NEW: Student leader: Polarized reaction to Youngstown State offer to Tressel
NEW: Sophomore says Tressel's hiring could be a success or a bust
Tressel left as Ohio State's football coach under a cloud of controversy
He has been in university administration roles since then
Jim Tressel – who gained fame then infamy as a collegiate football coach in Ohio – is now poised to lead a new team: Youngstown State University.
The school’s board of trustees announced Friday that it’ll offer the president’s job to Tressel, who has worked as an administrator at the University of Akron since departing as head football coach at Ohio State University under a cloud of controversy.
“Mr. Tressel has the personality and leadership skills, in addition to widespread community support, to dramatically raise YSU’s profile and prominence across Ohio and the nation,” board Chairman Sudershan Garg said in a statement.
If the job offer is finalized, Tressel will know his way around the school. He obtained legendary status as Youngstown State’s head football coach between 1986 and 2000, during which time he led teams to four Division I-AA national championships.
This success catapulted Tressel to the top job at Ohio State, which historically boasts one of the top football programs in the country.
He quickly picked up where he left off, leading the Buckeyes to the 2002 national championship and seven Big 10 championships.
But Tressel’s tenure there didn’t end well.
He left under pressure in 2011 after reports surfaced that several Ohio State players – including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor – swapped team and personal memorabilia and equipment for tattoos and other benefits.
Those actions alone violate NCAA rules, but it’s how Tressel acted – and didn’t act – that really drew the ire of the NCAA, the nation’s dominant intercollegiate sports organization.
“Of great concern to the committee was the fact that (Tressel) became aware of these violations and decided not to report the violations to institutional officials, the Big Ten Conference or the NCAA,” the NCAA Division 1 Committee on Infractions said in a report issued in December 2011.
By then, Tressel had resigned from his Ohio State post (the school later recharacterized his departure as a retirement) and quoted him as saying that he took “full responsibility for my mistakes.”
The whole ordeal led the Buckeyes to vacate all 12 of their wins from the 2010 season and to suspend five players for the first five games of the following campaign. In addition, the NCAA issued a five-year order for Tressel that limited his athletics-related duties and applies to any NCAA school that wants to hire him as a coach.
Yet Tressel – who holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Baldwin-Wallace College and a master’s degree in education from the University of Akron – remained active in Ohio and in the field of education.
In 2012, he became vice president for strategic engagement at the Akron school and the following year was promoted to executive vice president for student success.
The job as president at Youngstown State, which boasts nearly 13,500 students and more than 135 undergraduate and graduate programs, would be another step for Tressel.
Michael Slavens, the president of student government at Youngstown State for 2014-2015, says reaction to the Tressel’s apparent hiring has been mixed on social media.
“It’s been very polarized,” Slavens said. “People said they either really wanted Tressel, no matter what, or … said he was the worst candidate and couldn’t believe (university officials) would consider him.”
The new president faces a university in flux. Several other top administrative positions, including provost, are open and will need to be filled, Slavens points out.
The student government leader said he thinks Tressel, as president, would excel at “being a cheerleader, the face of the university (because) he knows the area and donors” and expressed confidence he can craft “a vision” for Youngstown State and its future. If and when he is officially hired, Tressel will have lots of attention and, perhaps, momentum to get things done.
“The fact that Tressel is coming back and it’s getting people excited, I hope it helps in a meaningful way,” said Slavens. “I hope he takes advantage of the hype that he has caused.”
Youngstown State has had two presidents over the past two years, not including its current interim leader. Sophomore Jordan Wolfe says that many in the Mahoning Valley are hoping Tressel can steady the ship and perhaps turn all the attention into a positive. But, at the same time, things could quickly turn south – just like Tressel’s time at Ohio State.
“If Tressel can bring stability to YSU and bring in more donations, keeping tuition down, I’m for it,” Wolfe said. “Do I think he has the potential to be a bust? Yes.”