COLUMBUS, Ohio — As others labeled him a cheater and liar, Ohio State fans stood by Jim Tressel on Monday as the coach resigned amid an NCAA investigation into the football program.
A red spray-painted "Tressel til I die" banner hung over a porch near campus, and members of "Buckeye Nation" on Twitter continued to sing praises for the coach who led the team to a national championship and lost to rival Michigan only once in his 10 years at the helm of the Buckeyes.
Ohio State announced the resignation as the athletic department approaches an Aug. 12 date with the NCAA's infractions committee over several possible rules violations stemming from players selling memorabilia to the owner of a local tattoo shop.
Buckeyes fans and players immediately came to Tressel's defense.
Starting linebacker Andrew Sweat tweeted, "You have done a tremendous amount for us as football players but more importantly developing us as men." Former tight end Jake Ballard called Tressel "one of the best human beings I have ever met" and said "all he ever did was care and help people."
Students on campus also rallied around their former coach.
Matt Parker and Curt Stine, who graduate this spring, heard honks from passing motorists and words of support from pedestrians after they turned a white blanket into their "Tressel til I die" banner and hung it above their porch.
"A lot of the students here love Tressel because of all the winning we've done recently, especially beating Michigan," said Parker, a political science major planning to attend law school at the University of Buffalo.
Parker, 22, said he wasn't surprised by the resignation itself, but by its timing, about three months after Ohio state President E. Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Gene Smith had expressed their support for the coach.
"I figured he was our coach and we were gonna fight through it with him," said Stine, 21, a political science major and logistics manager for UPS. "I don't think it was his decision so much as the athletic department putting pressure."
In March, Ohio State announced it had suspended Tressel for two games and fined him $250,000 for failing to report what he knew about players receiving improper benefits from the tattoo-parlor owner. The suspension was later increased to five games, the same punishment given five players who sold memorabilia, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Tressel, 58, had a record of 106-22-0 in 10 years at Ohio State. He led the Buckeyes to a national championship and eight Bowl Championship Series games. Prior to taking over the Buckeyes, he had a 135-57-2 record in 15 years at Youngstown State.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who grew up in Youngstown and played free safety at Ohio State, issued a statement calling Tressel "an outstanding football coach and a good man."
"I've followed and respected his career since his days at Youngstown State, and through his tremendous success at Ohio State the past decade," he said. "He will be missed in college football."
Alumni who rang in to support the coach were surprised by the resignation.
"I was completely shocked and saddened by it," said Eddie Langhenry, a 2008 graduate in sports and leisure studies who grew up in Cleveland. "I wouldn't deny he did something wrong, but thought he was going to serve his penalty and coach through it."
Tamieka Cobb, a 2003 graduate, said she "immediately just stopped" when she heard about the resignation.
"I couldn't believe it," said Cobb, 29, a real estate agent in Columbus. "It's like the end of era."
Cobb grew up in Youngstown watching Tressel coach the Penguins and said he "always put his players first,"
"It's like he sacrificed himself for his players," she said. "He wants to make sure his players have a good career after all this over with."
Ohio State said linebackers coach Luke Fickell will serve as interim coach for the 2011 season and a search for a Tressel replacement will start after the season. Fickell already had been selected to be the interim coach while Tressel served the five-game suspension.
Langhenry, 25, said he believes Ohio State will still be among the top college football teams in the country.
"It's Ohio State. They'll be fine," he said. "They'll take it. They'll recover."
Parker said he hopes the resignation, by separating the coach from the school, helps the university as it heads into the NCAA infraction hearing. He said he hopes Ohio state doesn't see players transferring, withdrawing commitments or playing for rivals.
"If we lose some of our top recruits from Michigan," he said, "that would be the worst thing I think."
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