Terry Gilliam, File, Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio — At the bottom of the stunning resignation letter that he carefully typed in his office on Monday morning, in the last lines above his characteristically neat and clear signature, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel closed with a personal note.
"We know that God has a plan for us and we will be fine," he wrote, referring to himself and his wife, Ellen.
"We will be Buckeyes forever."
But no longer will he be the Buckeyes coach.
Tressel, who guided Ohio State to its first national title in 34 years, resigned Monday amid NCAA violations from a tattoo-parlor scandal that sullied the image of one of the country's top football programs.
He said the ongoing investigations and drumbeat of almost daily, sordid revelations were a "distraction" to the university and that he was stepping down "for the greater good of our school."
Tressel is still scheduled to go before the NCAA's committee on infractions in August for lying to the NCAA and then covering it up — the most egregious of sins for a coach in the eyes of college sports' ruling body. The former coach will join school officials at that meeting.
But Ohio State is not required to pay any buyout or severance to Tressel, who made around $3.5 million a year.
Ohio State announced that assistant coach Luke Fickell, already tabbed to take over for Tressel during his self-imposed five-game suspension for his violations, will be the Buckeyes coach for the 2011 season. Ohio State will begin looking for a permanent coach who will take over next year.
It was a startling fall for a coach who won championships and sidestepped several major NCAA violations through the years. They dated to his days as the ultrasuccessful coach at Youngstown State, where he won four Division I-AA national titles, through a decade as Ohio State's coach, where he posted a 106-22 record.
The abrupt resignation, first reported by The Columbus Dispatch, capped six months of turmoil in the program.
In December, five Ohio State players — including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor — were found to have received cash and discounted tattoos from the owner of a local tattoo parlor who was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking case. All were permitted by the NCAA to play in the Buckeyes' 31-26 victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, with their suspensions to begin with the first game of the 2011 season.
After the team returned from New Orleans, Ohio State officials began preparing an appeal of the players' sanctions. It was then that investigators found that Tressel had learned in April 2010 about the players' involvement with the parlor owner, Edward Rife.
A local attorney and former Ohio State walk-on player, Christopher Cicero, had sent Tressel emails detailing the improper benefits. Tressel and Cicero traded a dozen emails on the subject.
Tressel had signed an NCAA compliance form in September saying he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by athletes. His contract, in addition to NCAA rules, specified that he had to tell his superiors or compliance department about any potential NCAA rules violations. Yet he did not tell anyone, except to forward emails to Ted Sarniak, reportedly a "mentor" for Pryor back in his hometown of Jeannette, Pa.
Also on Monday, The Columbus Dispatch reported that Pryor is the subject of a "significant" inquiry by the NCAA and Ohio State regarding cars and other improper benefits he may have received.
Later Monday, Sports Illustrated reported that the memorabilia-for-tattoos violations actually stretched back to 2002, Tressel's second season at Ohio State, and involved at least 28 players — 22 more than the university has acknowledged. Those numbers include, beyond the six suspended players, an additional nine current players as well as other former players whose alleged wrongdoing might fall within the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations on violations.
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