Published: Thursday, April 26, 2007
Tressel returns favor to mentor
The former YSU coach is looking forward to playing the Penguins.
BY ERIC HAMILTON
NORTH CANTON As it turns out, even Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel isn't too good to shop at Wal-Mart.
"Today has been one of those 'wow' kind of days," said Tressel on Wednesday night at a fundraiser dinner at Walsh University. "We landed at the Akron-Canton Airport and, wow, was it pouring down rain. We went to Wal-Mart to get some umbrellas. They fixed us up."
Despite his college coaching success, millions of dollars and celebrity status, the former Youngstown State coach never gives the impression that he thinks he's better than anyone else.
So when long-time friend and former boss Jim Dennsion, the football coach at NAIA Walsh, asked him to speak at a dinner to raise funds for the school's new health and wellness center, Tressel didn't hesitate.
"Woody [Hayes] always used to say that it is impossible to pay back the people who do things for you or that serve you; and he was right," said Tressel. "So the challenge is to pay forward. I can never pay Jim [Dennison] back for giving me that coaching opportunity back in 1975. But I'm here tonight because what Walsh is doing is so important and I want to help."
Tressel spoke to a crowd of over 200 Walsh University alumni and supporters who paid $100 each to attend the evening and support the school's building project.
Earlier in the afternoon, Tressel spent over an hour with about 30 Canton city youth football players, mentoring them, motivating them and signing autographs.
The day was initially going to be Tressel's first day off in nearly a month, but it didn't work out that way. He spent the morning recruiting in New Jersey, the afternoon and evening in Canton and left immediately after the dinner for a drive to Washington, Pa.
Tressel weighs in
While in Canton, he spoke on various topics, including Ohio State football, leadership, college football's postseason system and the importance of helping others:
On leadership: "What Walsh is doing is so vital. I was here about 10 years ago to speak and it's amazing what has been accomplished here. This project will affect the athletes, but also the whole community.
"I believe in Walsh because it's about helping young people. We need places like Walsh where you can express your faith and learn to be a leader. To be a leader, you have to serve others. At Ohio State, we have a locker room of leaders who understand that leading is serving each other. That's what you have here at Walsh, too."
On meeting Woody Hayes: "I met him in 1976 when I was the quarterback coach at Akron. I went down to Ohio State and I saw Woody alone in his office. He was talking about some toss sweep play and I was awestruck.
"Every day when I walk into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center I'm reminded of the responsibility I have to do my best to keep the tradition he started. It's an honor to work in his building."
On his first coaching job: "I sent out resumes to a bunch of places and two responded Akron and Penn State. I remember riding back from Penn State with my dad [Lee Tressel] and me telling him that I was going to go to Penn State to coach. 'Joe Paterno, the Orange Bowl, how can it get better than that?' " I said.
"My dad said, 'No, you're going to Akron.' I argued for a minute, then there was silence for the next 3 1/2 hours. We know how the story ended and my dad was right again."
On playing Youngstown State in 2007 and 2008: "Those are the games you hate. Having coached at YSU, I can tell you that those guys won't back down for a second. It's easy to get our guys ready for Michigan, but in games against YSU or Akron or Kent, it's tough to get our guys focused.
"When I was at Youngstown State, we begged Ohio State to play us, but they said it was no benefit to them. But now with the 12-game schedule we have an opportunity to play in-state teams like them. It's good for us and it's good for them."
On the postseason and a long layoff: "Well, we could eliminate the 50 days off before the bowls if we just go ahead and lose in the regular season, but we don't want to do that. I asked the players if they'd rather play Michigan Thanksgiving weekend and have less time before the bowl game, but they want to go home for Thanksgiving.
"A lot of people want a playoff, but I think the system we have isn't too bad. There is a lot of talk about that kind of stuff, but we'll see how it all turns out."
On next season: "We had an exciting spring practice, but we have a lot to do. We lost a lot of guys. But we got through the spring game with no injuries and it was competitive. Neither squad was good; both sides were equally no good.
"We've seen some growth in guys, but we'll see the biggest improvement when they come back in August after having time to digest and study everything."
On the quarterback situation: "The quarterback position will be interesting. All three guys showed some progress this spring. But they need to start to believe that what's important is decision-making, limiting turnovers and making big plays.
"We're hoping to see a quantum leap there next fall. Believe me, if I knew who the starter will be, I'd tell you. But it will be competitive and hopefully after three or four games, someone will emerge and take charge."
One last service
After his speech, Tressel did his best to make a quick getaway in order to catch his ride to Pennsylvania. He shook a few hands among the mob that surrounded him and eventually made it out of the room and through a back door.
As the car was pulling up and he said goodbye to Dennison, Tressel offered another glimpse of his willingness to pay forward to others even ones he's never met.
"Can you sign this for my 4-year-old daughter," I asked him, explaining that she begged me to come hear him speak and cried when I left without her.
"Sure, what's her name?" he said.