Thursday June 28 01:17 PM EDT
"Tressel's countdown to Nov. 24 continues"
Tressel's countdown to Nov. 24 continues
By Jeff D'Alessio -
The Sporting News
It didn't take new Ohio State coach Jim Tressel long to get Buckeyes fans revved up. Days after taking John Cooper's old job, Tressel showed up at a Buckeyes basketball game, grabbed the mike and told folks what to expect this fall. "I can assure you that you'll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and, most especially, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Mich." The crowd went bananas. Now it's up to the 48-year-old Tressel, winner of four I-AA national championships at Youngstown State, to back it up. In the latest installment of One-on-One, the former Buckeyes assistant talks about the challenge ahead, Woody Hayes, Atilla the Hun and more. TSN: So how many days till the Michigan game?
JT: Right now, it's 154. It's coming fast.
TSN: Got any extra tickets you want to get rid of?
JT: You know what? I haven't even heard if I get any.
TSN: How big a Buckeye fan were you as a kid growing up in Berea, Ohio?
JT: My dad was a coach (at Baldwin-Wallace), so I was busy going to his games. I never went to an Ohio State game growing up, though I idolized the Buckeyes. My hero was Rex Kern. I liked what he stood for. I played quarterback, so I'd go out in the backyard and act like I could fake like he did.
TSN: Your dad has a Buckeye background, too, right?
JT: He signed with Ohio State and went there for the spring of '43. Played spring practice and actually scored the winning touchdown in the spring game. He scored twice for the Scarlet team. Les Horvath scored the third one. Then like many men at that time, the thing to do was enlist, and he did. He signed up with the Navy V-12 program and was sent to Cleveland. While in training, he attended college at Baldwin-Wallace and so after the war, he just finished there.
TSN: Given your Buckeye background, is this a job you dreamed about?
JT: You know, when I went into coaching, the very first piece of advice I got was from the athletic director at the University of Akron, Gordon Larson, who happened to be an assistant for Woody (Hayes) and then got the Akron job. He spent about 30 seconds with me as I was going to begin my coaching career and work for Jim Dennison, who was the head coach. He said, "The only thing I'll tell you is keep your mind and your rear end in the same place." Well, he didn't say it exactly that way. But I took that to heart and I worked every job like I was going to be there forever. I always continued to watch the Buckeyes. My dad was a big Woody Hayes fan and a big Paul Brown fan. He played for Paul. My dad was an Ohio guy through and through. Spent his whole life in Ohio and coached for 33 years in Ohio. So the Buckeyes were always of interest to me. But I never set my sights on this. When you're in coaching, you just try to survive where you are.
TSN: It must be nice to leave a school and it not be a bitter situation.
JT: No question. People in Youngstown are Ohio State fans. If you're going to leave them for Ohio State, that's probably the only thing they would accept.
TSN: You actually went back to Youngstown and gave the commencement speech this year. How'd that go?
JT: It was neat. There I was, kind of commencing a new life myself. I told the group, "It took me 15 years to graduate from here." I was starting a new life, just like they were, and there were going to be new challenges, ups and downs. It was humbling to have a football coach give the speech. Usually, with commencement, it's someone more academic-oriented.
TSN: What's the biggest adjustment for you, going from I-AA to I-A?
JT: In this day and age, the fact that the recruiting is so ongoing. When I was coaching here at Ohio State (from 1983-85), the recruiting wasn't as early. You had some kids in camp and then you waited until their senior year, and the recruiting was in December and January. Now, the recruiting has accelerated. The attention from the media and the websites has really inundated the kids and put more pressure on the kids. And when there's more pressure on the kids, there's more urgency to let them know how you think about them because you want them to make sure they know you're interested. In I-AA, you wait to see who Ohio State takes, who Michigan takes, who Notre Dame takes, and then you try to get the best of the rest.
TSN: Evaluate your quarterback situation.
JT: That's probably the most difficult athletic position in the state of Ohio. It gets constant attention and there are large expectations. You go back to people like Rex Kern, who lost two games in his whole career, and Corny Greene, who lost one. The Art Schlichters. The Mike Tomczaks, who goes on to play 16 years in the NFL. Tom Tupa's still in the NFL. Joe Germaine's still in the NFL. Bobby Hoying's still in the NFL. Obviously, it's a position that has great focus on it, but it's fun because I've coached quarterbacks for 27 years. I've got a great quarterback/receiver coach -- Joe Daniels -- who has the maturity to cope with the fact that the head coach likes to tinker with the quarterbacks, too. Some guys might struggle with that. But he's a guy that has so much background and brings so much to the situation.
