The professor walks into the classroom and takes his position, staring up at the digital clock on the wall behind nearly 70 sleepy college students.
He waits patiently for the LED screen to signal the arrival of 7:28 a.m., exactly two minutes earlier than the class is scheduled to begin. Then, every Monday and Wednesday, like clockwork, he begins to call roll.
This lesson in punctuality and time management applies to both the classroom and the football field. Welcome to Theory and Practice of Football Coaching with coach, err, professor Jim Tressel.
“He’s very intense with the timing of things, which was probably the most impressive thing that I noticed about him,” said Matt Dearth, a fifth-year in history and business administration. “He’s very punctual.”
The three-credit hour course is only offered during Autumn Quarter. Instead of attending class on Fridays, the students are responsible for using the day to scout high school football programs.
Iconic Buckeye coach Woody Hayes initially taught the class, before it was handed down to former coaches Earle Bruce and John Cooper, respectively. Bruce and Cooper continue to make the morning drive to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, teaching a few lectures to lessen Tressel’s workload.
The passion that Bruce brought to his lectures motivated a number of students, including Michael Carnahan, who graduated with a degree in sports and leisure studies in the fall.
“Having coach Bruce in the class was a lot of fun,” Carnahan said. “He’s really intense. He loves Ohio State and loves the football team. It was really cool to be around him for a couple of days.”
Bruce and Cooper aren’t the only ones who help Tressel. On Oct. 27, former OSU assistant coach and new Kent State coach Darrell Hazell taught students that “the essence of being a great receiver takes on four equally important skills: catching, releases and escapes, break points and blocking.”
In all, Tressel had 16 helpers. So it should come as no surprise that during Tressel’s “coaching is teaching” lecture, he emphasized that “the group is more important than the individual.”
Students looking to earn an easy A in the class might want to look elsewhere.
Will Smith, a former Buckeye starter who was a first-team All-American in 2003 and a Super Bowl champion in 2010 with the New Orleans Saints, realized the class would require some effort.
“I thought it would be a pretty easy one when I took the class, until I realized that Tressel wasn’t playing around,” Smith said. “He took it really seriously and put a lot of pressure on the guys that actually played football, probably more than he did on the other students because he expected us to excel in it.”
Dearth, who admitted that he had a general knowledge of football before taking the class, said that he was caught off guard by the amount of work that’s required for the course.
“What most people don’t realize is, it’s a lot of work,” Dearth said. “There are a couple of tests, you have to go out and scout football games. It was definitely harder than what I thought it would be.”
Smith, who’s referred to as the prototype defensive lineman in John Cooper and Kirk Barton’s “scouting opposing defenses” lecture, said that Tressel’s demeanor is the same both in the locker room and in the classroom.
“With Tressel, what you see is what you get,” Smith said. “He expected us to be on time and be attentive, and just to really take it seriously. His demeanor was pretty much the same as it always is.”
Thaddeus Gibson, who played for the Buckeyes from 2007-09, was the only football player that took the class in 2009. No football players took the class in 2010.
Gibson said the course helped his understanding of the game both on and off the field, enabling him to become a better player.
“I learned about understanding schemes and the reason schemes are run the way they are,” Gibson said.
Tressel told The Associated Press that Smith is the only football player to earn an A in the course and, on average, only 15 percent of the students who take the class share his fate.
“I think it did make me a better player. I was able to understand the different elements of the game and what the coaches expect from their players,” Smith said. “How the defense or the offense are assigned in certain situations, how coaches see the game and how they expect us to play. It definitely helped me on the field.”
Not all students take the class hoping to improve their draft stock. Dearth registered for the course because he wants to be a coach someday, but also because he wanted to learn from the man he calls his mentor.
“I like everything that he teaches and preaches to his football players,” Dearth said. “Jim Tressel has been one of my idols ever since he began coaching the Buckeyes.”
Of all the lessons that were taught by a litany of football minds, the one that resonates most wasn’t verbal, but visible.
On Oct. 18, Tressel walked into class two days after his Buck
eyes lost at Camp Randall Stadium against Wisconsin, ending OSU’s hopes of a BCS Championship appearance.
It was on that morning that Dearth noticed something: Tressel’s demeanor had not changed.
“To be honest, he came in and he was exactly as he was before,” Dearth said. “And that’s one of the things he taught us that he teaches his players, that you have to treat every game win or lose exactly the same. He viewed that game as a building block to help make the team better.
“He did come in and he joked around about the loss a little bit. He talked about how they really ‘smacked us in the mouth,’ but when he came in it was all about that class.”
Tressel often jokes with students while he checks attendance. Then he starts class at the lectern, turns to instructor and director of player development Stan Jefferson and asks, “Coach J, what time is it?”
Jefferson replies, “It’s the greatest time, it’s Buckeye time.”
Tressel ends the conversation and says, “It’s Buckeye time, then let’s go to work.”
Every Monday and Wednesday morning, like clockwork.