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Monday, May 30, 2011
Updated: May 31, 12:58 PM ET
Jim Tressel tenders resignation

ESPN.com news services

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jim 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.

"After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach," Tressel said in a statement released by the university. "The appreciation that [wife] Ellen and I have for the Buckeye Nation is immeasurable."

Luke Fickell will be the coach for the 2011 season. He already had been selected to be the interim head coach while Tressel served a five-game suspension.

Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said he was unaware of any buyout or severance package. He added that Tressel had returned from vacation Sunday night and met with athletic director Gene Smith, who then met with staff. Tressel typed his resignation and submitted it to Smith, he said.

Under terms of Tressel's contract, which was worth around $3.5 million a year through the 2014 season, Ohio State is not required to pay him any money or provide any benefits upon his resignation.

The resignation was first reported by The Columbus Dispatch.

Clearly, the turmoil had been building. The resignation comes nearly three months after Ohio State called a news conference to announce it has suspended Tressel for two games -- later increasing the ban to five games to coincide with the players' punishment -- and fined him $250,000 for knowing his players had received improper benefits from the owner of a local tattoo parlor. The school said at the time it was "very surprised and disappointed" in Tressel. Yet, the school still managed to crack jokes.

Asked if he considered firing Tressel, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee said then: "No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

Gee was not joking about the Tressel situation over the weekend. Ohio State released a letter from Gee to the university's board of trustees which said, "As you all know, I appointed a special committee to analyze and provide advice to me regarding issues attendant to our football program. In consultation with the senior leadership of the university and the senior leadership of the board, I have been actively reviewing the matter and have accepted coach Tressel's resignation."

Tressel's downfall came with public and media pressure mounting on Ohio State, its board of trustees, Gee and Smith.

"I want you to know that last night, when Jim returned from his vacation, he and I sat down for a while and talked about the state of our program. It's at that time that he decided to resign," Smith said in a video released Monday. "We met again this morning in his office and chatted some more, and he submitted his formal letter of resignation. We did meet with part of the team this morning and those who were not there, they were contacted by their position coaches. Coach Tressel did what we all knew he would do. He did an eloquent job of explaining to the young men what transition really means and what they needed to focus on."

Before the meeting, Smith met with Fickell and asked him to be interim coach, which he accepted. Smith also met with full coaching staff and support staff.

"We are under NCAA investigation. We will not discuss any of the matters around that case, or any further accusations that may emerge," Smith said. "We will do what we always do: we will respond to them, we collaborate with the NCAA and try and find the truth. I do want to thank Coach Tressel for his long service to our university. There was a lot of people he touched in a highly positive way. We're very thankful for his leadership during the years we had great success on the field and off the field, but more importantly in the classroom."

Tressel and Ohio State were to go before the NCAA's infractions committee Aug. 12 to answer questions about the player violations and why Tressel did not report them. He denied knowledge of improper benefits to players until confronted by investigators with emails that showed he had known since April 2010.

After several NCAA violations by him or his players over the years, Tressel's problems deepened after learning six Ohio State players -- including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor -- were found to have received cash or discounted tattoos. All were permitted by the NCAA to play in the Buckeyes' 31-26 victory over Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, with their suspensions to begin with the first game of the 2011 season.

During the course of an investigation, the university and the NCAA work jointly to review any new allegations that come to light, and will continue to do so until the conclusion of the investigation.

-- Ohio State AD Gene Smith, in response to the release of Monday's SI article

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 federally-investigated 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 2010 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 at least 28 players -- 22 more than the university has acknowledged -- were involved in exchanging memorabilia for services as far back as 2002, Tressel's second season at Ohio State.

SI reported that nine current players -- defensive back C.J. Barnett, linebacker Dorian Bell, running back Jaamal Berry, running back Bo DeLande, defensive back Zach Domicone, linebacker Storm Klein, linebacker Etienne Sabino, defensive tackle John Simon and defensive end Nathan Williams -- and nine others beyond Pryor and the others already banned were involved at the Dudley'z or Fine Line Ink tattoo parlors. A tattoo artist told SI the memorabilia-for-tattoos exchange has gone on since 2002.

After the article's publication, athletic director Smith issued a statement.

"During the course of an investigation, the university and the NCAA work jointly to review any new allegations that come to light, and will continue to do so until the conclusion of the investigation," he said. "You should rest assured that these new allegations will be evaluated in exactly this manner. Beyond that, we will have no further comment."

The 58-year-old Tressel had a record of 106-22-0 at Ohio State. He led the Buckeyes to eight Bowl Championship Series games in his 10 years. Combined with a 135-57-2 record in 15 years at Youngstown State, where he won four Division I-AA national championships, Tressel's career mark was 241-79-2.

"Coach Jim Tressel has made positive contributions to Ohio State and its student athletes during his tenure," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement. "He has also acknowledged making a serious mistake and his resignation today is an indication that serious mistakes have serious consequences."

With speculation swirling that Urban Meyer would be an apt replacement, the former Florida coach, who works as a college football analyst for ESPN, said he wasn't interested.

"I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall," Meyer said in a statement. "I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the people at ESPN this spring and remain very excited about my role with the network this fall.

"Jim Tressel has been a respected friend and colleague for a long time. I wish Jim and his family the very best now and in the future."

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, whose Huskers are moving from the Big 12 to the Big Ten this season, commended Tressel.

"Jim Tressel is an outstanding football coach and a good man," Pelini said in a statement. "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 will be missed in college football."

The author of two books about faith and integrity, Tressel remains a scapegoat to many and a hypocrite to others. Even though he has many backers, a rising chorus of detractors had stepped forward during the ongoing NCAA investigation. There were also questions about his players and their friends and family members receiving special deals on used cars from two Columbus dealers.

