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Jan. 18, 2001

By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Jim Tressel pulled on a red Ohio State cap and took over as coach of the Buckeyes Thursday.

University officials praised his accomplishments but stressed the need to build players’ character and classroom performance.

“We believe we have selected just the right person for the job,” Ohio State President William Kirwan said. Tressel will make $1 million a year to guide one of the nation’s highest-profile college sports programs.

Tressel, who built Youngstown State into a Division I-AA power, was picked to succeed John Cooper as coach after a 16-day search.

Kirwan said the university wanted a coach with a good record of graduating players, who reflected the values of Ohio State and wanted success on the field – but not at the expense of academic and character development.

Tressel was an assistant coach for the Buckeyes before leaving for Youngstown State. He built a successful program in 15 seasons with the Penguins, capturing four I-AA national titles.

But he has never before led a Division I-A program.

As Ohio State’s 22nd head coach, he inherits a team with a brutal schedule, including games at UCLA, Indiana, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan this fall.

The Buckeyes also will be without two of the top four rushers, four of the top five receivers and six of the top 10 scorers, in addition to two of the top three tacklers and the top two players in interceptions.

Tressel’s Youngstown State teams won national titles in 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997 – the most for a head coach in I-AA history – and had 12 winning seasons. He was 135-57-2 with the Penguins.

The Berea, Ohio, native handled quarterbacks and receivers at Ohio State under Earl Bruce, from 1983-86. He also served as an assistant coach at Akron, Miami of Ohio and Syracuse.

Tressel took over the Penguins program in 1986. After a 2-9 season, he guided the Penguins to their first I-AA playoff appearance with an 8-4 mark the next season and won their first Ohio Valley Conference title.

Cooper was fired after Ohio State lost 24-7 to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. But athletic director Andy Geiger also cited poor academic performance, on-the-field taunting and off-the-field run-ins with the law by Buckeyes players.

Tressel, who is known for his disciplined Youngstown State teams, gave his new bosses another indication Thursday of his attitude toward academics.

He introduced his mother and other family members, adding that his son Zak was not present because he had a physics class at Ohio State. Tressel said he had learned from his late father, Dr. Lee Tressel, that the only excuse for skipping class was “a death in the family – your own.”

The elder Tressel compiled a 155-52-6 record as coach at Baldwin-Wallace College. Tressel also lettered four years as a quarterback for his father.

Tressel was expected to sign a multiyear contract paying him more than $1 million a year.

His Youngstown State contract, which was to run out in June, gave him a base salary of $88,500 and a $20,000 annual stipend to also serve as athletics director. For winning a national championship, Tressel received an extra $5,000.

Cooper earned $1.1 million per season.

He was 111-43-4, shared three Big Ten titles and played in bowls in 11 of his 13 seasons.

But he was 3-8 in those bowl games and was just 2-10-1 against Ohio State’s chief rival, Michigan – a game that Ohio State fans refer to as “The Game.”

Ohio State’s other finalist was Minnesota’s Glen Mason, a former Ohio State player and a member of the same Buckeyes’ coaching staff as Tressel for two years.

Others who either interviewed or spoke with Ohio State officials about the job included Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, current Buckeyes assistant Fred Pagac, former Ohio State and NFL linebacker Chris Spielman and Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham.