Friday, January 3, 2003
PHOENIX -- Much has been made this week of Jim Tressel's demeanor, on and off the field. Regardless of the situation on the field or in a press conference, the coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes doesn't seem to get overly excited.
Perhaps, it's another trait he learned from his father, Lee Tressel.
It's a theory generated by former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, in town for tonight's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matching the Buckeyes against the Miami Hurricanes for the BCS national championship.
"He was a great poker player," said Bruce of Lee Tressel. "When he bet you dropped right away because you knew [his hand] was loaded."
It's Jim Tressel's poker face that has the observers here stumped. Everyone talks about Miami being a heavy favorite to win the game, but after every session with Tressel -- and the quiet air of confidence that envelopes him -- you walk away with the feeling he's got a big secret that he won't unveil until sometime tonight.
That personality probably had more than a little do with Tressel being hired by Bruce after the 1982 season as the Buckeyes' quarterbacks and receivers coach. Tressel was on the staff for two seasons, when Ohio State played in the Fiesta and Rose bowls, before being named at Youngstown State.
"When I hired Jim, I knew he was a good coach because he loves and respects the game of football," said Bruce, "and he has a great relationship with the players, which is important, and the coaches and the assistant coaches.
"He's a good person. That's what I like about him," Bruce added. "He cares about things. He has said all the right things and done all the right things at Ohio State, in my mind. He answers the questions and does a great job of everything, really, and I admire that.
Like Bruce, Tressel has returned the Buckeye program to a national power quickly.
Bruce, an Ohio State graduate, replaced legendary Woody Hayes in 1979 and led the Buckeyes to an 11-0 season -- their last unbeaten regular season before this year -- and on the brink of the national championship. Ohio State lost to Southern California and Heisman Trophy winner Charles White 17-16 in the Rose Bowl.
A preseason No. 1 the following year, the Buckeyes went 9-2 and lost to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. That began a string of 9-3 seasons until 1986, when Ohio State went 10-3, and 1987, when a 6-4-1 season led to Bruce's firing.
Tressel, meanwhile, came to Youngstown State and led the Penguins to six Division I-AA national championship games in 15 seasons.
His success and integrity led to his hiring at Ohio State in January 2001.
"You have to respect a guy that does the job that he's done," said Bruce. "At Youngstown, you couldn't help but think of what a successful coach he was."
Handling the pressure
Tressel still gets a measure of disrespect from the national media. Thursday he was asked on two separate occasions if the magnitude of playing in the national title game was overwhelming.
(Obviously, those who question Tressel's ability to handle such pressure haven't attended many games in Columbus, listened to the post-game talk radio shows or read the following morning's columns around the Buckeye Nation.)
If Tressel can accept and handle the pressure of 100,000 Buckeye fans on Saturday afternoon, surely he can stay calm in the midst of this firestorm.
The challenge, though, on the field is a great one. Bruce predicts the Buckeyes will win.
"[Miami's] program has been good, the players have been outstanding, and it's a challenge to play them," he said.
"But, if you want to win a national title you should be playing a team like Miami. Obviously, they're a good football team and you've got to beat a good football team to be a national champion. I think we can do that."
XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.