Is Jim Tressel's future in academia or college football?

Mitchell Leff

Jim Tressel has an application in to become Akron's next president. Is his future in higher ed, or is a return to coaching in the cards?

The idea that former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel might become the president of the University of Akron is a story that isn't going away. Crain's Cleveland explored how a Tressel presidency might work with his current NCAA "show-cause" penalty, and also wrote that "some are even calling him the frontrunner" for the job." Others, particularly those more steeped in academia, are a little skeptical. From the article, some thoughts from Steve Weeks, a UA biology professor and president of the university's faculty union:

"My thinking - and I think you would get this from most faculty - is that the university is a $400 million-plus a year corporation, or whatever you want to call it. It's huge. You need background in running something like that to really do a good job," Weeks said. "Mr. Tressel is from what I gather - and I'm not a big sports guy - a decent coach. That's not like running a huge institution."

Is that fair? We've talked to multiple education reporters and those familiar with administration while following this story, but we haven't really talked to anybody closer to the coaching side. to get that side of the story, we chatted with Scott Roussel from Football Scoop. Scott and I discussed whether leadership skills from coaching could be transferable to other professions, Tressel's career options, and more.

We've been following the potential Jim Tressel to President of Akron story, and I've noticed multiple academics and commenters talk about how they question whether being a football coach, even at a place like Ohio State, would be appropriate training for that sort of thing. There seems to be an impression among non sports fans that a high level college football coach would just focus on Xs and Os type duties, or recruiting. Maybe you may have some perspective on things that big time college coaches have to do, as part of their job description, beyond things that we just associate with on Saturdays?

Roussel: I think the most successful major college football coaches are great leaders, and I think the most successful CEOS are leaders, and the most successful university presidents are leaders, and you either have that or you don't. There aren't a billion people in the world who have those skills. You want to be around those leaders. It all comes down to leadership.

Let me ask you this. From talking to a few education reporters, it seems that a transition from coaching into university administration seems pretty rare. We weren't able to think of a comparable situation. You're somebody who talks to a lot of coaches. Do you think that transition is an ambition for other coaches?

Roussel: I see cases all the time where very successful coaches move into an athletic director role, and being an AD has nothing to do with coaching. It's so different from coaching it's unbelievable, and you don't have to have been a coach to be a great athletic director. I see coaches move into that role and do well, and some not do well...it just depends on that person. I also see very successful coaches leave the profession and move into business, or move into other non-profits. I can't name a coach off the top of my head that's gone to a university president role, but I'm also not sure that running a university is that different from running a non-profit or for-profit enterprise.

I am interested in the transition from coaching to becoming an athletic director. The biggest example I can think of off the top of my head of somebody doing that well is [Wisconsin's] Barry Alvarez. Can you think of anybody else off the top of your head of somebody who has done that very well?

Roussel: Sure. At South Carolina, Ray Tanner, their baseball coach who I know has taken them to some CWS, Skip Bertman here at LSU has done a great job. I'm positive there are another thousand of those at the high school level. It isn't uncommon.

Do you think, hypothetically, based on what you know about the coaching hiring process, do you think somebody applying for a university administrative position would hurt their ability to get another coaching job?

Roussel: I don't think so. If he got this position though, that would be what I expect him to do for the rest of his career.

Between you and me, based on who I've talked to, I don't think Tressel is the favorite for this job. Is there interest in anyone hiring him again as a coach?

Roussel: Oh, I think there is. I think there is a lot of interest in hiring him. If the university president thing doesn't work out, I do expect him to be a head coach again, at a major, major level. I think that's probably in college, but there is a lot of interest in the NFL. I think college is what he prefers to do, though.

Since you've talked about coaches being able to find success in other vocations, can you think of other major coaches that would be really successful if they decided to jump into another industry?

Roussel: Absolutely. Pat Fitzgerald just has tremendous passion for life, and he's a wonderful person. I think Fitz could go run any major company in America, and people would gravitate towards him, and throughly enjoy working for him. He might not be enough of a subject matter expert to run say, Pfizer, or a big drug company, but he'd hire all the right guys to run the technical aspects. He'd just be a leader.

David Shaw is another one; just a very intellectual guy who is a great leader that people enjoy working with.

You can follow Scott at @footballscoop, which is required reading for the latest on coaching transitions at every level of football, along with excellent behind the scenes looks at the sport we love.

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