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COLUMBUS — Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was told by the school that he did a poor job of self-reporting NCAA violations years before he failed to tell his bosses that players were selling championship rings and other Buckeyes memorabilia, a cover-up that cost him his job.
In an evaluation of Tressel's job performance from 2005-06, then-athletic director Andy Geiger rated Tressel "unacceptable" in terms of self-reporting rules violations in a timely manner. The coach also was warned in a separate letter that he and his staff needed to do a better job of monitoring the cars the Buckeyes were driving — an issue that would arise again this spring.
The documents were part of a mountain of public records released Friday by Ohio State dealing with Tressel and the ongoing scandal that has sullied one of the nation's elite football programs.
Tressel received a letter of reprimand from then-athletic director Andy Geiger for giving a recruit a Buckeyes jersey — a clear NCAA violation — before he had even coached his first game.
In spite of a sparkling 106-22 record and winning the 2002 national championship, Tressel was forced to step down on May 30 after it became clear that he had knowingly played ineligible players during the 2010 season. Investigators discovered he found out in April 2010 that players were receiving cash and discounted tattoos from the owner of a local tattoo parlor in exchange for OSU football memorabilia, but he did not report them to his superiors or NCAA compliance officers — and didn't even acknowledge he had known of the problem until confronted in January.
Ohio State, which has vacated the 2010 season including its share of the Big Ten championship, and has issued itself a two-year probation, is now facing an Aug. 12 meeting before the NCAA's committee on infractions.
Tressel received a letter of reprimand from Geiger for giving a recruit a Buckeyes jersey, clearly breaking an NCAA bylaw, before he had even coached his first game. Geiger put the letter in Tressel's personnel file on June 15, 2001 — he was hired earlier that year on Jan. 17.
In his '05-'06 evaluation, Tressel was graded "excellent" in 10 of 12 areas. Yet the NCAA-Ohio State evaluation form also rated Tressel unacceptable in self-reporting violations and in "timely and accurate completion of phone and unofficial visit logs." Ohio State says that current AD Gene Smith met with Tressel for oral evaluations of his performance and that no written records exist.
In Ohio State's response to the NCAA's allegations against Tressel and the program last week, Tressel said, "I take full responsibility for my mistakes that have led to the ongoing NCAA inquiry and to scrutiny and criticism of the football program."
This spring, the NCAA also investigated the cars driven by Ohio State players. That subject was broached in a letter by Geiger dated Sept. 9, 2003, that cautioned Tressel he and his staff needed to do a better job of monitoring the players' cars.
"In the course of the investigation, there were questions surrounding, among others, (redacted name's) automobiles and cell phone use," Geiger wrote to Tressel. "I am writing to make it clear that the University expects you and your staff to pay attention to automobiles driven by the football student-athletes and report to the Athletic Compliance Office any unusual circumstances with respect to such automobiles."
In the last year, the NCAA and Ohio State delved into the cars owned by and loaned to star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Ohio's Bureau of Motor Vehicles looked into 25 sales involving Buckeyes players and determined that the dealers received fair-market value for the cars. The bureau did not address whether the deals met NCAA standards prohibiting benefits not available to the general student population.
Pryor announced shortly after Tressel was forced out that he would forgo his final year of eligibility to make himself available for an NFL supplemental draft.
The heavily redacted material released Friday by Ohio State also included:* Reprimands in Tressel's file for permitting an outside person to coach kickers before a full team practice and allowing the mother of a recruit on an official visit to make a call for $7.93 that was billed to the university. In addition, his file contained at least two "letters of caution and education" charging that Tressel gave complimentary tickets to a home game to a recruit's parents and allowed an unidentified student-athlete to "practice with the team during fall camp for 19 days despite (his) not having completed his NCAA Drug Testing Consent Form."
In his letter, Geiger wrote to Tressel: "It is our goal to avoid all violations. ... It is your responsibility to adhere to the NCAA rules and make sure you and your coaching staff understand the importance of strict compliance with all NCAA rules."* A police report detailing the investigation into the theft of at least 10 pairs of Ohio State football cleats from the team's locker room inside Ohio Stadium last November. Ohio State police interviewed the three players who said they had cleats stolen — Pryor, wide receiver DeVier Posey and leading rusher Dan Herron. A campus police officer later posed as a buyer on eBay and bought a pair of cleats signed by Pryor. But a team equipment manager said that pair was an older model and was not one of those stolen. No charges were filed in the case.
* That men's basketball coach Thad Matta had five cautionary letters put in his personnel file during the early part of his seven-year tenure, but was later praised for his relationship with the school's NCAA compliance department.
Tressel's attorney has said that the ex-coach intends to join Ohio State officials, including Smith and interim head coach Luke Fickell, for the August meeting before the committee on infractions. The school and Tressel recently agreed not to sue each other, and Tressel has been able to formally change his departure from a resignation to a retirement from Ohio State.
Ohio State has suspended six players (five after Pryor's departure, including both Posey and Herron) for the first five games of the 2011 season and has vacated its 12 wins from last season, including its victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. In addition, it also self-imposed a two-year NCAA probation. The NCAA can choose to accept those penalties or can add to them.