Stephen J. Nesbitt: For three years, Terrelle Pryor's path of destruction reached far beyond Columbus

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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published June 7, 2011

On Mar. 19, 2008, the No. 1 recruit in the nation fiddled with the black cap he held beneath the table at the podium. Underneath his windbreaker, his t-shirt would reveal the best-kept secret in America.

Finally, Terrelle Pryor had their full attention.

He had the world at his fingertips. Every eye was on the Jeannette (Pa.) High School senior that day, and he was the bargaining chip hanging in the balance between Michigan and Ohio State waiting to tilt the balance of power.

Both teams courted him through the recruiting process. Rich Rodriguez against Jim Tressel, representing the greatest rivalry in the land. Three months earlier, when Pryor made his first visit to Ann Arbor, students living on Greenwood Ave. planned a block party in his honor.

Pryor, standing 6-foot-6 with a rocket arm and speed to burn, was made for Rich Rodriguez’s spread-offense system. But Michigan wasn’t made for him, he decided.

So Pryor called a press conference — a full six weeks after National Signing Day. Pryor donned his cap and unzipped his jacket.

He had made his decision; Terrelle Pryor was headed to Columbus.

“I’m an 18-year-old kid, and I feel like a man,” Pryor said, pulling the Buckeye cap lower on his head. “I’ve got to make choices for myself.”

And that’s where the true destruction began. It was no longer about ‘The Game,’ this was about Terrelle Pryor.

With his highly anticipated decision, the 18-year-old “man” crippled one football powerhouse and pushed another to the brink of collapse.

In three short years, Pryor led to the downfall of two top-tier coaches — Tressel and Rodriguez — and he followed right on their heels, announcing his exit from college football on Tuesday afternoon.

You could say Pryor just didn’t get the college game, but there’s more. Although Pryor mistakenly said he committed to “The University of Ohio State,” Tressel didn’t mind the slip-up. He embraced the quarterback like his son.

Tressel’s relationship with Pryor — as well as turning a blind eye to the dealings of other Buckeye players — brought the 10-year Tressel Empire crashing to the ground.

Had Pryor's name not been in the e-mails Tressel received from Christopher Cicero, a Columbus-area attorney, Tressel may have exposed the other four players. But Tressel covered it up, and he became the scapegoat.

An SI.com article cited 28 players who received illegal benefits in Columbus, but Tressel was charged because he protected a certain five players — namely Pryor.

"I haven't spoken with Terrelle and I don't care to," an Ohio State offensive starter told ESPN's Joe Schad the day Tressel resigned. "It really sucks Coach Tress had to take the fall for a couple idiots' mistakes."

The questions regarding Pryor’s character arose long before he set foot on campus as a Buckeye. Tressel was supposed to be a good influence on the Jeannette star, and Pryor wasn’t going to fret over his public image.

“I’m not worried about none of that,” Pryor said. “I think the football field will speak for itself. That’s why you (media) guys are here, right? Whether I was a bad kid or not, you are still here.”

And the media stayed. Every step of the way, from flashbulbs popping as Pryor became the 2010 Rose Bowl MVP to snapping photos of Pryor and his cavalcade of vehicles.

Thus ended Tressel’s reign, ousted after one of the most successful coaching careers in Big Ten history.

But while Tressel and his Buckeyes amassed a 33-6 record the past three years, Pryor’s decision as a high school senior put Rodriguez even further behind the eight ball in Ann Arbor.

Before he ever stepped onto the Big House turf for his first game, Rich Rodriguez was 0-1. And his first loss may have been his biggest.

Without Pryor, Rodriguez was left with Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet as his dual-threat quarterback attack. In other words, the 2008 season was doomed from the beginning.

As Pryor thrived with the Buckeyes, Rodriguez was forced to develop young signal-callers Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson and start them too early.

Pryor had left a massive chasm in Rodriguez’s offense that the coach couldn’t fill in time. Meanwhile, Pryor's Buckeyes ran roughshod over Michigan’s pitiful defense for a combined 100-24 score in Ohio State’s trio of wins.

A 15-22 record later, Rodriguez was out.

In three years, Pryor had toppled two of college football's cornerstone programs. With the NCAA hot on his heels for a string of potential violations, Pryor finally announced his decision to leave Ohio State.

He had the world at his fingertips … but he wanted more.

“I felt so bad that I didn’t choose Michigan, but I just knew I wanted to choose Ohio State,” Pryor said at his press conference in 2008. “If I chose Michigan, it would’ve been Ohio State I’d feel bad for.”

“I’m a caring kid sometimes when it comes to stuff like that.”

Like a caring kid, he left when he was no longer welcome. Pryor got Ohio State into the mess, now he's escaped to tell about it.

- Nesbitt can be reached at stnesbit@michigandaily.com