West Virginia University president E. Gordon Gee has a history of one-line jokes gone bad, from his infamous “I’m just hopeful the [Ohio State] coach doesn’t dismiss me” to his “Polish army” metaphor to describe the task of managing sprawling parts of a university.
He might have added to that list via an interview with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
This week, the newspaper published a series looking back on Ohio State’s “Tattoogate,” which involved NCAA violations that eventually cost then-Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel his job. Gee, the OSU president at the time, uttered the aforementioned “dismiss” quote when asked to address the scandal. He was later out the door after the Associated Press unveiled comments made during an Ohio State Athletic Council meeting. In that, he jabbed Notre Dame officials. (“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” Gee said of dealing with the school. “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.”)
Now, according to the Plain-Dealer, Gee uncorked more comments that may lead him to hot water. Speaking to the newspaper from the desk he maintains at Ohio State as president emeritus, Gee said it’s his opinion “everybody won” in regard to “Tattoogate,” which dealt with Buckeye players receiving tattoos and other improper benefits in the eyes of the NCAA.
“I think everyone won,” Gee told the newspaper. “The [Ohio State] university is doing very well. I believe we [at OSU] have the best football coach in the country in Urban Meyer. I had the privilege of hiring him, as you know, and I think he is doing fabulous work.”
Gee is currently over WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen. Tressel moved back to Youngstown State, where he had early success as a football coach, and is now set to take over as the school president.
“I think Jim went through the refiner’s fire and came out the other end not only intact but I think gracefully and he managed a very difficult situation,” Gee told the paper. “And I think he is going to be doing what he really wants to do, which is to lead in a different way from leading a football team.”
The “Tattoogate” scandal resulted in a one-year bowl ban for the Buckeyes, a loss of nine scholarships, probation and loss of the 2011 Sugar Bowl revenue, which, in at least one report, is part of an $8 million hit the school took. That includes loss because of new staffing, a compliance revamp, etc.
“As for me, I obviously had 14 great years at Ohio State,” Gee said. “I left, as you well know, right ahead of the sheriff, as I always say, because I’m the well-known one-liner, and for that I have always been known and often apologetic. But I had a great time [in Columbus] and now am doing something that I genuinely appreciate, which is an opportunity to pay back the people [at WVU] who gave me a great chance at an early age.
“So this particular story is a much different one from many that could have been written. I think The Ohio State is a winner; I think Jim Tressel is a winner; I think I feel very confident in what I’m doing, so, from every perspective, it’s one of those unusual stories.”
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.