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What happens next with YSU?

Published: Sun, February 23, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

Sure, when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.

But in Ohio, and especially in Youngstown, when Jim Tressel’s name is mentioned, people stop.

And that was reinforced Wednesday when the football legend’s name was cast upon a dazed and befuddled Youngstown State University community. Perhaps no one was happier for it than the guy who caused the dazing and befuddling — YSU President Randy Dunn.

On Monday afternoon, a school better known for playing us in football double-reversed us for a president.

Southern Illinois University announced Monday something considered inconceivable just days before: The wild rumor was true, and our new president of seven months was about to become their president.

Dunn blindsided his bosses, his staff and his community. Perhaps Tiger Woods had the only better-kept secret.

YSU leads SIU in football, 13-11.

SIU leads YSU in presidential wedgies, 1-0.

There might not be another score registered in that wedgie game because I’m not sure such a conscious collusion could ever happen again.

It took a willing college board, a willing search firm and a willing president to pull off such a dramatic pantsing.

You might hit the Mega Millions lottery before you run into such a triple play again.

But at the same time, as it pertains just to Dunn, I spent most of the week saying “I get it.”

Your dream job is to be university president, and you get the chance to do it in your motherland, and it happens to be in your wife’s hometown. That, too, is a triple play.

I think many of the people who went unequivocally harsh on Dunn are folks who likely passed the chance at their dream job, or even worse, have not visioned deep enough into their souls to know what that dream is.

Dunn had, and while unseemly, like Nike, he just did it. In a Valley that likes skull-cracking and knuckle-busting, you have to at least admire that chutzpah.

Did you answer yourself honestly this week if you asked if you could do the same?

I hate that this happened to our town. I’m not running a defense of SIU or Dunn. But I understand how it happened. And you just put your helmet on again and go back at it.

It was not stunning for Youngstowners wanting to get back into the game to thrust the name of legendary Coach Tressel. I suppose if he’d been around here in the 1970s, we’d have invested in Tress to reverse the steel collapse.

So while not new, the game changer this time around was how his name was introduced. Some of the Valley’s most powerful residents put their names on a letter written by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan to the trustees, asking them to “expeditiously” make an effort to make Tressel the next YSU president. In all, 32 names signed on in the hasty 48-hour effort. (Just one agency declined.)

The community debate immediately changed from the evilness of Dunn to the worthiness of Tressel. It was party time in the Pollock House, and paralysis in the board room.

A campaign for Tressel was not too ambitious 12 months ago, and he headed off that polite effort with a polite “no thanks” letter, and Dunn eventually was hired. This time, the group hit with such force, they interrupted their business trips in Las Vegas and California to stun leaders in Columbus, Akron, the Valley and on Wick Avenue. They also got Tress to talk to them sincerely about the situation.

One point he is said to have made is that the letter approach, while effective, backs the board into a corner, which is not in anyone’s best interests.

Those 32 signees represent an enormous amount of Valley wealth. One person estimated their annual impact on YSU affairs at as high as $10 million.

More unusual than their money is their life path. Many are self-made independents, and not part of entrenched institutions. They do not possess the list of degrees that many in college leadership tend to emphasize (often too much) as a measure of accomplishment.

And that’s where this Tressel debate will be headed. Plan on it, because Team Tressel has only become bigger over the past week and will get to work in earnest this week. And if the Tressel train builds, its steepest grade to climb will be the campus academics.

One thing consistent with that population: It’s awash in competing interests, and struggles to agree on what’s best for campus — especially at the top. Ask about Les Cochran, then about David Sweet, then about Cynthia Anderson. Each president draws as much derision as they do accolades.

To be fair, disagreement can be healthy, and that presidential measure extends into the community leadership as well.

But what that says in the bigger picture is:

Not any one candidate — ever — possesses 100 percent of the skillset defined or desired to measure up to the job. At best, they walk in the door with, I don’t know, 70 percent? 80 percent?

What carries such a person through those gaps are the intangibles — passion, clarity, commitment, humanity, etc.

