Monday, May 30, 2011

Thoughts on Tribe, Tressel

Just when Indians fans were beginning to feel good about the 2011 season, reality has set in and taken a big bite out of the joy.

That giddy feeling Tribe fans had several weeks ago when the club shot out to a 20-8 record on May 3 after a five-game winning streak is now gone. Since then, the Indians have become dance partners with mediocrity.

Heading into today’s game in Toronto against the tough Blue Jays, Cleveland baseball has waddled along at an 11-11 clip since then, but still owns a six-game bulge over second-place Detroit in the distinctly below-average American League Central Division.

No Central team has shown the inclination to make any positive move toward the Indians. Detroit chugs along in fits and starts. Kansas City, after a strong start, has slunk back. The Chicago White Sox have been consistently inconsistent. And Minnesota has assumed the Indians’ role as the division’s cellar dwellers.

It’s almost as if the Indians are thinking that all they have to do to win the division is play .500 ball the rest of the way because no one is offering anything remotely close to a challenge.

Manny Acta has been around long enough to know this isn’t a sprint. The manager knows his club has sprung a few leaks the last several weeks, but has the luxury of time to plug them.

Defense, timely hitting and solid pitching have been the hallmarks of this season’s club. But the pitching has slipped lately, surrendering 29 runs in the last four games. And the timely hitting – only nine runs in those four games, seven of them in one game – has virtually disappeared.

Base-running gaffes and uncharacteristic fielding errors, of the physical and mental variety, have seeped into their games. In the first 45 games of the season (30-15), the Indians rarely beat themselves. The last week or so, the opposite has been true.

Enough to be alarmed? Not yet.

Word has gotten around baseball about the Indians. They now have bull’s-eyes on their backs. They no longer are considered an automatic victory. That has definitely changed.

A good indication of just how good this club is will be shown in how they respond to losing ways. The next nine games against Toronto, Texas and Minnesota should answer a lot of questions.

The character of this Indians team will severely be put to the test. How they respond could become the blueprint of the 2011 season.

The mark of a good team is staying out of prolonged losing streaks. The Indians have managed to avoid them. So far this season, they have rebounded every time from what could have been a disastrous slump. With only one victory in their last five games, consider this yet another litmus test.

For such a smart man, it’s sort of ironic that his stupidity is what brought down Jim Tressel at Ohio State University.

Tressel, who resigned (before he was fired?) today, had to know there was no way he could continue as the Buckeyes’ head football coach. Not after breaking several NCAA rules and then lying about it.

His selfish reaction to the news that several of his players had sold memorabilia belied the notion that he was squeaky clean. Instead of turning in his high profile players, he stupidly and selfishly withheld information.

Instead, he wanted these guys on the field because he had national championship aspirations. Without these players, there was no way Ohio State could be a player on that level.

Tressel had a dalliance with common sense, snubbed it and then turned in another direction, no doubt figuring he could get away with his indiscretions. Other coaches around the world of NCAA football have. Why should he be any different?

In this day and age where paper trails are more prevalent than ever, he thought wrong. And now, he’s paying the ultimate price for it because he got caught.

That doesn’t make him any less of a great coach. However, it does him less of a man in the eyes of more than a few. And that includes some OSU alumni who cannot argue with how this whole story has unfolded.

Tressel is gone, but OSU’s winning legacy will continue. With his departure, you can bet several high profile candidates will aim to become his successor.

Luke Fickell has to be considered a candidate, too, but 2011’s interim head coach will have to put together a spectacular season this year in order to have any kind of a shot for the permanent job.

Two other possibilities, Urban Meyer and Bo Pelini, are lurking. Both bring strong credentials to the table. Both are Ohioans, Meyer raised and schooled in Ashtabula, and Pelini a product of Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School. Both are young – Meyer will be 47 next month; Pelini is 43.

Meyer has a resume to die for, having been eminently successful at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He owns two BCS title-game victories. He is taking this year off due to health reasons, but has not ruled out a return to coaching.

Pelini, a free safety with the Buckeyes for four seasons in the late 1980s, has revived the football program at Nebraska in his first head-coaching stint. He is 30-12 in three seasons. Buckeyes fans will get a chance to follow the Huskers now that they’re in the Big Ten Conference. OSU travels to Nebraska on Oct. 8.

As long as Tressel helmed the Ohio State program, he wasn’t going anywhere. Now that he is gone, that has changed and opened up the door, through which one someone like Meyer or Pelini could easily step and maintain the school’s excellent reputation as a football power.

Tressel’s departure will not trigger a decline in power, much to the chagrin of the many ardent anti-Buckeyes fans. Meyer and Pelini know how to recruit the fruitful state of Ohio for football talent. Assuming that is the direction in which OSU football is headed, that bodes well for the future.

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