By DENISE DICK
There were hugs, photographs and handshakes — lots of handshakes.
On his first official day as Youngstown State University president Tuesday, Jim Tressel and his wife, Ellen, opened the university-owned Pollock House to constituent groups.
He said they were pleased with the number of those who braved the heat, which had climbed into the 90s by the afternoon.
“We were told about 500 came in the morning, and I think we had 80 to 90 students,” he said. “This afternoon, we’re expecting about 100 and that’s the trustees and the various boards.”
Members of the faculty, staff and administration filed onto the Pollock House porch in the morning, greeted by the couple while their two dogs, Scarlet and Gracie, 7-year-old Maltese dogs, lounged on a bench nearby.
The couple shook hands with each employee. Some recognized Tressel from the years he spent as YSU’s head football coach from 1986 to 2000. Others he met for the first time.
The couple started moving into the historic university-owned mansion the third week in May, shortly after his selection as YSU’s ninth president. He said the couple is about halfway moved in.
“I love it — so much history,” he said.
Students led tours of the historic home for visitors during each session and several bouquets sent by well-wishers decorate the first floor. Framed American flags flown during combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan presented to Tressel by U.S. service members adorn the walls.
Though Tuesday was his first official day as president, he spent the previous 11 days as acting president, “talking to people, listening, collecting opinions,” he said.
As people entered the Pollock House, the student assistants distributed YSU stickers and license plate brackets with “Macte virtute” printed on the bottom. It’s a Latin phrase that Tressel has often referenced both in public forums and since being selected for the job. It translates to “increase excellence” and he calls it an imperative.
“The world is shrinking,” Tressel wrote in a message to campus this week. “Competition is stiffer. There’s a paradigm shift across the higher education landscape. We must respond decisively. It’s imperative that — as an institution and as individuals — we set our goals high and increase excellence in everything we do here. I am committed to macte virtute and am excited to make that spirit a vital, lively part of the campus culture.”
About 80 students from various campus organizations enjoyed a cookout hamburger and hot-dog lunch, several of them posing for photographs with the former YSU and Ohio State University football coach.
While dwarfed between two basketball players for one picture, Tressel joked about his comparative height deficit.
One man brought a copy of Tressel’s book, “The Winner’s Manual: For the Game of Life,” for Tressel to autograph.
Tents were set up, covering tables on the back patio to accompany the attendees. By the afternoon as the temperature rose, the sides had been removed to allow the breeze to offer some relief.
James MacGregor, a senior middle-childhood education major from McDonald, and Stephanie Baker, a senior special education major from Leetonia, both look forward to Tressel’s leadership.
“It’s good that he’s from here,” Baker said. “He cares. He’s not just here for the job.”
MacGregor said it feels like a fresh start for YSU.
“It’s a new beginning, if you will,” he said.
Senior Taylor Phillips of Boardman, who’s is majoring in journalism, and junior Jordan Brlan of Crestline, Ohio, a forensic science major, also expect good things for YSU under the new president.
“It’s great to have him home,” Phillips said.
Mycheal Johnson of Akron, a junior majoring in business management and Antoine Watkins of Akron and Tyler Brentley of Pittsburgh, both seniors, majoring in pre-law, like that Tressel is approachable.
“He seems personable,” Johnson said.
Watkins said he didn’t really know the other university presidents who served during his time at YSU, but Tressel is the type of person that he’d be comfortable approaching on campus to talk about sports, politics or any other topic.
“It seems like he puts students first,” Watkins said. “That’s what I like most about him with me being a student.”