WHEN the Indianapolis Colts hired Jim Tressel as a game-day consultant in September, I thought it might just be his first step toward an NFL coaching job.
At the time, the NCAA committee on infractions hadn't delivered its final ruling on Ohio State's violations and Tressel's role in failing to report them, so there was still some question as to whether or not the former Buckeyes coach would be slapped with a show-cause designation.
In other words, there was still a possibility Tressel might return to college football in 2012 or, more likely, 2013.
But when he was hit with the dreaded penalty - for five years - in December, it was clear his next job would be in the NFL.
It might just be as the next coach of the Colts.
The Indianapolis Star and WBNS-TV in Columbus have reported that Colts owner Jim Irsay flew to Sarasota, Fla., on Friday to conduct a second interview with Tressel.
That news brought to mind Ohio State's coaching search in 2000, shortly after the firing of John Cooper.
I hoped then Tressel - having coached Youngstown State to four Division I-AA national championships, two other title-game appearances and 10 playoff berths in 15 seasons - would be considered for the Buckeyes job. But I thought OSU might consider hiring a I-AA guy beneath its storied reputation.
Dave Burcham, my boss at the time, insisted that if Tressel was able to get an interview, the job was his.
"He'll win over everyone in the room and he'll get the job," Dave said.
He was right. And if not for a curious and ill-fated decision, Tressel would still have the Ohio State job.
Forget the scandal. The Colts still can do a lot worse than Tressel to replace the fired Jim Caldwell as they figure to ease out of the Peyton Manning Era with projected No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck. Tressel has always been a winner. He was 135-57-2 at YSU and 106-22 in 10 seasons at OSU, where he won a national title and his teams played for two others.
The only question, with regard to him coaching in the NFL, has been if his style would work in pro football, which is a much different game, both on the field and in the locker room.
But a coach doesn't succeed for 25 years without being able to adapt. So just as Tressel moved from the bland, off-tackle running game he and his YSU assistant coaches dubbed "Dave" to offenses that spread the field under the direction of quarterbacks Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor, he ought to be able to move seamlessly from the "rah, rah" college game to the NFL.
Of course, hiring Tressel wouldn't come without a bit of a backlash. Not everyone feels he deserves the kind of second chance so often extended to athletes who make mistakes.
I call that a double standard, and I hope a team - whether it's Indianapolis or a team to be named later - doesn't hesitate to hire Tressel because of the possibility of criticism.
Tressel's downfall in Columbus was sad, surprising and unfortunate, but it shouldn't be the final chapter in his career.