Tressel's past not an issue at Youngstown St.
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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — From disgraced college football coach to university president, the road less traveled for Jim Tressel proved to be equal parts problematic and logical.
Introduced Monday as the ninth president at Youngstown State, Tressel's coronation in front of family, friends and a host of supporters was the culmination of a circuitous journey with origins from the mid-1980s, when he won four Division I-AA national championships at YSU.
Following a decade-long detour at Ohio State, where he won a national championship, Tressel has been given the ultimate responsibility of running a university despite resigning in 2011 following an NCAA investigation into rules violations with the Buckeyes resulting from several players, including former Jeannette star Terrelle Pryor, trading memorabilia for tattoos.
Three years into a five-year NCAA show-cause ban preventing him from coaching Division I-A football, Tressel, however, faced no restraints in becoming the highest-ranking employee at Youngstown State, which has a current enrollment of just under 12,900.
Tressel's connections to Youngstown State are endless.
He is a member of Youngstown State's Athletic Hall of Fame (he was inducted in November). YSU's indoor on-campus facility, which opened in fall 2011, bears his name following a $1 million donation.
Around the country, the irony of Tressel not being permitted to coach a college football program because of past transgressions but facing little opposition in becoming a university president despite not having a Ph.D. cannot be ignored.
“This may be the time and the place for a non-Ph.D president,” Tressel told reporters last week.
Tressel dodged a questionable past in becoming president at the same school where he once successfully roamed the sidelines at Stambaugh Stadium.
At YSU, Tressel released a statement following an NCAA investigation that star quarterback Ray Isaac received $10,000 and use of a car from trustee Mickey Monus, who testified that Tressel asked Monus to get Isaac a job. The NCAA looked into those alleged illegal payments in 1994 but handed out no penalties.
Tressel said at the time, “As a member of the NCAA, it is incumbent upon YSU to understand and comply with all NCAA rules. Unfortunately, as happened in this case, all parties did not.”
In the Mahoning Valley, where the local economy has been in decline for years and enrollment at YSU has fallen by nearly 3,000 students since 2010, Tressel's return is greeted with open arms.
“You only hear bad things when you think of Youngstown. A big name like Jim Tressel is good for YSU,” Olivia Ondecker, a senior criminal justice/psychology major from Akron, Ohio, said Monday while walking on campus.
After discussing Tressel's arrival with fellow students such as senior criminal justice major Michael Raffa from Austintown, Ohio, who as a child attended YSU games when Tressel was coach, Ondecker added, “I haven't heard anything bad about Jim Tressel. He was always about Youngstown and this area. Things can only go up.”
Tressel, in fact, seemed like a lock from the moment former president Randy Dunn announced his resignation in February after only seven months on the job.
Youngstown State trustees chairman Dr. Sudershan Garg said Tressel was the best candidate among three finalists.
Trustees voted unanimously for Tressel, who also was among three finalists to become president at the University of Akron.
“He is the right leader to guide YSU through the challenging times ahead,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13th, of Howland, Ohio, who led a campaign with business and community leaders touting Tressel's candidacy.
Bruce Zoldan, president and CEO of one of the nation's leading consumer fireworks distributors, proudly admits to being Tressel's most passionate supporter.
Like many in the area, Zoldan shrugged off Tressel's NCAA troubles at Ohio State and Youngstown State as the cost of doing business in the NCAA.
“Some will ask, ‘What happened at Ohio State?' I can only give my opinion as a business leader, but what research I have done and communication I've had with others, there's no such thing as a perfect candidate,” Zoldan said. “You can have a high level of academia to be president, or you can come from a different area such as fundraising and hire people to help you in the academia department.
“That's where president Tressel will come into play.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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