The next head coach at Ohio State?
The next head football coach at Ohio State should be a guy who grew up in Big Ten country, began building his coaching reputation at one of the conference’s member schools and advanced to the top of his profession by winning two of the championships every player dreams of achieving.
The next head football coach at Ohio State should be Tony Dungy.
While Urban Meyer fits the profile -- born in Ohio, graduate assistant at Ohio State, two BCS titles as head coach at Florida -- the time and circumstances are not ideal for Meyer to rush back into college coaching.
Dungy is instead the perfect fit at Ohio State, which for the good of its reputation as a university must separate from the leadership of embattled coach Jim Tressel.
Ohio State’s Board of Trustees need to act far in advance of its next scheduled meeting June 24.
If it was the school’s strategy to endure the fallout from a disastrous March 8 press conference admitting to Tressel’s wrongdoing and hope for the dust to settle, that has proven an abject failure.
Virtually every week has brought a new and damaging revelation, as is likely Tuesday when a Sports Illustrated expose could shine yet another hot light in the eye of a man whose university has already admitted lied, cheated and attempted to cover up knowledge of his players’ ineligibility last season.
If the leadership at OSU locates its compass any time soon, it will make a coaching change or accept the resignation that must occur for the long process of restoring the school’s reputation to begin.
OSU has enjoyed a remarkable 10-year run under Tressel, whose philanthropy and professorial manner made him almost as popular with fans as his wild on-field success.
Separating from Tressel does not mean that his faith, morals and charitable bent were fraudulent. Indeed, they are part of the fiber of the man. But his actions since April of 2010 cannot be tolerated, despite his good deeds, and OSU’s leadership must certainly be awakening to that reality.
There are perhaps too many uncertainties, however, for the school to attract and commit to its next head coach now. Hence, an interim leader of impeccable credentials would be ideal to lead the still-to-be-sanctioned program for a season until its NCAA fate emerges.
There is no better choice than Dungy, admittedly a long shot to accept the role, but someone who must be approached if OSU is diligent and sincere in wanting to win in a way that has been more marketing spin than reality under Tressel’s look-the-other-way leadership.
Plausible deniability can’t cut it any more as an excuse for why the coach isn’t accountable for his players’ NCAA rule-breaking.
Dungy has demonstrated the willingness to mentor his players and represent his employer with the highest personal integrity, once imperiling a playoff spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by refusing to run up the score on an opponent simply to solidify his team’s tiebreaker position.
A native of Jackson, Mich., Dungy grew up watching the greats of the Big Ten and started for three-plus seasons at quarterback for the University of Minnesota.
Undrafted out of college in 1977, he nevertheless made the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent defensive back and won a Super Bowl ring the following season.
Dungy’s NFL career lasted only four seasons, playing for three different teams, so he would be an example to players who think an extended career is their birthright.
Dungy coached one year at his alma mater, then became an NFL assistant. He spent 15 years in various roles before getting his chance as a head coach with Tampa.
Fired after six seasons, Dungy didn’t change his philosophy, but found a home in Indianapolis, where in the fifth of his seven seasons, he won another Super Bowl ring.
There are all sorts of valuable lessons -- patience, dedication, commitment -- he could impart solely from his playing and coaching career.
But the best part is Dungy’s track record as a man of faith, community service and consistency, even in the face of the most searing personal tragedy, losing a son to suicide.
Introducing Dungy as the next head coach would allow Ohio State to do something it decidedly did not do on March 8 -- win the press conference.
With Dungy, there would be no more smokescreens, half-truths or weak-willed leadership, which dominated that night nearly three months ago.
At an event called to detail his earlier lying to the NCAA and OSU about violations in his program, Tressel lied again in giving a bogus confidentiality excuse to justify his actions.
Athletic director Gene Smith showed the same willingness to rush prematurely to his coach’s defense as he had in December, when the AD promised the suspension of five players for five games in 2011 was the extent of a scandal that has since morphed into much, much more.
And school president E. Gordon Gee completed the fiasco by scoffing at whether he’d considered firing Tressel -- despite a clear breach of the coach’s contract -- and made the horrendously timed comment, “I just hope the coach doesn‘t dismiss me.”
Ohio State was in damage control mode then, but the continual drip of details which have since exposed the depth of Tressel’s duplicity have brought one question sharply into focus.
Does the school, its alumni, its fans and its players want the full measure of the cheating and lying that have gone on exposed and eradicated to cleanse the program and establish an unwavering commitment to integrity and honesty going forward?
The Twitter rantings of fans and players in the wake of ex-player Ray Small detailing his own NCAA violations and accusing his teammates of others suggest the answer is, no.
Players excoriated Small for violating a “sacred brotherhood,” as if a Buckeyes uniform comes with a secret handshake and a blood oath to stay silent about illicit extra benefits from boosters and friendly car dealers.
Small is admittedly a shaky witness, having a star-crossed career in and out of Tressel’s doghouse, and waffling on his comments as soon as the criticism they birthed fell upon him.
The OSU student newspaper, The Lantern, which first reported Small‘s statements, has since released a tape which proves he was neither misquoted nor misrepresented.
What’s indisputable is that Small is an authority on his own behavior. His consistent admission -- to the Lantern, to ESPN and to WBNS-TV in Columbus -- that he sold two Big Ten championship rings while playing for OSU is yet another brick in the expanding wall of player misconduct under Tressel’s watch.
If OSU’s compliance office has been jolted into doing its job, it spoke to Small and other players long before the media got to them and obtained a clear picture of the underbelly of the program.
It is time for Ohio State to do what it should have done March 8 -- voluntarily vacate the 2010 regular season in which Tressel played quarterback Terrelle Pryor and wide receiver DeVier Posey despite learning in April they were in violation of NCAA rules, and move forward with a new head coach.
If the man OSU introduces is Tony Dungy, it will be the first day in a decade that the Ohio State football program has actually stood for what it’s purported to represent.
Follow Bruce on Twitter @BHOOLZ