Editor's note: Once again, the Cleveland Browns had a miserable season, finishing 4-12. This is our second (now) annual 'The Browns need to hire Jim Tressel" post until the Browns actually, you know, hire Jim Tressel. Or win the Super Bo--HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Ahem, sorry.
When Jim Tressel was exiled to Ohio's Siberian Gulag (did you know that when you translate 'Akron' from old Gaelic it comes out to 'A-place-only-marginally-better-than-Michigan-football'? Look it up, that's a fact.*) for his role in the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal, many people thought his coaching career was probably done. He was radioactive for college teams due to his five year 'show cause' penalty, and a lot of people thought he was a square peg into the round hole of the NFL. Yes, he got a gig as some kind of mysterious, nebulous 'assistant' gig with the Colts, and despite some insistences to the contrary, he was probably never considered seriously for their head coaching vacancy.
*Probably not a 'fact' in the true definition of the word, but roll with us on this.
I've always wondered why Tressel never received any more NFL consideration. True, there was the scandal that made him toxic to many people outside of Ohio State circles, but even before all of that, Tressel's name never seriously came up as guys that NFL teams were looking at, and I never understood why. Don't get me wrong; I never thought Tressel would take an NFL gig, because if ever there was a guy in his dream job it was Tressel at OSU, but he seemed to be the kind of guy the NFL would love. Yes, the rate of college coaches that fail at the NFL seems disproportionately high, but there are guys that make the transition and do have success.
I believe Jim Tressel could be one of those success stories.
And what team is dying for success more than the Cleveland Browns? YES, OKAY, I KNOW THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS ARE, BUT WE WON'T DISCUSS THAT HERE, OKAY? OKAY? OKAY, FINE.
Last year, the Browns pursued Chip Kelly, now with the Eagles., and at the time, a lot of Browns fans were upset that Kelly didn't go to Cleveland. I know, I know, there's a lot working in Chip Kelly's favor as of right now, but it's not out of the question that his mismatches-and-putting-players-in-space offense will have its effectiveness minimized as more-and-more NFL tape becomes more readily available on it. And I would argue that a sizable reason the Eagles made the playoffs because of the horribad NFC East more than how good Philly has been this year. And then there's the matter of Kelly's often combative personality which seems to not do him any interpersonal favors over a long enough timeline, but we digress.
While Kelly's offense is (deservedly given its success when it operates as intended), many of the more populous elements are becoming more and more prevalent in the NFL, they're still heavily contingent on the unique skill sets of but a handful of guys. Not every team has a DeSean Jackson/Shady McCoy, and even fewer have the kind of effective dual threat running quarterbacks that made Kelly's offenses cook with gas in the Pacific Northwest.
Let's look at what Jim Tressel's coaching philosophy is, and how that might translate to the Browns and the NFL – if anything can translate to the Browns, that is. I kid, I kid. I'm a Vikes fan, so I know all about sports misery.
Jim Tressel is the father, advocate, and architect of 'Tresselball', a strategy that roughly equates to an anaconda smothering their prey – it looks kind of harmless, seems rather boring, but when it's over, you have a full belly and you've literally crushed your opponent. The key components of 'Tresselball' are:
1. Conservative (in one sense) offense
Ohio State's offense under Jim Tressel generally wasn't too flashy, never was in the top 20 or 30 offenses in the country, but they were effective – a punishing running game (think Mo C, Antonio Pittman, Beanie Wells, Boom Herron), a passing offense that was geared towards moving the chains but had a deceptively explosive component, and a quarterback that was asked to generally not lose the game rather than go out and win it (except Troy Smith in 2005 and '06, and maybe Terrelle Pryor for part of 2010). But they had a roster of playmakers that had a serious big play capability, usually from more than one position.