Does that really rest only in a doctorate?

Billy Beane was an idiot.

That’s what the elitists in his institution professed in 1997 when he ascended to boss and peer.

He defied century-old beliefs in how his institution was supposed to evaluate, operate and succeed.

And soon enough, he took his poor, understaffed, undercapitalized, underappreciated institution and elevated it to equal status with the elites of his industry.

And before long, those elites were employing his thinking.

It’s baseball, and he runs the Oakland A’s still today. It’s chronicled in the book “Moneyball.”

YSU plays SDLqCollegeball.” And many argue it’s not as successful as its peers.

It has the chance to play by the rules that have guided it for a century, and yield many of the same results.

Or it can defy ancient wisdom and be among the first to recognize there is another way to run such an institution.

It will be an interesting two weeks in YSU’s history.

If you wished not to wait until April 6 for the start of “Game of Thrones,” your wish has been granted, fair penguins of the realm.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.


1kurtw(1707 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Congratulations, Todd, on another masterful effort. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell you're talking about- and I read your column three times. The gist of it, I guess, is that you think Randy isn't a Weasel but a Hero because he did what you might have done in his place. Is that it?

Sophistry, I think, is what writing like that is all about. You read it and you think it makes sense- but it leaves a bad aftertaste. The guy screwed us over- made us feel- again- like idiots- and all you have to say is: "Dunn blindsided his bosses... and the Community" like it was a game...

There's a lot of people around here- myself included- who don't think any of this is very funny and who don't enjoy being made to look ridiculous- again. And a column like yours is like rubbing salt into the wounds.

Suggest removal:

2lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

When you are entrusted with a public asset... local government, a school, a non-profit, a hospital and most certainly a university... the only leadership that is acceptable is that of the Servant Leader. The leader who puts his or her needs, desires and wants subordinate to fulfilling the the needs, desires and wants of those the institution is chartered to serve. That is the very definition of PUBLIC institution.

That is not the definition of the PRIVATE sector nor is it the role of leadership in that space to be a servant.

Todd, you confuse the two and give Dunn a pass because of it. He doesn't deserve it any more than he deserves to lead a public institution. What he did was completely selfish, driven by greed and the need for personal power, totally reprehensible and morally dishonest.

Or, in Valley talk, he's a lying piece of scumbag sh!t who needs his a$$ kicked all the way to SIU.

I get the anger. So should you.

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3Seriouslee(148 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Yeah I'm calling BS on the "tens of millions" thing. Doubtful. Also, wouldn't the wealth and donations be a reason NOT to fold to the whims of these "important" people? Doesn't that smack of pay-to play and cronyism? A sitting politician, who has the power to channel state and federal money to the institution blatantly trying to get his buddy the lead job seems to me a bit of a problem, too, no? And it's "elitist" to want the president of the university to possess the industry-wide standard qualifications for the job? If there was a movement to enthrone a football coach with minimum qualifications but lots of "passion" the uproar would be deafening.

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4cycler(57 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I'm glad Randy got his dream job, unfortunate for YSU - maybe, but the stage is now set for what may be a very big win here.

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5DSquared(1756 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Enough of the pointy-headed academicians already. Tressel loves YSU. Bring him in!

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6kurtw(1707 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Todd, I read your column again to see if my opinion of it changed- it did- It's even worse than I thought before: "heartless" "callous" "insensitive" are just a few of the words that come to mind. As I said in my first post: "rubbing salt in the wounds". Congratulations- I'm sure your employers must be very proud of you.

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7northsideperson(366 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I hope that the unions are prepared for ugly negotiations this summer, since Dunn will be leaving just as the contracts settle. His replacement will try to say it's all in the past and let's be positive and move forward, but the harm will be Dunn.

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8kurtw(1707 comments)posted 2 years, 2 months ago

"A Dog and Pony Show", as I've long said. The poor, poor, students they deserve better than this- and the Youngstown Community deserves better than a Daily Newspaper that doesn't know how to honestly address the facts.

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