A decade of Jim Tressel
A look back through The Vest’s playbook
Published: Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 23:06
In his mind, Jim Tressel is old, his memory deteriorating.
The highs and lows of 37 years of coaching have started to blend together for the Ohio State football coach.
"I don't know if it's fortunately or unfortunately," Tressel said, "but I'm old and I've had a lot of games."
Jan. 18 marked the 10-year anniversary of Tressel's hire at OSU.
In 15 seasons at Youngstown State, Tressel compiled a record of 135-57-2, winning four Division I-AA National Championships. In his 10 seasons at OSU, he has amassed a mark of 106-22, with one national title and seven Big Ten crowns to his credit. He earned his 100th victory at the Division I level after the Buckeyes' 38-10 triumph against Indiana on Oct. 9.
More importantly to Buckeye fans, the coach holds a 9-1 record against rival Michigan.
Tressel spoke with The Lantern to reflect on his decade-long tenure in Columbus.
Oh, but a dream
Often, when universities or professional teams hire a coach, the new boss will gush about how he had dreamed of attaining his new gig since childhood. Tressel never considered the Division I college ranks, let alone OSU. Instead, he aspired to follow in the footsteps of his father, Lee Tressel, who racked up 155 victories coaching for 23 seasons at Division III Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.
"I originally wanted to be a high school head coach and I never got there," he said. "All the way up until probably the mid-'80s, through my first 10 or 11 years as a coach, I was thinking I'd like to be a Division III coach like my father was. Then I got the Youngstown State job and enjoyed 15 wonderful years there and I was convinced that I wanted to be there forever. So no, it wasn't really anything that I thought about really until the day it opened."
OSU football historian Jack Park said Tressel's acceptance speech blew him away.
"He just made such a good impression on people in that acceptance speech," Park said. "Some people can kind of speak well, but it's kind of shallow; they're just saying what they think they should to make themselves look good. This was not that. This was genuine."
Even if he can no longer recall specific emotions or moments in time from games past, Tressel remembers the onerous weight strapped upon his shoulders when he accepted the position at OSU.
"Tremendous responsibility that having this position holds, great tradition, the meaning that this university has to all the students — that's daunting," he said.
The night he was hired, Tressel gave a speech at halftime of the men's basketball game. In his monologue, the new coach guaranteed his team would be prepared for nemesis Michigan 310 days later.
"That's going to be a big part of his legacy, I think," Park said. "That night, he set up Michigan as a top priority. You could tell, and of course, look at what's happened here, 9-1. He set that up as a high priority and followed through with that."
Rocky 1st year
John Cooper was fired following a loss to South Carolina in the 2001 Outback Bowl that capped an 8-4 season. In Tressel's first season at the helm, the Buckeyes compiled a 7-5 mark and another Outback Bowl loss to the Gamecocks. It wasn't exactly an ideal start to his term. He suspended senior quarterback Steve Bellisari for two games following his arrest for drunk driving.
"There were ups and downs that year," Tressel said. "It was real disappointing when we, right near the end of the year with two games left, we still had a chance to be the Big Ten champs and we had a little off-the-field problem and we had to bench our quarterback for the last two games. So, that was a disappointing time, and then when we beat Michigan at the end, it was obviously a good win for us because they were a very good team."
Still, Tressel had intended to use his first year as a transition year, and he said he reached the goals he set pertaining to laying the foundation for a new era.
"The thing I wanted to do was create a plan and then develop relationships," Tressel said. "And then, of course, you wanted to win some games along the way. But I wanted to create a plan for a culture and a set of expectations and get to know the kids and have them get to know me and make sure they knew how much I cared about them on and off the field."
‘A good deal'
Once the transition period ended, it was full steam ahead. The Buckeyes doubled their win total in Tressel's second season, becoming the first team in college football history to attain a 14-0 record. OSU capped its perfect season with a 31-24 double-overtime victory against a heavily favored Miami Hurricanes team that entered the title game riding a nation-best 34-game win streak.
"There were two things that I think made it possible," Tressel said. "One is that we had grown in our relationships very close through the transition year, which is hard for everyone, and the adversity we faced that first year. Then the second thing that made it very doable was because we were talented — these kids were so hungry because they had been here, many of them, three, four, five years and really hadn't had an Ohio State-type season.
"So, there was a group of them that were seniors that were not going to leave here without having an Ohio State season. And then, the ball bounced right a couple times and our guys kept fighting and it ended up being a good deal."
The perfect season exceeded any expectations even the most idealistic Buckeye fans could have anticipated, Park said.
"I don't think the most avid, unrealistic Ohio State fan that thinks we're never ever going to lose again, in their wildest dreams, would have thought that they would go 14-0 in their second year under Tressel," he said.