Steve's Say: Dark Day At OSU

Bucknuts.com's Steve Helwagen says Jim O'Brien deserves a better legacy than rulebreaker. He reflects on O'Brien's tenure at OSU and also looks ahead at possible successors.

The e-mail came from Ohio State at 1:30 p.m. today that Andy Geiger would meet with the media at 3 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.

There was no hint as to what this would be about. Was he retiring? No, there's still too much to do at OSU. Was this in relation to the ongoing Louis Irizarry saga? No, why would he have a press conference to repeat himself on that matter?

What could it be? Hmmm.

Five minutes had not passed when I called a reporter friend. He assumed right off that Jim O'Brien would be out as the men's basketball coach.

"No," I said, "they'd have to pay him millions to buy him out."

But two minutes later, a friend who knows a father of a current player called and said it was true – O'Brien was out.

I was stunned. I was angry.

As I drove into Columbus, the pieces began to fall into place. Word had leaked out that O'Brien had provided Aleksandar Radojevic with extra benefits. This was the crux of the matter. It occurred to me then that Geiger was in the unenviable position of firing his good friend – a coach who stood behind the AD last fall during the Maurice Clarett firestorm, no less – for just cause and there would be no buyout.

As we have learned, O'Brien admits he provided Radojevic with humanitarian aid of $6,000. The money came after Radojevic had signed with OSU, so it was not an inducement to sign. Rather, it was money intended to solidify Radojevic's home life so he could come to America and play college basketball at OSU.

It does not matter, five years later in hindsight, that Radojevic never played at OSU.

The extra benefits were wrong. It was inexcusable behavior for a coach who had done nothing but ooze integrity while at OSU.

"We don't recruit posses," O'Brien once said when pressed on why he didn't go after high-end prospects, who are usually buffeted by street agents.

Geiger was asked for his reaction when O'Brien informed him six weeks ago of the payment to Radojevic.

"I didn't really react other than to say that it was concerning and that I appreciated that he told me," Geiger said. "I was stunned."

It had just been a few days before O'Brien's April 24 admission that I sat down with Geiger in his office. The topic of O'Brien came up and the AD stood firmly behind his coach.

"I'm convinced that help is on the way and we are already on the road to a much better situation," Geiger said that day. "The man can coach the game and I don't have any doubts about that.

"I'm getting older, but my memory still works a little bit. Two years ago, we tied for the regular season Big Ten championship and we won the tournament. That's not ancient history. We're not very far removed from where we want to be."

As the press conference unfolded, we learned that there may be more allegations touching O'Brien and his staff as part of a lawsuit a Columbus woman filed against former Buckeye Boban Savovic. Time will tell on that as well.

But this whole incident serves up notice that no player is worth paying for -- regardless of the circumstances. And, it drives home the fact that even if you think some players are worth paying for, you can and will get caught doing it -- even if you have the best of intentions.

As my drive in to the press conference continued, my mind flashed back to O'Brien's crowning achievement, the 1999 Final Four. That was OSU's first Final Four in 31 years. You just sensed that O'Brien had come to Columbus to resurrect a moribund program driven directly into the ground by Randy Ayers.

O'Brien enjoyed Big Ten titles twice at OSU and won a conference tournament title as well. His last two years had been lean, but Geiger stood behind him and believed –- with players like Mr. Basketball award winner Jamar Butlet coming in –- that better days were ahead.

But now these allegations come to light. A sad day at Ohio State indeed. Probation and player strife –- I hear one player may already be pondering a transfer –- are probably next.

Well, that and a new head coach.

Who will it be?

If I was Andy Geiger my first call would be to Xavier for Thad Matta. Twenty-five wins every year he's been there and an Elite Eight appearance this past year. He's your guy, but he'll probably run them close to $1 million a year to make the 104-mile drive up I-71 from Cincinnati.

Everybody is also speculating about Bob Knight. Rumors were rampant last winter that Knight would be the coach at OSU next year. He gave his salary back at Texas Tech one year for making the NIT. He'd take this job for $500,000 and not look back to Lubbock. (What better way for him to get back at Indiana than to beat them twice a year?)

But does Ohio State want its wayward son? If he agrees to zero tolerance, maybe. We shall see. Geiger is a no shenanigans kind of guy, so this move seems unlikely.

Others to consider: Vandy's Kevin Stallings (second to O'Brien in 1997), Rutgers' Gary Waters, Wright State's Paul Biancardi (probably too tied to the previous regime), OSU assistant Rick Boyages (ditto), UAB's Mike Anderson and (insert your name here).

Oh well, just some random thoughts on what has not been a good day by any means at The Ohio State University.


Buckeye Sports Top Stories