With rumors swirling that Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini is interested in the vacant Purdue job, it’s possible that his successor could be none other than current school president and former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.
Yes, it feels like a lifetime ago that Tressel resigned as the Buckeyes’ head coach in 2011 over “Tattoogate” and was subsequently hit with a five-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA, effectively blackballing him from coaching over the last half-decade.
But exactly two months from today, that penalty will officially expire on Dec. 19 and leave open the possibility that Tressel could transition from Youngstown State’s school president back to its head football coach. He previously held the position from 1986-2000 and won four FCS national titles with the Penguins before leaving for Ohio State.
There are plenty of reasons why Tressel will not return to coaching even with a green light from the NCAA.
He said just last year that he’s had “no inkling” to get back into coaching, Tressel turns 64 two weeks before the show-cause penalty expires and he already holds the most prestigious position at a university where he is forever beloved.
But boy it sure is fun to think about Tressel breaking his sweater vests out of mothballs to coach again, isn’t it?
For starters, I don’t believe being a university president is a dream job for “The Vest.” People go into coaching because they have a passion for teaching and working with kids — and that’s all Tressel knew his whole life before his resignation. He grew up as the son of a football coach, played for his dad in college and spent the following 38 years in his father’s footsteps on the sidelines.
And while a school president’s mission is to work for students, the job doesn’t lend itself to working with students in the same hands-on way coaching does. School presidents have a political job that consists of dealing with endless meetings, schmoozing, fundraising and complaints.
Yes, 64 is quite old to start a new coaching job, but Nick Saban turns 65 on Halloween and shows no signs of slowing down. Even if Tressel is only willing to coach again until he turns 70, Youngstown State athletic director Ron Strollo would gladly take five more years of “Tresselball” over a young, unproven head coach without five national titles to his name.
As for “Tattoogate,” if Youngstown State signed off on Tressel being the university’s president, I’m sure there won’t be an objection to him just coaching the football team.
I always thought it would take the perfect head coaching job to lure Tressel back to the sidelines. Well, I can’t think of a more perfect job for Tressel than Youngstown State, an FCS program without the spotlight and scrutiny of a Power Five job and a place where Tressel can just coach for the love of the game. Like LeBron James, Tressel would be welcomed back like the prodigal son returning to his rightful place in Northeast Ohio.
After all, if Tressel’s ultimate goal is to have the greatest impact possible on the university, there’s no doubt there would be a massive increase in publicity, donations and undergraduate applications if Tressel came back for a second stint as YSU’s head coach.
One way or another, Pelini appears to be on expired time as the Penguins’ head coach. A man who was Nebraska’s head coach for seven seasons and never won fewer than nine games was always overqualified to be coaching at the FCS level. So whether it’s Purdue or another nearby FBS school with a head coaching vacancy in the near future like Cincinnati, Kent State, Miami (Ohio) or Buffalo, I’d be very surprised if Pelini is still at YSU next year.
Tressel, on the other hand, will definitely be at Youngstown State in 2017. The juicy question is, will he be wearing a suit to work, or a sweater vest?
— Written by Jim Weber, a veteran college sports journalist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Weber has written for CBS Sports Network, NBCSports.com, ESPN the Magazine and the college sports website he founded and sold, LostLettermen.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.