There's this old joke about a young boy without a body. It seems that his mom would set his head on the window ledge each day to allow him to watch the world go by. The young boy constantly longed to be outside, running and playing with the other boys in the neighborhood. One day his fairy godmother appears and grants him one wish. Naturally he wishes that he had a body so that he could go outside and play football with the other boys. His wish is granted and as he runs out the door and begins to cross the street he's hit by an on-coming semi. As he lays dying, his fairy grandmother appears and says "you should have quit while you were a head."
We think of that often and particularly today as we read Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston's latest 20 inches of wasted column space. Ostensibly Livingston muses about whether Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel would be a good fit for the Browns. But what caught us at the outset was Livingston's second paragraph. Admitting that he openly wondered whether Tressel could make the jump from Youngstown State and the several national titles he won there to the pressure cooker of Ohio State, Livingston said "Too bad we didn't sign a pre-nup to limit our stupidity liability. "
From our viewpoint, had Livingston ended his column right there it would have been his best and most accurate piece ever. But alas, it's budget cutting time at the PD and the editors figured that if Livingston is going to earn his salary, he'd have to write more than two paragraphs. More's the pity, at least for Livingston, because he then sets about methodically proving, again, his own stupidity.
Livingston notes that few, if any, college coaches can successfully make the transition to the pros. That seems true enough, at least recently. But there have been plenty of successful coaches who started in the college ranks, including Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells and John Madden, although not as head coaches. And the trend these days does seem to work more in reverse--the successful pro assistant going to the college ranks.
But where Livingston really loses us is in his criticism of Tressel as supposedly a poor judge of quarterback talent. Taken in order, in 2001 Steve Bellisari was a senior and Tressel, as the new coach, had little choice in the matter. In terms of choosing between Scott McMullen and Craig Krenzel, two John Cooper recruits, Tressel initially chose the more classic quarterback of the two. Ultimately, though, Tressel made the right choice and Krenzel made the most of his limited abilities and lead the Buckeyes to the national championship in 2002. In choosing Justin Zwick over Troy Smith, Livingston fails to mention two key points. First, they were both Tressel recruits so if you're going to ding him for not recognizing talent, acknowledge, at least, that he recognized enough in Smith to offer him a scholarship. Second, Zwick was, by far, the highest rated quarterback recruit nationally at the time. He's a big guy with a classic drop-back style.
But even more to the point, the Troy Smith of today is hardly the Troy Smith of a few years ago. In terms of pure quarterback skills, Smith was sorely lacking, even when he first took over in the Iowa game two years ago after Zwick was hurt. Smith was a run-first, pass second kind of guy. In short, he was selfish.
But to Smith's credit, and to Tressel's, Smith has developed into probably the best quarterback ever at Ohio State and the front-runner in this year's Heisman Trophy contest. Again, if you're going to ding Tressel over an initial decision, acknowledge the entire landscape and, more importantly, the fact that it was under Tressel's direction that both Krenzel and Smith developed into the players they became.
In context, Livingston's column seems more designed to try strip away what he sees as the veneer coating Tressel. But Livingston's efforts, as usual, are weak and unsupported. Tressel may not be perfect, or as perfect as Livingston, but to suggest that he's not all he's portrayed is as unfair as it is ridiculous.
We harbor no doubt that if Tressel had pro aspirations, he could easily make that transition and be successful. But as unabashed Buckeye fans, we can only hope he harbors no such goals.