TSN: In the spring game, you got fans excited with some four- and five-receiver sets. Is that a sign of things to come?
JT: Well, I think that's real. It's part of football. People in football have to have a wide repertoire, which is something we did at Youngstown State. But then we also did a lot of what people would consider a traditional approach, as well. You have to fit your plan around the people you have. We'll be as multiple as we need to be.
TSN: NFL Buckeyes have a tradition of coming back to Columbus to work out in the offseason. Who have you spotted on campus this summer?
JT: About the only guy I haven't had a chance to meet that I know has been back and forth a little bit has been Eddie George. He was back to get his diploma, which was really exciting. He had offseason surgery, so he's had to spend a little more time in Tennessee than typical years. The other thing with NFL guys is they begin families, and kids get in school, and they're a little more tied to their NFL city. But I've had a chance to meet Bobby Hoying. Ahmed Plummer's been around quite a bit. Joey Galloway's been around. Mike Vrabel's been around. Andy Katzenmoyer's been around. Orlando Pace was around one day and I had a chance to meet him. Haven't seen Korey Stringer. Keith Byars and Pepper Johnson were in, but they just retired so they weren't working out. They were just checking in to see how we were doing.
TSN: That's one long NFL list.
JT: It really is. It's neat to see those guys come in and out. Like when any change occurs, the first thing you do is make sure the kids here know you're here for them. And then the next thing you do is make sure that anyone that's ever played here knows you're here for them. And we've had hundreds of former players at our practices. In fact, we have a former players' golf outing Friday. We've got 175 former players signed up. We want to make sure they know we're proud to be at the place they built. We don't pretend to have all the answers or pretend to think that this is a new regime or something. Ohio State doesn't have regimes. Ohio State is Ohio State.
TSN: You play golf?
JT: No, I don't.
TSN: Thought every coach played golf.
JT: I don't think Woody played. I don't think Coach Paterno plays. It's just a matter of you only have 24 hours in a day and you have to decide where you want to invest it.
TSN: In I-AA, you got to experience a college football playoff. Would you like to see I-A going to something like that?
JT: I really would. It's just an extraordinary experience. To me, the fun of coaching is the process. It's the process of working with kids and it's the process of trying to become the best. Playoffs just add a whole new dimension to the process. But the bowl system has tremendous tradition, and you don't just cast off traditions. I'm hoping there will be a time when we can get an eight-team playoff, where each major conference would have a representative and maybe a couple at-large (teams). I just think that would take the sporting world by storm.
TSN: What do you do for fun?
JT: Family, and then my own personal fun is reading.
TSN: What are you reading these days?
JT: Gosh. Since I've been at Ohio State, I've probably had 50 books that people have brought to me. All the way from Ohio State-oriented books -- in fact there's one written by a fellow that played for Paul Brown called Expanding Your Horizons that I'm just beginning -- to a book someone gave me called Leadership Secrets of Atilla the Hun. So just as our youth camps end, I now will get into that three or four weeks when I can get a little alone time and do some reading, and I'm in the decision-making process right now of which of these books to tackle.
TSN: Got a favorite author?
JT: Zig Ziglar is probably the guy I've read the most.
TSN: What's in your CD player?
JT: Actually, there's a CD of the Ohio State marching band.
TSN: Good answer. How about your favorite movie of all-time?
JT: Saving Private Ryan.
TSN: Who's the best high school football player you ever saw?
JT: It was probably Chris Spielman.
TSN: He's still around, right?
JT: Yeah, Chris is in quite a bit. He is involved right now in a heck of a battle with his wife's cancer. He's got three little kids and to his credit, he stays close to the home front. But he's in the weight room now and again, and if you ever need him he's a phone call away. In fact, I picked his brain quite a bit in the last month.
TSN: Where's your favorite place to vacation?
JT: Siesta Key, Florida.
TSN: Headed there anytime soon?
JT: Probably not. It wouldn't be my favorite place in the summer, but we like to sneak there after recruiting when we can.
TSN: Where do you keep your four I-AA championship rings?
JT: I have a ring box. There used to be certain points in time where I'd wear certain rings according to what lied ahead. And the ring that I've been wearing most recently is our 1984 Big Ten championship ring because that was the last time we won the outright Big Ten championship.
On Monday, Jeff will go "One-on-One" with new Virginia coach Al Groh. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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