COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin wants to reassure Ohio State fans that things will get better.
"Yep. It has been tough. But Ohio State is more than football," Griffin said this week after Jim Tressel was forced to resign as head coach in the midst of a widespread NCAA inquiry. "It's a great university, a lot of great things happening at the university. We will bounce back, no question about it."
Griffin, 56, is president and CEO of Ohio State's alumni association. Now 36 years removed from becoming the only player to win college football's most coveted individual award for a second time, he said there is now a drive to rebuild.
"Ohio State has a wonderful tradition, a great program," he said. "It's been proven out over the years. And we'll continue to have that type of program. We'll continue to try and put the best players on the field as well as the coaches. So that's certainly going to be what the powers that be will look to do."
Tressel was forced to step aside Monday after admitting he knew some of his players had taken improper benefits that would have made them ineligible under NCAA bylaws. He found out in April 2010 about possible violations by his players but did not tell anyone at Ohio State for more than nine months, contrary to his contract and NCAA rules.
Five players — including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor — have been suspended for the first five games this fall for taking cash and discounted tattoos from a local tattoo-parlor owner for signed jerseys and gloves, Big Ten championship rings and other memorabilia.
The NCAA and Ohio State continue to investigate all areas of the athletic department, including allegations regarding athletes and their cars and football players receiving improper benefits at the tattoo-parlor.
The athletic department and football team could receive further penalties when Ohio State goes before the NCAA committee on infractions in Indianapolis on Aug. 12.
Another Heisman winner — this one from archrival Michigan — said it's premature to guess at the Buckeyes' future.
"What's going to happen to the program? Well, we don't know if No. 2 (Pryor) is going to line up," former Michigan star and 1991 Heisman winner Desmond Howard told the Detroit Free Press. "It seems like there's a lot more that's happening down there, so I don't want to right in the middle of things say this is what's going to happen and then next week we have a new revelation."
The university's donors, some of whom had a close relationship with Tressel and his wife, Ellen, are concerned that giving to the larger mission of the university could diminish in the wake of the NCAA scandal.
"Our thoughts were to increase our giving anyway, that's not going to change, not in any way, shape or form," said Judy Tuckerman, who with her husband, Steven, is a financial supporter of Ohio State in addition to being friends with the Tressels. "We put our total confidence and trust in Dr. Gee and we think he is an amazing, brilliant, wonderful president. We're thankful to have him here, this is one piece of a very large university that does great things in research all over the university.
"I am vehement that people don't take this as looking at the entire university. I'd fight for a long time for that never to happen."
Tuckerman told The Associated Press that some donors are angry, most are sad and many remain solidly behind the university, which is in the midst of a $2.5 billion fundraising campaign — the school's largest ever.
"I have not heard one person say, 'I'm not giving any more to the university.' I've not heard one person say, 'We're diminishing our gift to the university,'" she said. "I think it will make the university stronger."
Linebackers coach Luke Fickell will serve as Ohio State's interim head coach this fall. He was selected to fill in for Tressel during a five-game suspension for his violations and that was amended to the entire season after Tressel's resignation.
"I want to see Luke Fickell do a terrific job with this football program," said Griffin, who rushed for 5,589 yards from 1972-75. "Luke has got a heck of a job in front of him and it's also a heck of an opportunity. I'm really in his corner and hoping that he can lead these young men to an outstanding football season."
Howard, a college football analyst for ESPN who is a Cleveland native, said finding a replacement for Tressel may be difficult.
"Even after they have this interim coach, Luke Fickell, coach this season they start a search for a new coach," he said. "Whoever that new coach is going to be, he's coming into a situation where they may lose scholarships, they may not be able to play in bowl games and they may not be on TV for a while. There's some big penalties that can potentially hit the Buckeyes."
Howard discounted the thought that former Florida coach Urban Meyer, now also working with ESPN, might be interested. Meyer stepped down from the Gators job last December, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. He has also had health issues.
"With his health problems and what he may have to face to try to build that program back up depending on the sanctions, it just wouldn't make sense to me," Howard said. "It would be a health hazard, it seems like for a coach like him."
Associated Press Writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus and AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Novi, Mich., contributed to this report.
Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap