DiGeronimo with Munch

By Bruce Hooley

Bob DiGeronimo, the disassociated Ohio State booster at the center of the “failure to monitor” charge the NCAA levied against the school on Thursday, says OSU athletic director Gene Smith is lying in an attempt to save his job.

“I understand when people are trying to save their jobs that they’re going to say and do certain things,” DiGeronimo said in an interview with Mark “Munch” Bishop on Cleveland’s ESPN 1540 WKNR2. “But to out and out lie, those things are a little hurtful to me, you know?”

DiGeronimo said Smith never contacted him by telephone  in 2006 to reduce the booster’s involvement with OSU’s coaches or players.

“Gene Smith told reporters last night that he called me in 2006 and told me certain things,” DiGeronimo said. “…that never happened…it’s a bald-faced lie.”

DiGeronimo said the first time he spoke to Smith was upon meeting him during a lunch with former Ohio State coach John Cooper in 2008.

DiGeronimo said OSU’s assertion in its response to the NCAA that he hid in a locker in an attempt to overhear a pregame speech by then-coach Jim Tressel in 2001 or 2002 is not true.

DiGeronimo also said OSU did not attempt to remove him from the team’s sideline in 2003, as it contends to the NCAA.

“I was on the sideline until 2006,” DiGeronimo said. “So, I mean, for them to say that something happened and I was escorted out of there, like, wow.”

DiGeronimo admitted to being involved in OSU players receiving cash in violation of NCAA rules at charity event he helped organize in Februrary, but maintained that Smith is using him as a scapegoat in an attempt to save his job.

“I’m not going to let somebody slander me, whether it be Gene Smith or anybody else,” DiGeronimo said. “I just can’t let them get away with that.”

Hear the entire DiGeronimo interview on Cleveland’s ESPN 1540 WKNR2 at www.espncleveland.com



We wish you had done more

By Bruce Hooley

The last time Penn State played football on Oct. 30, fans remained in Beaver Stadium long after the finish to honor Joe Paterno for passing Eddie Robinson with a 409th career victory.

The prospect of another ceremony Saturday, when Paterno would have passed Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most Division I games coached in a career, couldn’t be permitted.

Thankfully, Penn State’s Board of Trustees realized that and fired Paterno shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday night.

Given the looming pall over the Penn State community, tracing to lurid details of 40 alleged child molestation charges against Paterno’s former assistant, Jerry Sandusky – the decision proved as wise as it was overdue.

Paterno, too stubborn or too disconnected to understand the damage his continued presence on the sideline would inflict on both the school and Sandusky’s alleged victims, all but dared the Board to fire him by lecturing it in a Wednesday morning statement “not (to) spend a single minute discussing my status.”

That showed how arrogantly Paterno viewed his own self-importance and how cavalierly he disregarded those purportedly in authority over him. That’s nothing new, because in 2004, when athletic director Tim Curley and school president Graham Spanier went to Paterno’s home to insist he retire, he all but sneered at his superiors.

Paterno refused, calling their bluff, daring them to challenge his power base, assuming correctly that neither would summon the conviction to do what had to be done. Neither wanted Paterno’s dismissal as their epitaph.

Now, both men have earned different epitaphs.

Curley faces an indictment for perjury related to concealing his knowledge of Sandusky’s alleged crimes.

Spanier got fired last night, his insignificance and impotence as a leader underscored by how modest a ripple his dismissal made in comparison to that of the legendary coach.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity. If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Integrity and honor are indeed fickle character traits, subject to daily, if not hourly, crucibles that reveal or obliterate them. Paterno’s legacy, unimpeachable until Sandusky’s indictment, will require an unforeseen twist in those court proceedings to remove the indelible stain it now sports.

Sure, Paterno passed the test legally when he informed Curley about an eyewitness report of Sandusky raping a boy in the football locker room in 2002. But the iconic coach sadly passed the buck morally when he did not use his bully pulpit to demand knowing where that information went thereafter.

It is always wrong to ask, “How will this make us look?” instead of focusing solely on, “What is the right course of action?” Penn State made that egregious mistake, and because it did, young boys’ lives traversed a needless, never-ending personal torment that assaults decency to its very core.

It is a pathetically-minimal price for Paterno to exit three games shy of one final bow in spotlight if that affords one victim or one victim’s parent even the slightest momentary comfort.

Paterno is not at all a victim in this turn of events, and for anyone to portray it otherwise smacks of appalling insensitivity.

Penn State did him a huge favor by sparing Paterno what would have been a dangerous platform to speak for the school on Sandusky, or worse, to confine his next remarks as an employee of the university to something as trivial as Penn State’s struggling offense or the pursuit of a conference championship.

No 84-year-old man should be thrust into the role of point person for an issue as explosive and hurtful as the alleged crimes which went on within the walls of the football facility, where Sandusky maintained an office and lured his victims with the trappings of Penn State football.

