In a bit of a stunning move (and one that many fans may wish is an April Fool's joke but isn't), Ohio State recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach Bill Conley resigned today after 17 years of coaching at Ohio State.
"This is the most difficult decision I have ever made in my professional career," Conley stated in a release. "But after 17 years as a coach and recruiting coordinator here at Ohio State, I feel it is time for me to step down and explore other options.
Conley, 53, is reportedly leaving the coaching profession to pursue other career opportunities. He has had a long history with Ohio State.
"I have had the distinct pleasure of coaching under three outstanding head coaches in Earle Bruce, John Cooper and Jim Tressel, and I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity of coaching at the finest institution in America," he said. "I also had the privilege of playing here under coach Woody Hayes."
Conley is recognized as one of the nation's top recruiters. In fact, ESPN.com's Tom Lemming listed him among the nation's top five assistant coaches in that field.
Under his watch as the recruiting coordinator, Conley helped OSU land seven top-10 classes in the last 11 years. That includes the 1996 class which ranked No. 1, the 1999 and 2002 classes that each ranked No. 2 and this year's class that ranked seventh nationally.
There had been rumors after OSU's Fiesta Bowl win in January that Conley would be retiring after national signing day. But that day came and went and he made no such announcement. Then, reporters were handed a press release at the end of Thursday's first spring practice, announcing Conley's departure.
While his resignation is effective immediately, he will remain on in a volunteer capacity to help the Buckeyes finish spring football.
The players were informed after practice in a meeting on the practice field. They gave Conley two rousing ovations.
Conley delivered a tear-filled address to the players, which he said was very difficult.
"That was the toughest in my life," he said. "We had some great experiences, great moments. It's a family. Like I told the players, I'll be a Buckeye for life. There's no doubt about that.
"I was telling the players that in life, there will come certain times when you need to make some changes. There are not many guys in the world of athletics, in the game of football that get a chance to play and coach at their alma mater. I had the great pleasure of playing for Coach Hayes and coaching for Coach Bruce, Coach Cooper, and Coach Tressel. Now is just the right time.
"I love coaching the game of football, but this is where I'm at right now."
The decision is something that Conley has been talking about with OSU head coach Jim Tressel for some time, and the decision finally came down yesterday.
"He is a really special guy," Conley said of Tressel. "I can remember coaching at Middletown High School when Jim came around recruiting a guy named Cris Carter. Our relationship goes back a long way. He is a special guy, and I am going to miss him a lot, like all the coaches here."
Conley said he was not burned out by coaching.
"I'm too young to be burned out. I'm a young 53."
Tressel discussed the decision and what it will mean.
"This is something he had been working on and wrestling with for a few weeks," Tressel said. "I think it got to that point where he had certain options available, and it was time to decide whether to take them or press on.
"It will be tough on our guys because he is outstanding at what he does. He bleeds scarlet and gray, he loves the kids, he is just one of those fixtures."
Tressel admitted he had no time to think about how he'll fill the vacancy on the staff. Conley becomes the third assistant to leave the staff since the end of the 2003 regular season. Mark Dantonio left to become head coach at Cincinnati, while Tim Spencer quit after 10 years on the staff to become the running backs coach for the NFL's Chicago Bears. New assistants debuting on the practice field Thursday included running backs coach Dick Tressel (Jim's brother) and wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell.
"I told (Conley) he couldn't leave until April 25th," Tressel said. "We sat and talked a couple of times, but it always ended that the only guy who could decide if you are ready to go is you."
When asked about Conley's strengths, Tressel emphasized several things that will be missed.
"His effort, his organization, his communication skills," he said. "He's been doing it a long time. He's just very talented."
Conley grew up in Columbus and graduated from Pleasant View High School. He walked on at Ohio State in 1970 and earned two letters as an offensive guard before graduating in 1972. He enjoyed a successful high school coaching career with stops at London, Groveport and Middletown before joining Bruce's staff in 1984.
Upon Bruce's firing in 1987, Conley left Ohio State and enjoyed another strong high school coaching stint at Dublin before returning in 1991 as recruiting coordinator for John Cooper. In 1992, he became the defensive ends coach, and in 1997, he moved to the tight ends job.
Conley has coached six first-team All-Americans and 12 first-team All-Big Ten players. Conley also helped get the program back on track in the early 1990s after some recruiting struggles, particularly in the state of Ohio, and has been instrumental in helping the Ohio State camp attendance grow from 400 to nearly 4,000 campers last year.
Conley said one of his enduring memories would be helping the Buckeyes win a national championship.
"My freshman year here (1968) we won a national championship," Conley said. "Then, as a coach, we won it two years ago. That was special. It never leaves your blood.
"The toughest moment for me will be that first game next fall. I will always be rooting for the Scarlet and Gray."