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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.

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