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Tressel in catbird seat for top job



Published: Sun, March 2, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


There’s every indication — based on whispers that grow louder by the day — that Jim Tressel has the inside track to become president of the University of Akron.

But why isn’t there anything more definitive than whispers about Tressel’s possible elevation to the top job?

The answer lies in the document issued by the university to be found in the “Presidential Search” link on the official website. Here’s what it says, in part:

“The search committee has not established any set number of finalist candidates, and there is no expectation that the names of the individuals being considered by the search committee will become public prior to the search committee’s official announcement of the names of the finalists who will be coming to campus.”

In other words there’s a blackout.

On the other hand, what’s known is that President Luis Proenza is stepping down (not retiring) on June 30. Proenza, who has been at the helm for 15 years, is taking a one-year sabbatical, and will return as a professor.

Tea leaves

What’s prompting the speculation that Tressel is the leading contender to succeed Dr. Proenza? It’s all about reading the tea leaves.

When the former Ohio State and Youngstown State football coach joined the staff of his alma mater in May 2012, his job was to “identify, recommend and support strategies and efforts that promote success in all facets of student life.” (Let’s not indulge in any snarky commentary.)

In December 2013, he was appointed executive vice president for student success. “Tressel is responsible for laying the foundation for a successful Akron Experience for every University of Akron student — relying on all departments of the campus — including recruitment, admissions, advising, marketing, financial advising, technology and others,” according to the university’s profile of the vice president.

That move has placed him a heartbeat away from the presidency, so to speak.

Thus the question: Given the choice between staying at the UA, where he earned his master’s degree and was an assistant football coach, and coming to Youngstown State, where he won four national championships and still has strong ties to the institution and the Mahoning Valley at large, which will he choose?

Absent any public statements from him, we’re left to contemplate two schools of thought.

One school says he will select Youngstown State because of his emotional ties to the Valley and because his wife, Ellen, is from this area and is a graduate of YSU.

The Tressels, along with Ellen’s parents, Frank and Norma Watson, were the initial donors for an indoor sports center. It’s called the Watson and Tressel Training Site (WATTS).

Tressel also knows he will be able to tap into a large reservoir of money given the 31 individuals, many of them wealthy, who signed a letter to the YSU Board of Trustees urging his appointment to the presidency.

Big deal

The other school of thought says that Tressel will remain in Akron because being president of a university with 25,086 students (17,190 full-time and 7,896 part-time) is a big deal compared with YSU, which has 12,823 students.

And then there’s the money.

While Tressel’s advocates insist that moolah would not be his primary consideration, there’s an old saying that’s worth its weight in gold: Every man has a price. The challenge is to find out what it is — and to be able to pay it.

So here’s the reality confronting Tressel:

Dr. Proenza, the out-going president of the University of Akron, earns $500,000 a year.

YSU’s president, Dr. Randy Dunn, whose shocking announcement that he’s leaving after less than a year to take over Southern Illinois University has thrown YSU’s trustees for a loop, makes $375,000 a year.

Tressel, as executive vice president at UA, is pulling in $210,000.

The next highest paid employee at Youngstown State is football coach Eric Wolford, with a salary of $213,894.

All things aren’t equal between the University of Akron and Youngstown State University when it comes to competing for Tressel. Who wins depends on whether he’s leading with his pocketbook or his heart.

What about Tressel’s NCAA scandal?

Fuggedabout it! (Use hand gesture.)


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