A lot can change over the course of a decade. Ten years ago, current Ohio State students were unassuming preteens, in awe of some newfangled MP3 device, the awkwardly capitalized “iPod.”
In 2001, the Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the worst teams in the NBA, Britney Spears was on Billboard’s Top 100 charts and The Rock was still in pro wrestling. OK, maybe the world hasn’t changed that much — but the landscape of OSU football has.
Coach Jim Tressel was introduced Jan. 18, 2001, as the new leader of one of the nation’s most-potent football programs. In many ways, when he took over, the program was a sleeping giant. The departed John Cooper, in the two years prior to Tressel, led the Buckeyes to consecutive seasons of mediocrity.
In 1999, OSU didn’t even make a bowl game, a moral sin by Buckeye standards, and finished with a record of 6-6. In 2000, Cooper triumphantly returned to the postseason, with an 8-4 squad and, naturally, lost the bowl game.
The caliber of talent was there but the winning mentality wasn’t. Those teams were known for wide receivers Ken-Yon Rambo, whose leadership was publicly questioned by linebacker Matt Wilhelm, and Reggie Germany, whose 0.00 GPA fell just short of dean’s list standards.
Most importantly, Cooper was 2-10-1 against Michigan. For all of the talent he recruited, he fell short in the biggest game almost every season.
So, when Tressel took the microphone at halftime of an OSU-Michigan basketball game the day he was hired, he knew what Buckeye fans wanted to hear.
Without even donning the sweater vest on the sidelines for the first time, Tressel was an instant legend. Buckeye fans can still recite his speech word for word.
“Three hundred ten days” later, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tressel’s team didn’t disappoint — it beat the Wolverines in Tressel’s first year on the job. Back then, it wasn’t an automatic win.
The next season, Tressel delivered a National Championship, OSU’s first since 1970. As a Cleveland fan, knowing that I won’t see a title from my professional teams in my lifetime, I see no problem deifying Tressel on one title alone.
On the field, Tressel is 106-22 at OSU, and his teams have won 10 or more games eight times. Off the field, the Buckeyes have had about as many problems as any other major program, yet Tressel isn’t a Jabba the Hut-sized slimeball like Alabama’s Nick Saban or USC’s Lane Kiffin.
Former Florida coach Urban Meyer recently said, on Indianapolis radio station ESPN-1070 The Fan, “What I’ve seen the last five years is a complete turn in the integrity of the college coaching profession.” He meant that in a negative fashion.
Plus, I can’t imagine he’s talking about Tressel. There’s a reason why ESPN’s Chris Fowler calls Tressel “The Senator.” He handles himself with the tact of a well-respected politician.
Just look at the aftermath of Tattoo-gate. Telling players they can’t play in the Sugar Bowl unless they promise to return next season? Ingenious.
In hindsight, I would feel different if the Buckeyes weren’t perennial national title contenders. Yet, under Tressel, they are, and the momentum of the last 10 years feels like it will carry on for decades to come.