there haven't been anymore national championships since 2014, but there's been a ton of good football. Meyer's resume is stout. A 73-8 record, two College Football Playoff appearances and two Big Ten championships. He has won or shared his Big Ten division championship in each of his six seasons and his Big Ten record is 47-3---or 49-4 if you include conference title games. Either way--it's pretty good.
The point of all of this--and I don't mean this as a criticism---is the fans of the Football Buckeyes are spoiled. Most of the time, when the NCAA delivers a knockout punch to a legendary coach like Jim Tressel, there's more than just a one-year hiccup. On March 8, 2011 and the months that followed, most of Buckeye Nation could not have envisioned that the program would be stronger than ever in the years that followed. So back to the question... Who does this? Who wins a National title only three years removed from major NCAA violations? Who not only sustains a program, but improves upon it to a consistently elite level?
The Ohio State University--and Urban Meyer...That's who. And by the way---Happy 87th Earle!