James Vogel recently wrote an article about former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel that accomplished two things simultaneously. As Tony Gerdeman accurately predicted, the article by James made me feel very old. The second made me positively reminisce about the Tressel years, even as Ohio State fans are basking within the glories of Urban Meyer’s tenure as Ohio State’s head coach.
I am not ashamed to let you all know that I am older than Mr. Vogel, thus I have far more memories than were described in Mr. Vogel’s article. James stated that his first memory “as a Buckeye fan was on January 3rd, 2003 when Ohio State pulled off the upset against Miami to win the National Championship.” Oh, young grasshopper – if only my first memories of Ohio State were as pleasant.
To truly understand why Jim Tressel is still held in such high regard is to remember what preceded him. And I do mean “what”, not “who.” The “who” was responsible for the “what”, and I am getting to that.
2-10-1 is the “what” that will forever be tied to you know “who”, John Cooper.
Before this turns into another bashing of John Cooper, it is also instructive to remember that Cooper led Ohio State back into national prominence. Among the many talented players who donned the scarlet and gray from 1988-2000 are players such as Robert Smith, Joey Galloway, Eddie George, and Orlando Pace. Players who went on to successful NFL careers, after achieving success within the college ranks.
Which makes the 2-10-1 even more galling. How could Ohio State lose year after year, with so much talent on the roster?
Perhaps Tony Gerdeman will tell you that Ohio State was simply suffering from Coopershock. No matter what the diagnosis, Ohio State was not only losing continually to That Team Up North, but was also often losing to them with players from the state of Ohio.
That all changed on January 18, 2001 when Jim Tressel was hired, and introduced, as Ohio State’s new football coach.
Not only did Coach Tressel know how many days it was to THE GAME, but also made a strategic recruiting re-focus to sign the top talent within the state of Ohio. Beginning in 2002, there were only a handful of Ohio players that Coach Tressel actively recruited, yet still chose the Wolverines. Players like Shawn Crable, Prescott Burgess, Mario Manningham, Justin Boren, and Kevin Koger. Boren came to his senses when he left TTUN for Ohio State in the summer of 2008.
The decisions paid immediate positive consequences for the program, as Ohio State only lost once within Tressel’s first three seasons to That Team Up North. As a matter of fact, Tressel concluded his Ohio State career with only that one loss in 2003. (Yes, I know the NCAA vacated the win in 2010, but saying Tressel only had one loss makes for a better story. Plus, I was at that game in Ohio Stadium in 2010. It was awesome watching Ohio State pound RichRod, but it took some time to thaw after that one…)
On a separate topic, there is another reason why that transcends why I still have so much respect and admiration for Jim Tressel. And it has everything to do with my Dad.
My Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008. Although my Dad went through chemotherapy and other treatments, my family and I knew that time was very precious to him. It was because of my Dad that I became an Ohio State fan, and I made plans to take Dad to see Ohio State play Wisconsin on October 10, 2009.
Prior to the game, I wrote an e-mail to Coach Tressel’s secretary, explaining my father’s diagnosis. Like Coach Tressel, my Dad was a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University in the Cleveland area, and I asked if Coach Tressel could possibly send some words of encouragement.
The day before the game, my Dad was beaming, as he told me how he had received a letter from Coach Tressel. Coach Tressel not only sent him words of encouragement, but asked for my Dad to cheer his loudest, as the Buckeyes would need his support to help defeat the Badgers.
That October 2009 game was the last Ohio State game my Dad attended before he passed away in the summer of 2010. And my Dad still had that letter hanging up in his house. Want to guess how much that memory of that 2009 Wisconsin game, and that letter from Coach Tressel, means to me? Even better, want to guess how much stock I placed in the critics of Jim Tressel when “TattooGate” came to pass?
James Vogel wrote about what it was like to grow up as a young boy in the age of Jim Tressel. All I can tell you is that, as a grown adult, it was just as magical for me as it was for James.