Had Paterno done the right thing nine years ago, not just what insulated him from criminal charges, who knows where we might be now?

Young victims might likely have been spared.

Paterno’s legacy might likely have been preserved.

And perhaps he could have orchestrated an exit strategy he seemed in no hurry to execute until trying to box in the Board of Trustees Wednesday morning by announcing his retirement, effective at season’s end.

In that five-paragraph statement, Paterno expressed sorrow for the victims, pledged his undying loyalty to Penn State and admitted serious mistakes in judgment.

“With the benefit of hindsight,” his statement said, “I wish I had done more.”

We all do, Joe.

We all do.

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

Bruce Hooley hosts The Hooligans from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR

How did we get here?

By Bruce Hooley

I’m questioning my role in my profession today.

It’s not the first time, because the bloodlust for victory, the all-consuming quest for another championship, the raging sense of entitlement that cannibalizes anyone who questions the status quo in college athletics has bothered me for a long time.

Now it’s more than some nagging concern over whether I’m helping to perpetuate a system, despite portions I loathe. The heinous nature of the allegations at the forefront of the Penn State football scandal compel me to examine my role in glorifying a system of big-time college sports that’s twisted so horribly off center.

How did we get here? How did we bastardize college athletics into something that clouds the judgment of supposed shapers of tomorrow’s generation when the right thing to do is so clear? What pressures must the chase for one more championship inflict on the men in charge of the nation’s elite programs that their moral compasses become so skewed?

A few years back, the murder of a college basketball player at Baylor University horrified us. It couldn’t get worse, we thought. But we were wrong. Victims of child abuse die a thousand deaths, with their innocence stolen, their self-esteem crushed and their faith in those charged with protecting them forever shattered.

It is against this horrifying backdrop of multiple young boys’ lives either ruined or irreparably scarred that they will nevertheless pack 105,000 fans into Beaver Stadium this weekend for the customary revelry of Penn State football. The 40 counts of sexual abuse against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, and head coach Joe Paterno’s and university administrators’ roles in covering it up, are apparently not enough to stall the machine that churns inexorably on.

This scandal is far worse than anything that’s happened at Ohio State, Oregon, LSU, USC, Auburn, Miami, Alabama or any other elite program that’s been touched by controversy in recent years. The similarity though, is that no matter what happens, the beast must be fed. The games must be played. The cash register must continue to ring.

For far too long, far too many have foolishly gained their greatest source of self-esteem from what happens on the playing fields of college campuses across the country. Sadly, but predictably, fans of those programs previously subjected to unflattering headlines because of mistakes of their favorite school’s own creation have seized upon the Penn State fiasco as proof that, “See, we’re not that bad.”

To brandish such logic suggests a perverted embrace of what went on at Penn State. It provides a convenient prop for the weak-willed to lean on in convincing themselves that someone else is worse.

All that does is victimize the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky one more time, as if they haven’t suffered enough.

Penn State cancelled Paterno’s press conference on Tuesday, when it should have cancelled the final home game of the season Saturday against Nebraska. It’s simply wrong to conduct business as usual when we have overwhelming evidence from the Pennsylvania Attorney General that Sandusky used Penn State football as an allure to entrap and violate the boys he preyed upon.

Knowing that, who can tailgate, sing the alma mater or stand and cheer for a touchdown like nothing happened? Penn State’s students clearly demonstrated Tuesday night, when hundreds gathered on Paterno’s lawn in a chanting, hand-clapping show of support, that they will further embarrass their school if given the platform.

They sang the raucous theme from Seven Nation Army, as if this entire ugly episode is some third-and-12 the Nittany Lions can escape with adequate pass protection and a well-placed downfield throw.

I’ve been to State College and experienced its game-day atmosphere many times. I’ve written and spoken glowingly about it, and about other similar environments in Columbus, Madison, Ann Arbor and South Bend.

I’m not sure if I can, or should, bring myself to do that with the same enthusiasm ever again. Not now that I know what the misplaced hero worship and twisted priorities that result can enable and excuse.

Email hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

Bruce Hooley hosts The Hooligans on ESPN 850 WKNR www.espncleveland.com from 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday

The Luke Fickell Dilemma

By Bruce Hooley

The more Ohio State wins, the worse it gets for OSU athletic director Gene Smith.

Three weeks ago, Smith kept an appropriately sad face while the Buckeyes’ football team blew a 21-second half lead at Nebraska in falling to 0-2 in the Big Ten and 3-3 overall.

Games against unbeaten Illinois on the road and unbeaten Wisconsin in Columbus awaited.

Smith, if competent at all, (debatable, given the last 10 months) was working the phones communicating through back channels with search firms, agents and friends of possible successors for Luke Fickell as OSU’s head coach.

