Jan. 18, 2001
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – No longer will Jim Tressel have to prepare his team for the likes of Slippery Rock, Edinboro and Hofstra. The main competition now is Michigan, Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten.
Welcome to Division I-A.
Tressel, known as much for his disciplined Youngstown State teams as for his four I-AA national titles, has been selected as Ohio State’s 22nd head coach.
Two members of an advisory committee, set up by Ohio State athletics director Andy Geiger to help fill the position, confirmed Wednesday that Tressel would take over for the fired John Cooper.
Geiger would not confirm Tressel’s selection, but said the new coach was being introduced Thursday in Ohio Stadium.
Tressel, 48, has spent the last 15 seasons at Youngstown State. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at Ohio State from 1983-86 under Earle Bruce.
Tressel was 135-57-2 (.701) at Youngstown State, but has never been a head coach in I-A.
In an interview with The Associated Press a few hours before he was hired, he said he needed to prove himself all over again.
“I had never coached a day as a head coach until I came here,” he said. He added that until he actually coached at a major program, “I don’t think anyone knows for sure.”
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. Mason had interviewed earlier Wednesday. Before flying back to Minnesota, he told reporters that his visit went well.
Geiger told Jeff Logan, a member of the advisory committee, that Mason was “devastated” when told that Tressel would be the new coach.
The hiring capped a 16-day, rumor-driven search that finally settled on one of the top candidates from the beginning.
Tressel was expected to sign a multiyear contract paying him in excess of $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. 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.
Cooper was fired Jan. 2 after Ohio State lost 24-7 to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. 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.”
After Cooper’s firing, Geiger also cited poor academic performance, on-the-field taunting and off-the-field skirmishes with the law by the Buckeyes players.
“Whether they’re from the academic side, boosters or the guys who played here before who are embarrassed by our record against Michigan and embarrassed by the behavior of the players on the field, Jim Tressel is the kind of guy who can heal whatever wounds are out there right now,” said Logan, president of the school’s Varsity “O” organization and a former Ohio State player.
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.
Tressel took over the Penguins program in 1986. After suffering through 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.
Tressel is the son of Dr. Lee Tressel, who compiled a 155-52-6 record as head football coach at Baldwin-Wallace College. He lettered four years as a quarterback for his father.
The Berea native served as an assistant coach at Akron, Miami (Ohio) and Syracuse before handling quarterbacks and receivers for three years at Ohio State.
After taking over at Youngstown State, he kept an eye on Ohio State but didn’t waste time dreaming about following in Woody Hayes’ footsteps.
“I’ve learned some good things growing up in this profession,” Tressel said. “Woody said in his book that one cardinal rule is you never apply for a job that is not open. The Ohio State job has not been open for 13 years, and I’ve been awfully busy trying to get things done.”
He inherits a team with a brutal schedule. Ohio State plays 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.