NFF College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Jim Tressel
ASN will profile all 17 new members in advance of the Dec. 8 NFF awards dinner in New York City.
When Jim Tressel was notified that he was going into the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this year, his thoughts immediately drifted back to 1996, when his father Lee was enshrined posthumously. History has been made as they become the first father-son combination to enter the Hall, both as coaches.
After growing up when his father was head football coach at then Baldwin-Wallace College, Jim Tressel followed much of the same coaching blueprint at Youngstown State and Ohio State that his dad used making the Yellow Jackets a Division III power: Inter-personal relationships and stressing academics.
“It was obvious to me from the time I was 5 years old - we lived right next door to the stadium, and I got to go to practice every day - that he loved what he did,” Jim Tressel said. “And what was most important to him in the world were his players and his students. We had students live with us. We lived right next door to the fraternity house where most of the football players lived. You just felt like they were part of your family.”
Jim Tressel, now 63 and President of Youngstown State University since July 2014, eventually played quarterback at Baldwin-Wallace from 1971-74 for his father Lee, who coached 23 seasons at Baldwin-Wallace (155-52-6). Lee’s team won the 1978 NCAA Division III championship with an unbeaten record, and the playing surface at the school is named after the father-son duo.
“He talked to us more about how we were doing academically and making sure we were reaching our potential there than he ever talked about our football,” said Tressel, who was an all-conference player. “He made it very clear you could become the best you could be both in the classroom and on the field, and that’s what you were responsible for doing. ... That was one of our real focal points at Ohio State and Youngstown State.”
After his stint at Youngstown State, Tressel preached mistake-free football and field position with big, brooding offensive and defensive lines at Ohio State during a decade of excellence from 2001-2010. The Buckeyes, who had a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Troy Smith in 2006 under Tressel, made three BCS title games and won the national title in 2002 with an overtime victory over Miami (Florida) in the Fiesta Bowl.
During Tressel’s 10 years in Columbus, the Buckeyes finished among the Top 5 rated teams seven times and won or shared the Big Ten title on six occasions. But just as significantly, Tressel won four national titles at Youngstown State (in six championship games), the first in 1991 when he and Lee became the first and only father-son combination to have won national college football titles at their respective schools.
“I think at the I-AA level (now FCS) what I had to learn was how long the march was in the playoffs,” Tressel recalled. “You were playing week after week against great teams. The ability to fight your way through the playoffs was something. It wasn’t until our sixth year, I think it was, that we figured out how not to get eliminated in earlier in the playoffs. I think that exercise, the learning of that certainly helped at the next level.”
Above: Whether on the sidelines for Youngstown State or Ohio State, Jim Tressel followed what he learned at his Hall of Fame father Lee's knee. (Courtesy Ohio State Department of Athletics)