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.

 

A Weekend of Questions, Will They Get Answered?

By Kenny Roda

Both the Buckeyes and the Browns are going to find out a lot more about their teams for 2011 this weekend. Both are going up against the #1 ranked defense in their respective leagues.

The Spartans are statistically ranked #1 in defense out of all division-1 football teams in the NCAA. Are their stats a little inflated or misleading because of who they played? Yes they are, but Sparty is still as good as, if not better than the one team Ohio State has lost to, Miami.  Plus it’s the first Big Ten game for both teams. How will Quarterback  Braxton Miller, who will be making his first ever Big Ten start, handle that Spartans “D” as coach Mark Dantonio will throw the kitchen sink, microwave, dishwasher and whatever else he can at the true freshman.  This will be a major test for Miller and the entire offense. Will they be able to throw the ball effectively? Not only is this Miller’s first Big Ten game, it is as well for head coach Luke Fickell.  Is he ready to handle conference play? Will he have his team ready for Big Ten style football or will he prove to be in over his head?  We’ll find out come Saturday night around 7pm. We’ll see how a lot of people did with their first Big Ten test.

As for the Browns, who’d a thunk that the Titans would be at the top of the charts defensively after 3 weeks? Not me, but they are.  So while I don’t think the Titans defense will stay there for the entire season, they are playing well right now, which should provide for a good challenge for Pat Shurmur’s offense.  Can Colt McCoy build off of that last drive versus Miami? Will the Browns be able to get a first down in the first quarter and maybe even score some points, so they don’t have to play from behind?  How will they use the tandem of Peyton Hillis and Monterio Hardesty? If they can answer these questions in a positive way, that could lead to a Browns victory and a 3-1 start for a team that desperate needs that. We’ll know the answers to all of these questions around 4pm on Sunday.

I feel pretty good about both Ohio State’s and Cleveland’s defenses. I believe they can hold their own. It’s the offenses of these two teams that I still have a lot of concerns about. Hopefully I’ll be less concerned after this weekend’s games.

Follow Kenny on Twitter @RoadmanWKNR

Block O Recap

By Emmett Golden

For those of you who thought the Ohio State Buckeyes would overcome the loss of a legendary head coach and their best player leaving for the NFL, Saturday night was a wake up call.

What I saw was a team with a defense that is good enough to win games. The Silver Bullets gave up 240 yards on the ground to the Hurricanes. Even so, at the start of the fourth quarter the Buckeyes were still in it the game. In the fourth quarter it was plain see that the defense had run out of gas. This was evident on Miami’s last drive of the game. Miami had the ball for almost nine minutes before locking up the win with a Mike James touchdown.

The offense struggled a great deal Saturday night. Neither Joe Bauserman nor Braxton Miller performed well. Bauserman protected the ball during his time at QB. He kept the ball nice and safe for punter Ben Buchanan.

When Braxton Miller entered the game the offense moved the ball better, until Miller put the ball on the ground. Miller threw an interception in addition to his fumble. Miller looked nervous, and this wasn’t the first time it looked as though nerves got the better of him. Watching him during my time in Columbus, he looks like everything is still setting in. Playing in front of 106,000 fans, the speed of the game and the microscope that he has played under so far this year is all still new to him.

It looks like coach Luke Fickell is giving both quarterbacks the chance to take the job. Neither has played well enough to be THE GUY.

At this point I think Fickell has to go with Miller.  I don’t think Miller is ready to perform at a high level week in and week out, but it’s important that he gets a chance to settle in and get over those nerves. In the long run Braxton and the Buckeyes will be better for it.

Mulligan Monday – I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong. Boy, was I wrong about Jordan Hall! I didn’t think he would be very productive at running back. When he was on the field he was OSU’s best offensive player. Hall rushed for 87 yards on 14 carries. He should have had more. With questions at the quarterback position, I think Hall should be the focal point of the offense going forward.

Follow Emmett on Twitter @Egoldi80

 

A Shocking Weekend

By Kenny Roda

I was shocked:

Luke Fickell didn’t play QB Braxton Miller at all in the 27-22 win over Toledo.

Rod Smith was in the game late instead of Carlos Hyde to run out he clock and then fumbled the ball giving the Rockets one last chance at the huge upset. That’s 2 fumbles in 2 weeks for Smith.

Toledo had a chance to win the game in the 4th quarter against the Buckeyes with the ball on the O.S.U. 16 with inside a minute to go.

That the Browns lost to the lowly Bengals, at home, 27-17.

Like the whole Browns defense was, on that Bruce Gradkowski touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver A.J. Green. I’m still not sure what happened or who’s fault it was.

T.J. Ward got beat on a touchdown pass in the 1st quarter and gave up the touchdown run to Ced Benson in the 4th quarter.

That the Browns had more penalty yards than total offense in the first quarter against the Bengals.

That Mo Massaquoi played as well as he did after missing basically all of training camp and the preseason games.

That the Browns are now 1-12 since 1999 in season openers.

That the Ravens manhandled the Steelers 35-7. I thought the Ravens would win, but that it would be close. They opened up a can of “Woooop Ass” on Pittsburgh!

That Cam Newton threw for 422 yards and accounted for 3 TD’s in his NFL debut, a 28-21 loss to the Cardinals.

That Buffalo spanked the Chiefs 41-7.

That Da Bears crushed Da Falcons 30-12.

That I actually watched the entire Notre Dame/Michigan game and am glad I did. What a game, an “Instant Classic” won by the Wolverines.

Follow Kenny on Twitter @RoadmanWKNR

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