Friday, March 21, 2008

The Vest Lands the Best

Terrelle Pryor finally announced his decision to accept a scholarship at THE Ohio State University. After all the hype it appears that the delay in signing his letter of intent was little more than a publicity stunt as Pryor failed to make good on his threats to visit Penn State and Oregon.

It’s hard to remember a high school football player who got more attention which means that the deck is already stacked against him. Combine that with Jim Tressel’s unique ability to destroy a promising young quarterback’s confidence and Pryor is a 3-1 favorite to be selling real estate in Central Ohio in between sporadic appearance on local sports radio shows.

Pryor’s delay in signing his letter of intent actually backfired. Reporters watched every move he made and interviewed just about everybody living within a 200 mile radius of Jeannette, Pa. hoping to get in inside track on what Pryor was thinking. The result was a lot of speculation that Terrelle has an attitude problem. Those theories are supported by Pryor’s involvement in two fights during his team’s run at a basketball championship.

Pryor seemed a little cocky in his press conference. He was pretty glib about not bothering to visit Oregon because it was too far from home and said that Penn State never had a chance because State College is too small a town for him. He did extend an apology to Michigan because he knew that a lot of people were hoping to build next year’s team around him and he seems to understand that he’ll be one of several talented quarterbacks vying for playing time at Ohio State. He made a comment about being a bad guy not mattering because he’s a good football player. That’s a little hairy but seeing as how he’s 18 you have to figure that he meant to say something more meaningful. Athletes tend to put their feet in their mouths all the time.

Judgment on what sort of person Terrelle Pryor is will have to wait. He spent the last six weeks under a microscope so we owe him the benefit of the doubt. That doesn’t mean that Pryor is not a big risk. He could be cut from the same cloth as Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning or he might be an aspiring felon like Marcus Vick. It’s more likely that he’ll end somewhere in between. We’ll have plenty of time to scrutinize Pryor in the next couple of years.

The person to second guess right now is Jim Tressel. The Ohio State coach cultivates a squeaky clean image. He has the players line up in the end zone after every game and sing Ohio State’s Alma Mater, Carmen Ohio, to the band; He participates in a number of Christian-based fundraisers and evangelical events; He wears a tie and a Mr. Rogers-esque sweater-vest; but underneath it all is a guy focused on money and wins.

The NCAA has had cause to investigate Tressel on at least two occasions for similar reasons. At Younstown State Tressel was cited for failing to maintain institutional control of his program. A few years later the NCAA was investigating similar issues at Ohio State but the blame was placed entirely on the shoulders of Maurice Clarett. In both instances Tressel was, at the very least, guilty of looking the other way.

With Clarett Tressel and the Buckeyes ignored his problems on and off the field until they spiraled out of control. Once the NCAA got involved the Buckeye spin machine went into overdrive and the program was protected but that’s nothing new. The NCAA has a history of looking straight ahead when a money making program is in trouble.

Clarett exhibited similar traits to Pryor. Both have big egos, both speak their minds and both seem to have families with dollar signs in their eyes. Pryor might not be as self-destructive but after watching Maurice Clarett implode one would think that Tressel would be leary. Besides, Ohio State isn’t exactly hurting at the QB position anyway.

Tressel has had issues with other players as well. Under his watch former QB Craig Krenzel and WR Chris Gamble were tied to illicit funds. That issue was resolved when the money they received was donated to charity but Troy Smith took money as well and had to be suspended. Then you factor in a few arrests, excessive trash talking, some post game fights and Robert Reynolds trying to rip Jim Sorgi’s throat out and Tressel’s star loses a little luster. He’s not a character guy at all.

People with the best intentions often make mistakes and that could be the case with Jim Tressel but even if it is, why take a chance on somebody like Terrelle Pryor?

It’s hard to root against Pryor. He’s a kid who still has a lot to learn and quite a bit of growing up to do. The question is whether or not Jim Tressel will put Pryor’s development as a young man ahead of his performance as a football player. If Pryor fails will Jim Tressel accept responsibility for his part? Or will he walk away with his hands in his pockets like he did when Maurice Clarett crashed and burned?

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