Buckeyes coach reveals little about himself

Jim Tressel has been the head coach at Ohio State for a decade

of success – yet few know much about him when he’s not wearing that

vest and a tightly knotted tie on the sideline.

He bats away questions about himself and his emotions like

mosquitoes at a picnic.

On Saturday against Indiana, his second-ranked team can give him

his 100th win with the Buckeyes. He dismisses any consideration of

the accomplishment.

”I’d rather have a sixth (win this season) than 100,” he said.

”I guess you can’t have one without the other, so I guess it would

be neat. But we would reflect on that for about 3 minutes and then

get ready for the next game.”

Even when the subject is his greatest triumph – the dramatic

double-overtime victory in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that gave Ohio

State its first national championship in 34 years – he is

dismissive.

”You are testing my memory. You know, I have not watched that

game,” he said to disbelieving reporters. ”Someday I’ll invite

you all over and we’ll sit in our rocking chairs and we’ll break

that game down and I’ll tell you what I was thinking, if I can

still think by then.”

Tressel, who turns 58 on Dec. 5, lives in a large French

provincial home in the tony suburb of Upper Arlington with his

second wife, Ellen. They have four adult children in their blended

families. They have dogs named Scarlett and Gracie, Ellen is an

avid golfer and both are active in local and national

charities.

He is a product of his father, Dr. Lee Tressel, a hall-of-fame

college coach at Baldwin-Wallace. There’s a quiet, tree-shrouded

lane in the college town of Berea, Ohio, named Tressel Street, but

it’s in honor of the father’s life and victories. A cerebral coach

who always wore a bow tie and a buzzcut, he won a small-college

national championship with the Yellow Jackets – and raised three

sons who went on to follow in his footsteps as coaches. Jim played

quarterback for him at B-W.

Dick Tressel, Jim’s older brother and his running backs coach at

Ohio State, says there’s a trickle-down theory, from father to

sons, that is still in force with the Buckeyes.

”All along, Jim has understood how important defense is to win

championships. But he’s been a quarterback all his life. He

understands the game really well, but he has this passion for the

offense and understanding it really well and knowing how exciting

that part of it is,” Dick Tressel said. ”He’s always been an

educator in the game. Football’s a class, football’s a place to

learn. You learn by competing at the highest level you can and

learning life lessons in your favorite subjects.”

Jim has been a head coach for a quarter of a century – the first

15 years at Youngstown State, where he won four Division I-AA

playoff championships. He offers very little introspection on his

career.

”Does it seem like it’s been 25 years?” he repeated. ”I was

told long ago when I first got a head coaching job, that a head

coaching year is like a dog’s year – it’s worth seven. So does it

feel like it’s 175 years or whatever? No, it doesn’t feel quite

that long, and honestly, it goes fast.”

His players often don’t know what to make of him. He can be

stern and unbending, but he is also a friend and mentor.

”My friend back home always asks me, ‘How’s old Jimmy doing?”’

starting linebacker Brian Rolle said with a wide grin. ”Ever since

high school, he’s always asked, ‘How’s Jimmy doing?’ I tell him

coach Tressel is sort of like my high school coach was: A guy you

can talk to a lot. (Coach Tressel) doesn’t yell a lot; he doesn’t

have to because guys respect him. He’s a guy that I talk to like

he’s one of my best friends. I walk into his office and say,

‘What’s up coach Tress?’ and we talk 5 or 10 minutes about nothing,

just a normal day.”

But there are still limits.

”I wouldn’t think of calling him Jimmy,” Rolle said with a

laugh.

Offensive lineman Bryant Browning remembers the times Tressel

has been out of his straight-laced character.

”He dances in the locker room from time to time,” he said.

”It was kind of a, well, a smooth, little rock to the beat, I

guess.”

He added, ”He’s no Michael Jackson.”

Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach, Taver Johnson, said what makes

Tressel so appealing is that you know what you’re getting.

”For sure in the four years I’ve been here, he’s the same,” he

said. ”That part of it always makes you as an assistant coach feel

that you can get your job done. Because he’s not an overbearing

person, not all over the board, not an overseer. He expects you to

get your job done. He doesn’t have to give you a checklist.”

The game and the kids aren’t quite the same as they were when

Tressel graduated from Baldwin-Wallace in 1975 and set off to make

a name for himself as a coach.

”It’s kind of hard to believe that this will be my 36th year of

college coaching,” Tressel said before the current season kicked

off. ”I don’t even feel as if I’m 36, but football’s changed in

some ways, but in other ways it hasn’t. I think the kids are very

similar to what I’ve known. Maybe today they want to know a little

bit more why because they’re a little bit more educated. They know

more about the game. So they want to know why we’re running this

coverage or why we’re running this pass protection or whatever. But

really they want to know: What do you expect of me? And they want

to know how they’re doing.”

Tressel is 99-21 at Ohio State, and 234-78-2 overall, with a

winning percentage that ranks among the best of anyone to ever

coach at the college level. He recruits great players, although at

first glance he doesn’t appear to be a guy who can relate well to

18-year-olds.

But he is clearly more than a micromanager who speaks in

circuitous ”Tresselese,” more than the ”Senator” as he’s

derisively called for his ultra-cautious behavior and language.

”There’s a lot of coaches out there who are just used-car

salesmen,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. ”They’re just

trying to sell a product or something. With Tress, he’s just a guy

of his word and he really cares about his kids.”

Last spring, Tressel signed a two-year contract extension that

will pay him roughly $3.6 million a year through the 2014

season.

He enjoys coaching, but no one knows for certain how long he’ll

continue at Ohio State. Like much of his personal life, that’s

something he never reveals.

”You know what, if I knew that and you knew that, we’d both be

in good shape,” he said. ”I’m going to be around as long as I

can. How’s that?”