But at one time his image was that of an honest, religious man who never said or did anything without thinking it through first. His nickname was "The Senator" for never having a hair out of place, praising opponents and seldom giving a clear answer to even the simplest of questions.

He'd gotten into trouble with the NCAA even before coming to Ohio State. He was the coach at Youngstown State when it received scholarship and recruiting restrictions for violations involving star quarterback Ray Isaac.

Still, Andy Geiger, then Ohio State's athletic director, favored Tressel over Minnesota coach and former Buckeyes linebacker Glen Mason for the job after John Cooper was fired in January 2001.

Cooper was let go ostensibly because the program lost direction, with several off-the-field problems. But perhaps more damaging was his 2-10-1 record against rival Michigan and 3-8 mark in bowl games.

Introduced at an Ohio State basketball game in 2001, Tressel vowed that fans would "be proud of our young people, in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Mich., on the football field."

Tressel's first team went just 7-5, losing the Outback Bowl, but upset 11th-ranked Michigan 26-20. But in his second year, with a team led by freshman tailback Maurice Clarett, the Buckeyes won everything.

They went 14-0, winning seven games by seven or fewer points. Ranked No. 2, they took on top-ranked Miami in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl for the BCS national title. In the second overtime, Clarett bulled over the middle for a touchdown and the Buckeyes held on to clinch their first national title since 1968. After the game, Tressel held aloft the crystal football.

The following summer, Clarett reported that a used car he had borrowed from a local dealer was broken into and that he had been hit by thousands of dollars in losses. Clarett's call to police came from Tressel's office. Clarett admitted he had made up the break-in call and later took a plea deal. But the NCAA began looking into Clarett and the team. Soon after, he was declared ineligible. He would never play another college game.

The Buckeyes went 11-2 in 2003 and followed that with an 8-4 mark in Tressel's fourth season. There had been a stream of players getting in trouble, but in December 2004 backup quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the bowl game and the 2005 regular-season opener for accepting $500 from a booster.

Smith would go on to win the 2006 Heisman Trophy, leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record and a season-long No. 1 ranking. Despite being a heavy favorite in the national title game, the Buckeyes were routed by Florida 41-14.

A year later, Tressel guided the Buckeyes to the national championship game but lost again -- 38-24 to underdog LSU.

The Buckeyes were national contenders each of Tressel's next three seasons, with off-the-field problems mixed in. In 2005 offensive coordinator coach Jim Bollman was reprimanded for trying to arrange for a car and a loan for a recruit. Several other Buckeyes players were arrested on a variety of charges.

But the Buckeyes continued to win and play in rich bowl games. That was enough until Tressel's latest brush with the NCAA.

Ohio State announced in December, during what would be a 12-1 season and a top-five national ranking, that it would suggest to the NCAA that five players -- most of them top players, including Pryor -- would sit out the first five games of the 2011 season after they admitted they had received improper benefits.

They had sold memorabilia such as championship rings, uniforms and in the case of Pryor, a Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award, for cash or discounted tattoos at a Columbus parlor. The violations came to light in a U.S. Attorney investigation into drug trafficking involving the owner of the parlor. When federal agents raided his home and the parlor, they came across hundreds of signed Ohio State items.

Michael Buckner, an attorney who specializes in NCAA litigation and has represented schools and coaches, said despite Tressel's resignation, the NCAA Committee on Infractions can still impose a penalty on him that would be attached to his next job, if he were ever to try to coach again, such as suspension or probation.

"They've been creative with their individual penalties on coaches lately," Buckner told ESPN's Joe Schad.

Moving forward, the NCAA may look favorably upon Ohio State's separation from Tressel, Buckner said.

"In this case, Ohio State may benefit because one of the causes of the infractions at Ohio State is no longer at Ohio State," Buckner said.

A 10-day investigation by Ohio State resulted in the self-imposed five-game penalties and the players repaying the money they gained to charity. The NCAA allowed the players to play in the Sugar Bowl, a move many observers said showed the national governing body put the money interests of the bowl ahead of routine punishment in other similar cases.

Tressel had learned that Pryor and wide receiver DeVier Posey were involved in the memorabilia deals when he received an email from Cicero, a former Ohio State walk-on and letterman in the 1980s, back in April 2010.

It was not until Ohio State began to work on an appeal of the five-game suspensions for the players that investigators came across the emails between Cicero and Tressel. The coach then finally admitted that he knew of what has been called Tattoo-Gate by local media.

"It's fair. He would have been fired anyway," said Aaron Kniffin, a car salesman who sold about 50 cars to Ohio State players and their relatives, transactions that are under scrutiny by a state agency and school officials. "You had a coach who knew about and covered up a scandal about memorabilia and tattoos."

At a March 8 news conference, Tressel said he chose not to tell anyone because he was bound by confidentiality to not expose the federal drug trafficking investigation. Yet he had forwarded the very first email he received from Cicero to Ted Sarniak, a businessman and "mentor" of Pryor. Sarniak knew about the NCAA violations -- and of Tressel's coverup -- for almost nine months before Smith and Gee found out.

"As I think back to what I could have done differently ... I've learned that I probably needed to go to the top legal counsel person at the university and get some help," Tressel said.

He said he hadn't given a thought to what the rest of the country thought of Ohio State's program and that he was not beating himself up over the violation.

"I don't think less of myself at this moment," he said. "I felt at the time as if I was doing the right thing for the safety of young people."

Information from The Associated Press, ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg, ESPN's Joe Schad and ESPN's Tom Farrey was used in this report.