Terrelle Pryor led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a 31-4 record as a starter, including a 2-0 record in BCS bowl games. He currently stands fifth all-time in passing yards amongst Ohio State quarterbacks. He is at least partially responsible for 76 Buckeye touchdowns. Perhaps his best game as a collegian was the 2010 Rose Bowl, in which he picked apart the Oregon defense en route to a 26-17 win. Thank Jiji Bryce Brown didn't take three years to screw his career up, or he would've run for 200 yards last year, and we wouldn't have gotten out of Knoxville with a win.
I bring this up up front to make a point: this will not be one of those "What if Player X had come to School Y" articles. If you want to read something like that, I'm sure you can find dozens on Bleacher Report. This isn't about football. I'm not here to prognosticate on whether Terrelle Pryor would have won us a Rose Bowl or a national title (though he wouldn't have - I don't think anybody but Jeremiah Masoli beats Stanford in 2008, or Oregon State in 2009, and I don't think anybody but Darron Thomas beats Stanford in 2010.). This is about more than football. Jim Tressel ran an Ohio State program that was negligent and unsupportive. He failed to provide his players with the necessary tools to succeed off the field, and it ultimately led to his downfall. I'm not here to say that Oregon would have been better off with Terrelle Pryor. But Terrelle Pryor definitely would have been better off with Oregon.
Both Chip Kelly and Jim Tressel have been described by many in the media to be a "player's coach". This, to me, says less about the coaching styles of both men, and more that the media has no idea what the term "player's coach" actually means. It has become a buzzword, synonymous with "guru" and "master strategist". Does "player's coach" mean that the players like their coach? If so, I can safely say that every coach in the FBS can be considered a "player's coach" by a majority of their players. But for someone to really be considered a "player's coach", they need to act in the best interest of their players, by being a teacher and a role model, in addition to being a football coach. By helming an unethical program, Jim Tressel failed to fulfill that job requirement; in particular, he failed to show his players that there are consequences for your actions, no matter how big of a star you are.
Terrelle Pryor has lived by a different set of rules his whole life. He has been a freak athlete since birth; a two-sport star at Jeanette HS in Pennsylvania, he led his teams to state championships in both football and basketball. He has been given the star treatment since he was a kid; can anyone really say the best thing for him in college is more of the same? According to Buckeye alum and ESPN college football analyst Chris Spielman, Pryor received preferential treatment from the Ohio State program; showing up late to practices or meetings, and missing workouts were not uncommon occurrences. In Chip Kelly's program, you are not anointed; you must earn your place as a team leader. While it may seem counterintuitive to hand one player the starting job, and another player a captaincy, Coach Kelly knew that Darron Thomas hadn't yet grown into his role as team leader, while Nate Costa garnered the respect of his teammates through his demeanor and work ethic. There aren't stars on a Chip Kelly team; there are just young men, working together to achieve a unified goal. Could Pryor buy into that? He'd have to if he wanted to succeed in Eugene. And if he had, it would've had a positive effect on who he is, both as an athlete and as a man.
Ultimately, Terrelle Pryor never took Oregon seriously. He never took a visit, and dismissed the Ducks as being "too far away" from his home in Pennsylvania. But maybe, through their interactions on the recruiting trail, he got a glimpse into who Chip Kelly is as a coach and a mentor. And maybe he didn't want to earn respect, to grow into a leader. Maybe he wanted to take the easy road, to have everything handed to him. Upon choosing to spend his college career in Columbus, media outlets praised the decision one that will give him the best chance at an NFL career; today, Pryor is projected as a mid-to-late round draft choice, and when he arrives at camp, he will be greeted with a reception unlike any he has ever seen. He will be hazed, abused, pressured, and expected to show up everyday and carry himself like an adult. For the first time in his life, he will have to fight for playing time.
Prior to the 2010 Rose Bowl, Brandon Bair was asked about Terrelle Pryor's decision to attend Ohio State over Oregon. He said,
"That was his mistake, going to Ohio. We don't hold that against him. I hope he's happy there, I really do. He would have been a great fit for our offense, there's no doubt about that. What he's doing now, I don't know if that fits him or not."
For Pryor's sake, I hope this flippant attitude is not what fits him. I hope he can redefine who he is as a person, and restart what has become an uncertain football future.