2. A stifling defense
The trademark of Jim Tressel's teams were a stifling defense. The 'Silver Bullets', as they became known as under J.T., were a fast, well disciplined, solid tackling unit that was as fundamentally sound as any in college football. The linebackers were generally the strong suit of the unit and the most well known players, but there was talent from defensive tackle to safety, and it went two deep at almost every position. Their characteristics were aggression, toughness, not giving up long drives, and forcing the offense to make turnovers.
3. Say it with me kids: The punt is the most important play in football
This is a two parter here: special teams and field position. Jim Tressel believes in a strong special teams unit, and Ohio State always had stellar special teams play while he was coach. Whether it was kicking, punting, field goals, or coverage, they rarely gave up a big play, field goal kickers were accurate, and punters did a good job of flipping field position – which is the second part of this. Tressel was never afraid to punt the ball, put the offense on a long field, and make them try to drive the field against his stout defense. He was right a lot more often than he was wrong, and invariably, the Buckeyes would win the field position battle thanks to good special teams, the defense would stop the offense, and then the offense would take advantage of the field position flip, take a lead, and make the opponent play from behind.
Yeah, sometimes boring. Rarely exciting. But it's been a winning formula in the game of football for 100 years, and it's hard to argue the results Tressel had on the field.
So how would that philosophy help the Browns?
1. The foundation had been laid for a powerful running game...until they traded Trent Richardson. Brandon Weeden has also been a failure, and is about as popular in Cleveland as Art Modell. On the surface, this sounds like kind of a hopeless situation. But, if there's good news here, it's that Tressel is capable of starting over, essentially, and molding this offense with his guys and his vision. He built powerful ground games, and if his recruiting classes are any indication (and his propensity for plucking 3-star gems and turning them into NFL Draft picks), he can successfully evaluate talent.
By going all in with Weeden and failing, the Browns are going to need a new guy at quarterback, and that also can play to Tressel's advantage. He succeeded with very average guys at quarterback, and with his offense, assuming he can develop a solid running game, the Browns aren't going to need Peyton Manning.
With the #4 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, there are a lot of different directions they can go, so Tressel, for the most part, would be operating with a clean slate.
"But Ted", you say, "the NFL has changed. It's a passing league now." Okay, I'll buy that, but consider this: Seven of the top 11 rushing offenses in the NFL in 2012 , including the top 4 – Washington, Minnesota, Seattle, and San Francisco – were playoff teams. Only 5 of the top 11 passing offenses made the playoffs last year, and the top rated passing team in the playoffs, New England, was 4th. So while passing has really evolved in the last 10-15 years, you still need to be able to run the football, especially in a division like the AFC North late in the year.
Admittedly, the offense has the longest way to go in terms of identity and playmakers, but Tressel's run first philosophy with a hard nosed, move the chains attitude is the easiest to assemble at the NFL level, as opposed to more aggressive make-plays-in-space offense of Chip Kelly in Philly.
2. Defense wins championships. The Browns have a few good parts on a unit that's not great, but it isn't terrible, either. The Browns have a good linebacking unit, lead by Barkevious Mingo. The Browns entered the final game of the season 10th in the NFL in yards allowed, and a good defensive coordinator that mirrors Tressel's no mistakes philosophy (ahem, Jim Heacock, for example) could easily improve on a scoring defense that was 23rd.
3. Special Teams. Spencer Lanning looks to be a solid punter, and Travis Benjamin, assuming he comes back healthy, has potential as a return guy. Whether Billy Cundiff returns to improve upon his 80.8 percent field goal made percentage or the Browns are forced to go to the free agent market, I doubt you'll find a better kicking tryout evaluator than The Vest.
When you add all of the elements of Tresselball together, you get the offensive philosophy of...wait for it...WAIT FOR IT...just about every NFL coach in history: conservative play caller who believes in a strong defense and solid special teams. Once you take into consideration all of that, Tressel's popularity within the state of Ohio and the fact that a lot of Buckeyes fans are also Browns fans, Tressel to the Browns make more and more sense.