Tressel, Stewart: The Unlikeliest of Controversial Coaches
It’s certainly no longer surprising that college football is currently rife with scandals that stretches all the way from the beaches of Southern California to the Appalachian Mountains. What is shocking? The two men in the hottest water are ex-Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and West Virginia head man Bill Stewart.
At the turn of 2011, Jim Tressel and Bill Stewart seemed to defined character and class in college football.
There was Tressel, known as the “Senator” for his conservative dress and vanilla quotes, who was beloved in Columbus for giving back to the campus and preaching from day one that fans would be proud of their players “in the classroom, in the community, and in 310 days in Ann Arbor, MI.”
He wore his religion on his sleeve with a “What Would Jesus Do?” wristband and was involved in everything from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to the Ohio State University Medical Center. He even wrote a book in 2008 called “The Winners Manual” in which Tressel proclaims, “If I could say anything to parents whose sons or daughters have some athletic skill, I’d say let them become good people first.”
And then there was Stewart.
Equally as hokey as Tressel, Stewart was a long-time loyal assistant who had finally gotten his chance as West Virginia’s head man when Rich Rodriguez picked up and bolted for Michigan in 2007. Stewart appeared to be the polar opposite of Rich Rod, a true West Virginian that was a Mountaineer for life and full of honor.
While there was an ugly incident in 1996 in which he’d used a racial slur as the head coach of VMI, African-American players like Pat White and Steve Slaton publicly endorsed him after a victory over Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
When he was named the permanent head coach, Stewart proclaimed: “This is my last job. I won’t leave here. And they won’t have to tell me when I’m not doing the job - I will tell them.”
A devout Roman Catholic, Stewart was very open about the fact that he brought a bible with him wherever he traveled and read it daily, once telling The Register-Herald, “I believe what I believe, and I say what I say and if I’m talking about my daily walk, I’m talking about my faith, and that’s Bill Stewart.”
Certainly it appeared that these would be the last two coaches to be embroiled in controversy and have their character questioned. But in the past five months, the perception of both has drastically changed.
Tressel resigned from his position on Memorial Day after being directly implicated for hiding NCAA violations by his players and then lying to cover them up.
Meanwhile, Stewart has just been accused not only of leaking potentially inaccurate stories about his offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen, Stewart also allegedly reached out to a local reporter asking the scribe to “dig up dirt” on the man brought in to replace Stewart in 2012.
All of this has left people wondering what - and who - they can believe.
How could men of such character and faith act so unethically by lying about their players’ violations and sabotaging their own coaching staff?
Tressel supporters proclaim that he told athletic director Gene Smith about the violations, that Smith is the real culprit here - not Tressel - and that the Senator is taking the fall to avoid the athletic department falling into further chaos.
Meanwhile, Stewart backers point out that Holgorsen was the one that was recently thrown out of a casino after 3 AM and that while Stewart’s methods lacked tact, people are losing sight of the real dirt bag in Morgantown. After all, what man of faith would like to see their job taken by a hard-partying bachelor that seems out of control?
Stewart supporters also point out that it’s convenient that many of the people who want Stewart fired immediately are those that wanted him canned after a third straight mediocre 9-4 season that resulted in athletic director Oliver Luck bringing in Holgorsen from Oklahoma State.
Now the big question in college football is whether Tressel and Stewart are hypocrites or scapegoats.
About the only thing that can be concluded about these two at this point is that things are not always as they seem.