It’s interesting to see how leaders, and organizations, respond when in the midst of controversy or crisis. I thought about this as Ohio State responded to charges that Head Football Coach Jim Tressel lied and covered up transgressions his football players committed. I thought about it in contrast to Nebraska’s leaders when they had to respond to Head Football Coach Bo Pelini’s meltdown in the Texas A&M game last November.

“I think it was very unfortunate, and it’s something we’ll have to address with Bo.”
-Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, addressing Pelini’s meltdown the day after it happened.
“No, are you kidding me? Let me be clear. I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
-Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, in response to a question about considering firing Tressel.
“I’m a passionate person, and during that game the other night, I thought there were times when, obviously, it’s OK to disagree with a call. It’s the way that you disagree with the call. I believe that, at times during that game, I got too animated, and for that, I regret that, and I’m sorry about that.”
-Nebraska Football Coach Bo Pelini

“I don’t think less of myself at this moment.”
-Ohio State Football Coach Jim Tressel, in response to if he’s worried the scandal would tarnish his reputation.

Jim Tressel did not apologize once during the press conference last night. Bo Pelini ended up apologizing multiple times, in his press conference, last November.*

*03.14.2011 Update – One week after the charges became public, Jim Tressel finally apologized for his actions as required by Ohio State University.

Jim Tressel lied and covered up major infractions the players on his football team committed. Bo Pelini lost his cool, in the heat of the moment, during a nationally televised game.*

*You might recall I was critical of Bo Pelini’s actions, at the time, when I wrote this post.

I’m not shocked anymore by anything that goes on in “amateur” athletics, but I was disappointed to see this transpire with Jim Tressel. From afar, I liked him as a coach and leader of men, but that was before yesterday. I do hope he learns from this, and takes some ownership of his role in this scandal.*

*It may be time for Buckeye fans to drop the nickname “Senator”, with Tressel, because now it seems way too appropriate.

The whole charade that Ohio State put on, last night, further illustrates that at most universities it’s the football or basketball coach that is the true leader of the university.

Can this be a good thing? Yes, it can be, if the coach isn’t willing to win by any means necessary. That coach can be a tremendous leader and influence within its community and fan base. Nebraskans would think of Tom Osborne, North Carolina fans would offer up Dean Smith, Penn St fans would mention Joe Paterno, and there are other coaches you can refer to as examples.

Of course, there are bad examples as well where all that’s communicated to a fan base, and community, is the bottom line. You win at all costs, nothing else matters.

The University of Nebraska hasn’t always been perfect in its dealings. Yes, I’ll be the first to refer to the situation fifteen years ago when Lawrence Phillips was allowed to play football again, at Nebraska, after assaulting a woman.

Today, though, I’m grateful for Harvey Perlman and Bo Pelini in the example they showed, last Fall, in leading and representing the university and the state of Nebraska. They showed accountability when it came to controversy.

There is no place like Nebraska.

For more reading about this:
Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach
ESPN’s Big Ten blog

2 thoughts on “Who Runs The University?

  1. It probably won't help relations between my in-laws and me. They all grew up in Ohio and most of them are Buckeye fans!

    I'm disappointed because I was a fan of Jim Tressel. Hope he owns it and rebounds from it.

    Thanks for reading the post!


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