By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN — Sometime within the next week or two Youngstown State Athletic Director Ron Strollo is going to make the biggest decision in the nine years that he’s been the head of the university’s athletic department.
Somewhere in that time span Strollo will name a new head football coach for the Penguins, most likely before Christmas and possibly even sooner.
The decision is going to be a big one for both Strollo and the university.
Football is the sport that generates the money that funds most of the school’s athletic teams and the head football coach is probably one of the most recognizable faces in the entire Valley.
For the 15 seasons Jim Tressel was head football coach the Penguins reached the top of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. His four national championships, two runners-up and 10 trips to the postseason are marks that may never be reached again.
Jon Heacock, who coached the Penguins over the last nine seasons until he resigned following the 2009 campaign, found out just what it was like trying to fill the shoes left by Tressel.
Heacock was successful, but the fact that he was able to get the Penguins to just one postseason berth in those nine years just wasn’t enough to satisfy the Penguin followers.
Now a new coach will be hired and he too will find that getting the Penguins into the postseason will be the only thing that YSU fans are willing to accept.
Hiring a head coach is not something that is new to Strollo. He’s done it eight times in the last nine seasons, but none of those hires were anything like this one.
In these nine years Strollo has hired three head basketball coaches, one men’s (Jerry Slocum) and two women’s (Tisha Hill and Cindy Martin). He has also hired two soccer head coaches, a volleyball coach, a baseball coach and a softball coach since he’s been AD.
Unfortunately, of those eight hires, not one of them has posted a winning record at YSU since they’ve been in place.
But other than women’s basketball most of those programs have been losing steadily long before Strollo took over the job.
It is also true that the job of an athletic director involves a lot more than just hiring and firing head coaches and Strollo has certainly been the picture of success in his other roles as athletic director.
Outside of YSU, Strollo is very involved on the regional and national levels of the NCAA, serving on several prominent committees.
He is currently in his first of four years on the NCAA Division I Football Championship Selection Committee, the NCAA Division I Football Issues Committee and serves as the Central Regional Chair of the NCAA Regional Advisory Committee. He also is on the Executive Committee of the FCS Athletic Directors Association and serves as the Chair of the Horizon League Executive Committee.
During his tenure, Strollo has placed a priority on the construction and enhancements of the school’s athletic venues. Currently he is leading the final phases of a capital campaign to construct the Watson and Tressel Training Site, a $10 million indoor athletic practice facility which will include an indoor track and football practice field.
During his nine years Beeghly Center has undergone more than $4 million in renovations. In the past year the university acquired the 2009 Final Four basketball hoops. Mew strobe lighting was installed and the volleyball and men’s locker rooms were refurbished.
Last year a new Dom Rosselli Court was installed and a weight room was built for the men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and swimming and diving programs.
Within the last two years Stambaugh Stadium has also been refurbished including office space in the athletic marketing and ticket offices along with upgrades to the weight room, athletic training room and the football offices along with upgrades to the baseball, soccer and softball locker rooms.
Other major renovations included new chair-back seating (2209), a new south stadium scoreboard (2009), a concourse level elevator (2005), a scoreboard and a Mitsubishi DiamondVision videoboard (2004) and a state-of-the-art SprinTurf playing surface (2002).
And Strollo is in no way finishes as he has big plans for the property that the university has recently gained control of just across Fifth Avenue from the Stadium. Here he has plans for a new softball complex, new tennis courts and possibly even a soccer field and outdoor track.
You can also credit Strollo for getting the Penguins into a big money football game as he has done each of the last five seasons against major teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision. Those games against Pitt, Penn State and Ohio State have generated between $350,000 and $650,000 each year and have made possible a lot of the improvements listed above.
But regardless of all the good things that Strollo has accomplished over the last nine years, the one thing that everybody is most interested and concerned about is that next decision he will be making.