Jim Tressel will step down as Youngstown State's president on Feb. 1, he announced Thursday.
“It has been truly a blessing and labor of love to serve Youngstown State University ... I cannot thank my family enough for allowing my schedule, and the needs of our university, to take priority and center stage,” Tressel said. “It is now only fair to have Ellen (his wife), our wonderful children and grandchildren, extended family, friends and former students, set the schedule.”
The 69-year-old will step away from public life after a 47-year career in higher education, almost all of it spent in the state of Ohio, and one of the stranger paths to a presidential mansion in recent memories.
In his first life, Tressel was (obviously) a Hall of Fame football coach. A career that began as a GA at Akron in 1975 culminated with three FCS national championships at Youngstown State and one BCS title at Ohio State. Tressel went 135-57-2 in 15 seasons at Youngstown State, then made the first of two difficult-to-replicate leaps of his career when he landed the Ohio State job in 2001. Moving directly from FCS (then Division I-AA) into arguably the best job in college football and inarguably a top-5 job is a move we will not see duplicated for a long time, if ever again.
Today, the only Power 5 coach that came directly from the FCS is Kansas State's Chris Klieman.
Tressel inherited a Buckeye program that won consistently under John Cooper but also consistently failed to win the games that mattered. Beginning with his initial public address -- "I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan." -- Tressel flipped the mojo in college football's most high-profile rivalry. Michigan had taken five of six and 10 of 13 from Ohio State upon Tressel's hiring; Ohio State won in 2001, again in 2002, and in Tressel's final seven games in the series. To date, Ohio State is 17-3 versus Michigan since Tressel's hiring. Though Michigan still holds an 8-game edge in the all-time ledger (down from 22 games in 2000), it's difficult to imagine Michigan ever holding a consistent upper hand over Ohio State ever again.
Tressel's teams won against teams other than Michigan, too. He left Columbus with a 106-22 record, snapped the school's 35-season national title drought, won at least a share of seven Big Ten titles (including six straight to end his tenure), and finished in the AP Top 10 eight times in his final nine seasons.
Tressel's path out of coaching and to a university presidency was even more unlikely than an FCS coach landing the Ohio State job. Tressel resigned from Ohio State in May of 2011 after revelations that he was aware five Buckeyes were trading memorabilia for free tattoos and failed to report the clear NCAA violations to Ohio State's compliance office. (A former AD at Youngstown State, Tressel claimed he wasn't aware of who to report the violations to; the the whole episode came to light because the FBI was investigating the tattoo parlor owner for alleged drug trafficking.) Ohio State was eventually hit with probation and a postseason ban for the 2012 season.
Today, not only would it not be an NCAA violation for Ohio State players to receive free tattoos, those players could get paid on top of their free tattoos, so long as it was an official endorsement under the new NIL rules.
Tressel spent part of the 2011 season as a consultant for the Indianapolis Colts, the began his academic career as a vice president at Akron. He narrowly missed the Youngstown State presidency in 2013, then ultimately landed the job the following year when his predecessor, Randy Dunn, took the Southern Illinois job. Tressel entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
“The YSU Board of Trustees extends our deepest gratitude and appreciation to President Tressel and First Lady Ellen for their decades of service to Youngstown State University, the Mahoning Valley region and the entire state of Ohio," YSU president John Jakubek said. "The Tressels’ contributions of time and treasure are immeasurable and will be felt across the region for years and years to come. We wish them well.”