If not Urban Meyer, then Chris Petersen and Gary Patterson had to grab Smith’s attention. Second-tier candidates like Kevin Sumlin, Mel Tucker and Mike Riley also looked better than Fickell, who appeared en route to a photo finish for even a Lil Ceasar’s Pizza Bowl berth.

But a mildly-surprising win at Illinois and a borderline-shocking win over Wisconsin now has OSU on track for a 9-3 finish, a possible berth in inaugural Big Ten title game and maybe a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

So Gene Smith squirms.

He’ll have a decision to make soon on whether to sign Fickell for 2012 and beyond or fire the former Buckeye player and long-time assistant coach to name Meyer or someone else as OSU’s next coach. A season of five or six losses would have made Smith’s decision easy. But a winning streak of six or seven games to end the regular season, and a berth in or even a victory at a BCS bowl, puts the pressure on Smith no matter what he decides.

Fickell will engender enormous good will should he right the Buckeyes after numerous suspensions and off-field distractions dominated the headlines throughout the preseason and the first month. He comes off as genuine, as a young guy working hard to hold onto his dream job. Everyone can identify with that and embrace it, so Fickell is an easy guy to root for.

Smith hasn’t made many, or perhaps even any, good decisions since the tattoo scandal surfaced in December. He’s stonewalled or come off as clueless at every turn. Given his abysmal job performance, it’s hard to believe he’ll make a smart decision on anything of consequence.

The decision here centers on whether Fickell is OSU’s best chance to achieve its potential as a football program over the next 5-to-10 years. Coaches with proven track records have answered that question, although coaching at Ohio State is a unique job with singular challenges unlike most places.

Meyer, as a former OSU assistant, wouldn’t be awed by the challenge. Petersen, Patterson and just about everyone else would get their eyes opened by the provincial nature of life in the Buckeye meat grinder. That’s not to say they couldn’t do the job, or that they aren’t better-prepared than Fickell. But rest assured, it would be an eye-opener for most guys given the way OSU zealots cannibalize their own.

Fickell was clearly over his skis in the losses at Miami and Nebraska, and my hunch is he’d still have that label if Braxton Miller’s Hail Mary had been intercepted before the clock struck midnight on Saturday. Right now, he hasn’t demonstrated nearly enough to take the training wheels off and give him the job permanently.

Meyer, if healthy, will always be the best long-term choice, provided his health is solid and his commitment firm. Introducing him in short order after the regular-season finale against Michigan loomed as the likeliest scenario until OSU’s current winning streak. But now, the more the Buckeyes win, the harder it gets for Smith to make any move until OSU plays its bowl game.

That will set Ohio State’s recruiting back at least a month until it names a new coach.

Even if that new coach is the coach who has the job right now.


It’s Great To Be Back

By Bruce Hooley

I remember riding on the tractor with my dad at age five.

I don’t remember being four.

I wish I did, because then I’d remember the Browns winning the NFL championship.

I, like most of you, have known nothing but sports frustration since 1964.

I remember Mike Curtis and the Colts hammering the Browns in the 1968 title game, and the Vikings and Joe Kapp doing the same the next year.

I sat in my campus apartment with no heat in 1981, frozen to the bone and not caring even a little bit until Sam told Sipe, “Throw it in the lake if he’s not open.”

Six years later, I could barely contain my glee as a member of the working media — no cheering in the press box, you know — as Brian Brennan spun away to score the go-ahead touchdown. When Denver botched the ensuing kickoff, they were 98 yards away and we were just minutes from our first Super Bowl.

I don’t need to tell you the rest.

The following year, you and I just started to come out of our chairs to celebrate as Ernest Bynar broke free inside the 5. Denver was finally going down and we were finally headed to the Promised Land.

Yeah, well…

I’ve felt what you’ve felt, every step of the way, from Red Right 88 to Mesa blowing the save to, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”

That’s just going to make it so much sweeter when we finally get there.

I want to be in this city when that happens, which is why I’m thrilled to join ESPN 850 WKNR. I’ll be hosting the afternoon show with Greg Brinda and Chris Fedor starting Monday at 3 p.m., and I can’t wait.

I promise you fast, fun, Cleveland sports talk from guys who share your passion for our teams and our city. Greg and Chris are Cleveland natives. I grew up in rural Ohio, but my brother raised me to love Bill Nelson to Gary Collins and Gene Hickerson leading Leroy Kelly around the end.

I spent 18 years at The Plain Dealer covering Ohio State football and basketball, so it’s great to be back here after six years away doing sports radio in Columbus.

I’ve experienced some great things in 25 years as a journalist…the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series, numerous bowl games, BCS championships and Final Fours.

Nothing will compare to doing sports talk in this city when a championship banner goes up.

Until that happens, we’ll talk about every step of the journey.

It would be a privilege to have you join us for the ride.

Follow Bruce on Twitter @BHoolz


  • Browse

  • Archives