Q&A with Coach Tressel

Video Clips:

Q
What is the most important question you have ever been asked? A

Q What small thing had a big effect on the Championship season? A

Q What is the most important thing a coach can do for his team? A

Q What did it feel like to win the National Championship? A

Q What will it be like to be the Defending National Champions? A

Q What is the key to running a successful program? A

Q What advice do you have for us. A

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Championship Moment
By Bruce W. Biesenthal

On January 3, 2003, Jim Tressel stood atop a platform at the conclusion of the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona, and hoisted the championship trophy above his head. His Buckeyes were national champions, completing a perfect 14-0 season with a victory over the #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes.

Tressel had been to the top four times prior with Division 1-AA Youngstown State , winning championship in 1991, ’93,’94 and ’97, taking the Pilgrims to four consecutive championship games.

Rewarding as those Division 1-AA championships were, they were but a prelude to the achievement at the Fiesta Bowl, guiding perennial powerhouse Ohio State to their first national championship in 38 years, going back to the days when Woody Hayes was a glowering presence prowling the sideline.

With his roots sunk deeply into Buckeye soil, having been a Buckeye fan as a kid, and having served on Earle Bruce’s coaching staff in the ‘80’s, winning the championship trophy must have been provided an overwhelming sense of accomplishment to Tressel.

It did, and it didn’t.

Of course there was a sense of jubilation, elation and almost astonishment. There was never an opportunity to prepare for the triumphant moment. It simply arrived, carried on the wave of tight game after tight game, climaxing with the game against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, which appeared to end with an Ohio State loss until the field judge tossed a penalty flag interrupting the ‘Cane’s premature celebration.

A defensive pass interference call gave the Buckeyes a second chance to send the game into a second overtime. They did.

At the end of the game, when Miami’s desperation pass fell incomplete, Tressel wanted to make sure his celebration was not hasty as well. “We didn’t know the game was over until we could peruse the field and see no flags.

“When the final play happened I looked around to see if there were any penalty flags. Then I knew we won, and then came a wave of humanity. I didn’t have to time to think about the win. I just got out of the way.”

Triumphant as the moment was, and climactic as winning the national championship is, Tressel sees his job as far more than what takes place on the football field.

He sees his job not as winning football games, but as impacting young men.

“Foundationally,” says Tressel, verbalizing what is obviously a fundamental tenet of the Buckeye coaching staff, “We believe we can positively affect young people in a number of ways.”

Tressel lists six ways in which the coaching staff impacts the lives of their athletes, although he states his six ways are not a conclusive or definitive list. “There might be 600 ways to influence kids,” he says. “We’ve picked six, and five of those have nothing to do with football.

One of those six ways is of course football. According to Tressel, football has the potential to teach lessons other sports cannot. “In football, there are numbers,” he relates. “It’s like life because you’re not competing by yourself, but with others.”

The other five ways the Ohio State coaching staff believes they can influence the lives of their student athletes take place off the field.

One is the spiritual dimension that which Tressel defines as moral and ethical, doing the right thing.

Another is family. Members of the Ohio State football team are taught the priority of family relationships.

Another is academics, acquiring a good education. Although Ohio State is currently mired in a minor controversy regarding preferential treatment given to athletes, Tressel has always stressed the importance of academics.

Still another dimension in which the staff attempts to shape the behavior and attitudes of its team is the physical – learning the value of training, rest and nutrition for the body, not just during the season, but for all of life.

The sixth way in which Tressel attempts to imprint his student-athletes is something that is obviously of great important to him – the community. Tressel refers to is as “caring and giving.” He wants to teach the Ohio State players to give something back to the community in which they live. “I hope when they leave here they leave as a person who believes they need to reach out and help others and not just go into a community and shop there – but live in a community and give to others.”

Caring is at the heart of what Tressel is about as a coach, and he learned it from his dad. “My dad taught me the first thing to know about working with young people is that they know you care about them as people. Don’t try to dazzle them with your knowledge or the nuances of the sport. Make sure they understand you care about them as people. Then teaching them will be easy once they realize you care about all phases of their life.”

Tressel’s insistence on caring and giving is a natural out flowing of his personal faith – a faith birthed along the third base line of a softball field.

He had been attending an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) banquet, and the speaker, Bobby Richardson, former second baseman for the New York Yankees, posed a question. “If the game of life ended tonight, would you be a winner?”

Tressel says he didn’t know. “Internally, I just didn’t know if I could answer that question ‘yes’.

Richardson had told his audience that the way to be a winner in the game of life was to ask Jesus to come into your life and take control.

“I walked out the back door of the banquet hall and down the third baseline of a softball field and it kind of all came together. That was the time I needed to surrender and ask Jesus to take charge.

“And I did.”

In fact, Tressel credits some of the success of last year’s championship season to prayer. “One that that’s not much talked about but had great effect was the number of people praying for us. I could feel it. The prayers were extraordinary. There wasn’t talk about that in the papers or TV shows or talk shows or sports magazines. No one asked what the percentage of the population praying for us was. Some people wouldn’t recognize how significant it was.”

And for 2003? Is there a prayer for this year as well? The Buckeyes go into the season ranked #2, behind Oklahoma.

The oft-quoted adage that it’s harder to repeat than to win the first title doesn’t fit Tressel’s understanding. “It doesn’t take any more to stay on the top than to reach the top,” he says.

“Climbing the mountain is difficult. It takes extraordinary focus. I don’t know if it takes less focus to climb the mountain than to stay on the top. It was an extraordinary job by our coaches and our players, especially the older guys, to keep that many people focused on the moment.

“That’s what we have to do to stay on the mountain. It won’t be any more difficult than getting there.

“We’ll have to be a better team than we were last year. While everyone played us tough, now they’ll play even tougher because we’re the ones on the top.

“It will be fun. Having been in the situation before, there’s no feeling more exciting than successfully staying on top of the mountain.”

Perspective is a key to Tressel’s approach to life and to football. He refers to it as “staying in the moment.” And he applies it not only to the Buckeye gridiron athletes, but to himself and to life in general.

“Perspective is the key to anything. While we all have certain goals we’d like to accomplish and directions we think God would like us to go, and we work hard to get there, life doesn’t always head in the exactly the direction we thought it would.

“I thought I was going to teach high school and coach in high school football all my life. That’s not what God had in mind for me. I’ve enjoyed every single place I’ve been, and I could have stayed every place I’ve been for my entire life.

“Stay in the moment. Become the best you can be in the moment, and what lies out ahead only God knows. Enjoy and stay in the moment you’re in and if you do that, you will not be disappointed with what you do.”

And that’s where Tressel is – in the moment.

Last year’s championship season is history. Another year is beginning. There are returning players to continuing impacting, and new players with whom to begin the process.

Hoisting the championship trophy was indeed a joyous moment – but no more so than any other, as long as Tressel feels he is following his calling.

“My vision is to constantly seek to know what God’s will is for my life and follow that, and not write my own script. I am here to serve others, and not simply myself.

“I want to make sure that I clearly follow what His will is for me, and serve His people.”

Life is more than a championship trophy when every moment is a victory.