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Issue Date: December 2012


Life According To ... Jim Tressel


Interview by Lynne Thompson

Jim Tressel is still coaching. The only difference, he says, is that he's doing it on a much larger field.

In February, the former Ohio State University head football coach became vice president for strategic engagement at the University of Akron. The job put him in charge of enrollment, admissions, the career center and other academic services. "I'd spent my whole life recruiting and trying to create a vision for people," he says. "Then I spent all my time trying to see if young people could succeed and getting them ready for the world. • What I used to do with 105 guys, I now do with 29,000."

Tressel sat in his Medina County home with the family's two Malteses, Scarlett and Gracie, and discussed his new position, his storied football coaching career, and its end in the wake of NCAA violations.

In the early '90s, we played a lot of night games in Youngstown stadium. Even in the early season, it was cool. So for whatever reason, I started wearing a vest.

It was a great thing when I was at Baldwin-Wallace College, going to school there and playing for [my dad, head football coach Lee Tressel]. Now, we were successful. Success helps. I'm sure if we were 3-8 every year, maybe it would have been harder.

He didn't treat me any different than he did the other guys. I knew that if it was close, if it was even whether I should play or someone else should play, that I probably wouldn't.

The foundation of my coaching style is all my dad.

I knew from the time I was little that he cared about his players way beyond the football. He cared about them as people. He cared about them when they became fathers, husbands, teachers, attorneys or doctors. And he worked extremely hard. If you care a lot and work hard, that's a good start.

Motivation sometimes gets a bad rap. ... Motivation is the ongoing process of consistent messaging and people having a chance to test that messaging.

I never really knew if "The Senator" was a positive or a negative nickname. Sometimes, I don't hear people talk that nice about our elected officials.

The hardest part of coaching was the last half-hour before the game. There's nothing you can do at that point. You just paced or sat there.

Luis Proenza, [president of the University of Akron], really impressed me with his passion for our area — and he's not from here. I thought, If I'm going to get into education on a grander scale than I was, wouldn't it be neat to learn from a guy like Luis?

I used to have about 50 kids I'd be recruiting and would try to sign 20 of them. Now we're looking at thousands of kids, and we're trying to sign 5,000 of them. So every night I'm on the phone just talking to kids about what their needs are, answering questions and, once I get to know a little bit about them, jotting them notes.

As I sat in a [recruit's] living room, I assured Mom and Dad that he would be treated exactly like he was one of my own. That's the way I feel about it.

Once we've decided, Hey, this person is ours, then we're going to revel in the good things and we're going to endure through the things that aren't so good. Once they're in your family, they're in your family, and that's just like your own. If you have four kids, and two of them are doing exactly as you'd dreamed and two of them aren't, you're not going to throw the two that aren't out.

Football is all about the team — and not just in the game. It's all about the team 24 hours a day.

There have been a few kids that, as I got to know them, I thought, You know what? I don't think they're interested in the same things that we're interested in. So it wouldn't be a good relationship. But even kids who have had some struggles, I don't think that means they weren't interested in the same things we're interested in. It's just they allowed themselves to be distracted once they got involved in whatever situation. 

The happiest moment of my coaching career probably wasn't on a game day. The thing you have to remember about National Championships or bowl games is that they're always the last time you're together. That's not always the happiest thing. You're happy with the outcome, but you're sad that the process as you know it with that group is over.

The only thing I think I would do differently in relation to the specifics of the departure from Ohio State is somehow found a way to slow down, say "no" to doing 9,000 things, be maybe a little less distracted and ask for a little more help in handling the situation.

I felt disappointment. You'd invested 18 hours a day for 10 years into a family. And now, all of a sudden, you weren't in the family anymore. That was hard.

My high was never the applause. I had enough games where there was no applause.

It really doesn't matter where you are, whether you're at Baldwin-Wallace College or you're at the Indianapolis Colts. It comes down to: Do you really value, enjoy and like the people you're with?

The only video you have up in the booth is whatever people are seeing on TV. So whether you're at Buffalo Wild Wings or you're in an NFL booth, you're looking at the same thing.

One of the phrases that I've always tried to live by is "Paradise is where I am."


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