Strollo receives strong support
YOUNGSTOWN -- As happy as Youngstown State University coaches are for newly-named Athletic Director Ron Strollo, they're tickled pink to see the university promote from within to replace Jim Tressel.
"Penguin Pride" was the tone of Tuesday's press conference announcing the Austintown resident's promotion.
Dr. David Sweet, YSU president, proudly pointed out that Strollo, YSU's 11th athletic director, is the first head of the athletic department to be a YSU graduate.
Jon Heacock, the football coach who took over for Tressel's other role in January, said the promotion "is great for Ronnie and it's great for this athletic department and this community.
"We've been able to hire a guy that is qualified from within our own family, and I don't think that it gets any better than that," Heacock said.
Right person: John Robic, men's basketball coach beginning his third season, said he was excited because "Ron is the right person for the job."
Ed DiGregorio, the veteran women's basketball coach, said, "We're elated that one of our own has been able to attain such a position of prestige. I think everyone looks favorably upon this appointment."
DiGregorio said Strollo's experience is a bonus.
"He'll help all [our sports] programs because he knows what it takes to be an athlete," DiGregorio said. "And he was an outstanding scholar."
Christy Cameron, Penguins softball coach entering her third year, described Strollo as "just a class act in his previous role. He really took care of all the sports and I feel that he will continue to do that for everybody."
Even Tim Gleason, the Ohio Athletic Conference commissioner who interviewed for but did not get the AD job, had kind words for Strollo.
"I'm happy for Ron -- I'm sure he will do a good job," Gleason said by telephone from his OAC office.
Noting that Strollo served as Tressel's executive since March 2000, Robic said, "I think Coach Tressel did an outstanding job of grooming Ron for the position. And I think he earned the position."
While admitting disappointment, Gleason said he's not surprised YSU went with Strollo.
"He was there as an associate [director] so he had a justifiable homefield advantage.
Disappointed: "Sure, there is disappointment, but we are in a profession where we expect our student athletes to win with humility and lose gracefully, and it's incumbent upon us as role models to set a good example," Gleason said.
Robic said that this fall's shift from the Mid-Continent Conference to the Horizon League means the sports department "will need resources" to be competitive.
"Ron was a big proponent of the league switch," Robic said. "He knows what it's going to take to get us to the point of being competitive in our next league."
Because the scheduling of football opponents happens far in advance, Heacock says he doesn't see any immediate changes for the football program.
In recent seasons, Tressel chose to open his Division I-AA team's schedule with two home games against Division II opponents rather that play up at the I-A level or another I-AA team (i.e. road games).
"I think we need to try and get home games," Heacock said. "Anytime you can play at home in this community in whatever capacity, why would you not do that?"
Winning Gateway: Acknowledging that some fans worry about playoff seeding (the NCAA selection committee wasn't impressed with YSU's Division II wins last fall and sent them on the road for the first round of the playoffs), Heacock said that winning the Gateway Conference (and earning an automatic playoff berth) is most important.
"The key is that we are going to have to do well in the Gateway Conference to make the playoffs," Heacock said. "We've never won the conference -- that's how tough it is."
With the promotion under his belt, Strollo's focus can now zoom in on bettering the university he loves that has rewarded his loyalty.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.