Fickell to run team while Tressel’s out

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel apologized Wednesday for letting people down by violating NCAA rules, calling it ”a difficult past couple of months.”

”The largest regrets I’ve had in my life have been when I’ve disappointed people, when I’ve let people down,” Tressel said while facing the media for the first time since March 8, when the violations were revealed. ”The mistakes I’ve made are very disappointing. I’m sorry for that, as I’ve mentioned many times.”

Ohio State has recommended to the NCAA that Tressel be suspended the first five games of this season for knowing about players involved in selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits. Tressel did not report it to his superiors or the NCAA for more than nine months.

An Ohio State spokeswoman, and Tressel himself, said no questions regarding the NCAA investigation could be addressed.

Dressed in his trademark sweater vest, Tressel introduced linebackers coach Luke Fickell as his replacement during the first five games of the 2011 season. The former Ohio State player was promoted just before Tressel stepped behind the microphones.

Tressel, beginning his 11th year as coach of the Buckeyes, then addressed spring workouts, the depth chart, the intrasquad scrimmage and other routine business. He also displayed a new helmet the Buckeyes would wear this spring that Tressel said honors the U.S. military.

Tressel received an email in April 2010 from a Columbus lawyer, Chris Cicero, who was a former Ohio State walk-on and letterman in the 1980s. Cicero told Tressel that at least two current Buckeyes players had sold signed Ohio State memorabilia to Edward Rife, who ran a local tattoo parlor. He also said that they had received free tattoos.

Cicero also said that Rife was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking investigation.

The two players were later revealed to be star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and wide receiver DeVier Posey. In an email response the same day, Tressel wrote, ”Thanks. I will get on it ASAP.”

Tressel later said that he felt bound by a vow of confidentiality to not disclose anything about the email. Cicero and Tressel traded emails twice more, with more information given to Tressel about the infractions. Cicero said he had even spoken to Rife for 90 minutes.

Athletic director Gene Smith, at the March 8 news conference, said Tressel never notified him, any of his Ohio State bosses, or anyone in the university’s compliance department. He also did not contact the lawyers on staff about the situation, though he did forward the email to Ted Sarniak, a businessman and ”mentor” of Pryor in his hometown of Jeannette, Pa.

Tressel signed an NCAA form in September in which he said he had no knowledge of any rules violations. When the U.S. Attorney’s office came to Ohio State in December to tell of its investigation that uncovered memorabilia in Rife’s possession, the school began an investigation of its own. During interviews that month, Tressel did not disclose what he knew at any time.

Pryor, Posey and three other players have been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for accepting improper benefits. It was during Ohio State’s attempt to build an appeal on their behalf that the school came across the emails involving Tressel and Cicero.

Tressel originally was handed a two-game suspension and a $250,000 fine for breaking the NCAA rules. The players’ appeal was subsequently denied. At that time, Tressel said he would also take a five-game suspension.

The NCAA is now investigating the situation and can add to Tressel’s punishment.

Fickell, a former Ohio State player, is in his 10th year on the Ohio State staff. He is also co-defensive coordinator, a role he assumed in April 2005.

”It’ll be difficult,” Fickell said of the first five games next season. ”We have to know whose team it is. It’s our team. It’s the seniors’ team.”