Today, Youngstown State will induct Jim Tressel into its Athletic Hall of Fame, which is a little like inducting Thomas Edison in the Lightbulb Hall of Fame or Steve Jobs in the Apple Hall of Fame.
The most surprising thing about Tressel’s induction is that he’s not already in it, the direct result of being, you know, a little busy on Saturday afternoons for most of the last 13 years.
The least surprising thing? Well, it’s that he praised everyone but himself.
“I’m not a real big fan of halls of fame,” he said by phone on Wednesday as he prepared for his “General Principles of Coaching” class at the University of Akron. “I know it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for about 2,500 kids who played for us and a whole bunch of coaches.
“I’ll be looking forward to representing all of them, for having a chance to be the pride of YSU.”
You can point to Tressel’s four I-AA national titles, or his two runner-up finishes or his 24 playoff victories or his 135 wins, but it’s quotes like those that explain why Tressel still has such a huge hold on Youngstown. Like Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Bernie Kosar, he used sports to bring pride to the city during some of its darkest days.
“His impact here is not just in wins and losses but in all the people he’s touched, both with the team and in the community,” said YSU athletic director Ron Strollo, who was a team captain on Tressel’s 1991 team and who succeeded him as AD when he left for Ohio State in 2000. “It’s an honor to have him back to celebrate the things that he’s done.”
Tressel’s induction coincides with the biggest game of the Eric Wolford era, a de facto conference title game against the two-time defending national champions, North Dakota State. Like Jon Heacock before him, Wolford has coached in Tressel’s shadow, benefiting from his legacy while struggling to live up to it.
The above sentence is one Tressel would hate — he’s the ultimate coach’s coach — but Wolford has wisely embraced Tressel’s standard, believing it’s an asset, not a liability.
“Coach Tressel had an outstanding run here and he’s a guy that we all look to and admire for his accomplishments here and at Ohio State,” said Wolford, who was recruited by Tressel in the early 1990s while at Ursuline High and later coached against him while he was an assistant at Illinois. “Great football coach, great family, great person. We’re excited to have him back in town.
“Hopefully he brings some of his mojo for us and we’ll sprinkle some of that around.”
North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl, who many believe will soon make a Tressel-esque jump to the FBS, first met Tressel when he was an assistant coach at Nebraska under Tom Osborne. Tressel and his staff often visited Nebraska in the offseason, in part because he admired Osborne and in part because he was building his program around the same principles — power football based on running the ball (and the option), defense and special teams.
Later, when Bohl was hired at NDSU, Tressel returned the favor, hosting Bohl and his staff at Ohio State.
“I was always impressed with how he operated,” Bohl said. “All the impressions I’ve had in my dealings with him are top shelf.
“Many people will talk through the evaluation of FCS football and certainly Youngstown comes to mind with the job that they had done and the long-term success they had and how it continued at Ohio State.”
Tressel’s OSU stint, of course, was cut short due to his role in the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal, which seems almost quaint now considering what’s happened in college football in the past two years. In addition to losing his job, the NCAA hit Tressel with a five-year “show cause” penalty, preventing any college team from hiring him until 2017 without the threat of sanctions.
Since 2012, Tressel has served as Akron Vice President of Strategic Engagement, an inspired bit of academic gobbledygook that simply means that he’s promoting student success in a role other than as a coach.
Which is too bad. Because Tressel was born to be on the sidelines for games like today’s.
“Oh yeah, these are the fun games,” he said. “But you don’t have to coach the big games. The big games take care of themselves.”
Again, typical Tressel. But Youngstown knows better.
If the past 13 years have taught Penguin fans anything, it’s that Jim Tressels only come around once in a lifetime.
Today, they’ll try to say thank you.
Not surprisingly, Tressel will do the same.
“It’s going to be so special to be back at YSU,” he said. “I couldn’t have had a better 15 years of my life if I planned it.”SFlb
Joe Scalzo covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JoeScalzo1.