John Cooper took Arizona State to the Rose Bowl and defeated Michigan in January 1987. Ohio State enjoys it so much when Michigan loses in football that, a year later, Cooper was hired to replace Earle Bruce as the Buckeyes coach.
Cooper lasted 13 years in Columbus, even though he had two major flaws: He couldn’t win bowl games (3-8) and he couldn’t beat Michigan (2-10-1).
He was fired after the 2000 season. The two finalists to replace him were Youngstown State’s Jim Tressel and Minnesota’s Glen Mason. Ohio State went for Tressel, the I-AA coach, over Mason, who played for Woody Hayes.
On Monday, Tressel’s 10-year run of winning big (106-22) and beating Michigan (9-1), ended when he was forced out in the midst of a growing scandal.
Tressel gained quick popularity in Columbus by taking his 2001 team to Michigan and upsetting the Wolverines 26-20. And then he changed the rivalry dramatically in February 2002, signing a recruiting class of 26 that included Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith, Santonio Holmes, Nick Mangold, A.J. Hawk and Rob Carpenter.
Ohio State has a spectacular stadium and tremendous facilities. There is a passion for the Buckeyes in Columbus that rivals what you can find for any college football team in any city.
Yet, you saw Tressel moving around in his half-sweater, looking like a dweeb, and you heard his pathetic answers to even the most bland questions, and there was always the thought:
“How could someone this vanilla be the coach to turn a table on Michigan in landing exceptional athletes?”
And: “How could such a bore build the relationship with Ted Ginn Sr., the coach at Cleveland Glenville, that would allow OSU to sign 90 percent of that city’s great players?”
There were suspicions about what was going on in Columbus as far back as Clarett.
That was 2003 — about the same time a friend told me about an underground nickname another gentleman in the Ohio media had applied to Tressel: “Cheaty McSweater.”
The Clarett mess wasn’t the end of it. In 2004, Smith, the backup quarterback, was suspended for a bowl game and the next season opener for accepting $500 from a booster. Smith won the 2006 Heisman.
Tressel kept on skating.
It seemed as if “Cheaty McSweater” would remain an inside joke — not Tressel’s legacy.
And then a year ago, the Feds raided the home of a suspected Columbus drug dealer and found a trove of Buckeyes memorabilia. As it turned out, Edward Rife owned a tattoo parlor, and we soon discovered that the football-playing youth of America would trade most anything to get “Mom” with a heart and arrow on a bicep.
Tressel was tipped off in April 2010 through an email that players were breaking NCAA rules by exchanging Big Ten championship rings and gold pants (for beating Michigan) for tattoos and/or cash.
He didn’t tell his bosses. He lied in September when filling out a form as to whether he had knowledge of NCAA rules violations. He lied to school officials.
Tressel has attached his name to two books on faith and integrity, and he’s now an admitted liar — changing his story each time new facts surfaced.
Way back in 2003, it was a car and Clarett that made you wonder about Tressel, and eight years later, it’s official:
He was Cheaty McSweater.