By David Skolnick
In a Jan. 25 letter to the University of Akron’s board of trustees, Jim Tressel proposed he serve as president on an interim basis, contending that it “may take up to two years” to find a permanent replacement.
Exactly a month later, Tressel, who serves as the university’s executive vice president for student success, wrote the trustees that he would be interested in the job without any mention of an interim position.
In that Feb. 25 letter, Tressel wrote: “If I am selected as UA’s next president, I will do my level best to forge a great partnership with UA faculty to lead this university to a new era of excellence in the areas of fiscal stability, academic quality and completion excellence, and alumni and community pride.”
He added that he is “confident that I am the right leader to bridge the transition from [university President Dr. Luis] Proenza’s accomplished 15-year tenure to UA’s new era of excellence. Put simply, I believe I am the right leader for this time.”
The university provided a list Friday of the 19 people who applied for the presidency to various media organizations, including The Vindicator, that had made requests for letters of interest from those seeking the job.
With the UA presidential position being vacated June 30 with the departure of Proenza, and the sudden resignation announcement Feb. 17 of Randy Dunn as Youngstown State University president — his last day was Friday — Tressel’s name has come up as a replacement for both.
Talk of Tressel’s returning to YSU, where he served as its head football coach for 15 years before leaving in 2001 for the same job with Ohio State, began almost immediately after Dunn announced he was leaving YSU.
Dunn was hired in June 2013, and resigned to be president of Southern Illinois University. Ikram Khawaja, provost and vice president for academic affairs, will be interim president until his planned June 30 retirement.
Spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, Mahoning Valley political, business and labor officials have urged Tressel to apply for the YSU job and have asked its board of trustees to hire the former college football coach as the university’s president.
Through a UA spokeswoman, Tressel declined Friday to comment to The Vindicator about either job.
Ryan, of Howland, D-13th, said he was not surprised Tressel applied for the UA post.
“He’s got to cover all his bases, and Akron is a great place,” Ryan said. “I want him to be in Northeast Ohio. We can’t lose a guy with this talent and skill set. We need to do everything to keep him.”
Ryan said he didn’t know if Tressel is interested in the YSU post.
“He’d be a great fit for Youngstown,” Ryan said. “We’re in a very unique situation, and he would bring stability [to YSU]. He knows the community and the players. If he wants to apply to Akron, we’ll support Coach Tress. If he wants to come to YSU, we’ll support Coach Tress.”
Bruce Zoldan, president and chief executive officer of B.J. Alan Co. fireworks and one of the business leaders pushing to get Tressel hired to run YSU, said, “Jim will probably accept the first serious offer for the presidency he gets. ... He has to explore all his options. My hopes are that [the YSU] board does the right thing, moves quickly and makes an offer.”
Zoldan said he believes Tressel is “absolutely interested in coming here. I’ve talked to him multiple times, and nothing he’s said makes me believe otherwise.”
Tressel resigned as OSU head football coach in May 2011 amid a scandal involving players’ receiving cash and tattoos for memorabilia. He was accused of withholding information from university officials and NCAA investigators.
The NCAA prohibited Tressel from having direct involvement with a school’s athletic department until December 2016.
UA hired Tressel in May 2012 as vice president of strategic engagement, and promoted him in December 2013 to his current position as executive vice president for student success.
On Aug. 7, 2013, Proenza announced he would step down as Akron’s president, effective this June 30.
The board began discussing a successor shortly after, said Eileen Korey, UA’s chief communications director.
The number of applicants could grow as “it’s still an open process,” she said.
But UA expects to have finalists visit the campus as soon as next month for interviews.
Of the 19 applicants, only four, including Tressel, don’t have doctorate degrees. Of those four, three have masters of business administration degrees, while Tressel has a master of arts degree in education, which he received in 1977 from UA.