“Don’t forget: On Nov. 26 we’re going to kick (Michigan’s) ass!”
With the sun beating down on him in 90-degree weather, Jim Tressel sounded like it was the first day of fall camp.
In Tressel’s first public address since resigning as head football coach at Ohio State — a gathering of 200-plus fans outside his Columbus home — the 58-year-old gave the crowd exactly what they were looking for, taking one last stab at rival Michigan.
No holds barred. It’s Michigan and Ohio State, after all.
The embattled coach stepped down last Monday amid months of swirling accusations and speculations surrounding the entire Buckeye football program.
With Luke Fickell officially named as the interim coach to replace Tressel, students in Columbus decided to honor Tressel, who left with a 9-1 all-time record against the Wolverines.
Rather than go ahead with plans for a Mirror Lake jump for Tressel as originally planned, Ohio State seniors Tawni Shaffer and Andrew Haviland organized a collective effort to show their support for Tressel’s 10 years at the helm of Buckeye Nation. At 6 p.m. Saturday, a group of more than 200 walked from Lane Road Park in Upper Arlington to Tressel’s home.
And Tressel — with his wife Ellen — met them with open arms.
“We’re going to be Buckeyes for life,” Tressel said, surveying the crowd with his arm around his wife. “What’s that old saying? Buckeye born and bred, a Buckeye ’til I’m dead.”
The doorstep rally lasted about 25 minutes. Tressel and his wife posed for pictures on the porch of their home, shook hands and thanked those in attendance for their support.
“Honestly, even with all the things that have happened these last two months, we really thought Coach Tressel deserves us to recognize all the good things he’s done, no matter what comes out (later),” Shaffer said Monday. “He’s done so many things for the university, so many things to help athletes.
“Every person has their faults.”
Students, alumni and fans alike sang the alma mater and held up signs reading, “You’re in Our Prayers,” “We Support You, Jim!” and “We Love You, Coach Tressel.” A similar rally took place in Columbus when then-head coach Woody Hayes was fired in 1978.
For a coach whose downfall was covering up scandal involving dozens of players receiving improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner, the gathering was nothing short of a celebration.
“I’m still a Buckeye through and through,” Nick Jack, an Ohio State student, told The Plain Dealer. “I love the team and I love the coaches. I’ve always thought really highly of (Tressel) and after this night, it takes it to another level.”
But the students — some donning Buckeye jerseys, others holding Tressel bobbleheads — might be singing another tune when the 2011 season comes around this fall.
Five of Ohio State’s key players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Boom Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey, are suspended for the first five games of the season. In addition, the NCAA ruling regarding Tressel and Ohio State’s iniquities is expected to be released mid-season.
But while celebrating the coach’s success puts a pretty face on Columbus for now, Tressel’s ousting might simply be scratching the surface on a troubling punishment for Ohio State.
“Down here at Ohio State, we really do still support him,” Shaffer said. “Some have some hard feelings, but we just have to wait and see what happens. No matter what, we’re pretty forgiving. Even if something else were to come out, I don’t think it would change the students’ opinions that much.”
Like every good get-together in Columbus, before the crowd dispersed from Tressel’s driveway, a round of “We Don’t Give a Damn About the Whole State of Michigan” ensured that the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry hasn’t lost any luster.
“Buckeye Nation, we’ll still back up the football team,” Shaffer said. “Even though we lose a coach, we’ll still fight to the end. It’s the biggest rivalry, I think it’ll still be going on strong this year.”