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‘It’s a season of its own:’ Jim Tressel speaks on the evolution of recruiting

We talk with The Vest about historic changes to the recruiting landscape.

Jim Tressel
Jamie Sabau

Remember when college football recruiting was simple?

Neither do I.

It’s grown into a full-fledged 24/7, 365-day operation. While social media and blog sites like this one contributed to that growth, nothing has changed recruiting more than the Internet, specifically in the past 15 years or so.

But you know who remembers when it was a slow, uninteresting process to follow?

Jim Tressel.

The current president of Youngstown State and legendary former Ohio State head coach, Tressel knows a thing or two about recruiting and the facelift its undergone in recent years.

“It’s turned into a scoreboard of its own,” Tressel told Land-Grant Holy Land. “When I began coaching, the focus was on coaching your kids and then after the season was over, you’d go and find out who had a good senior year. You’d see if you could borrow the film and hold it for two days, and you’d go show your staff. That was 40-some years ago.”

Now, 40 years might not sound like a long time, but it was in those same years that recruiting — and all that went into it — experienced a major evolution.

I mean, what comes to mind when you think of modern-day recruiting? Rankings, sports blogs, etc., all things that haven't been around for much of college football’s lifespan.

“You didn’t have to borrow film, there started to be recruiting services, they started making rankings and all that,” Tressel said. “Now it’s a season of its own. People are evaluated by the rank of their recruiting class and players are making visits to campus way earlier in their lives than they used to. It’s very different, but it’s not unlike the rest of the world.”

The world is obviously a different place than when Tressel began coaching in 1975 as a graduate assistant with Akron, so the changes to recruiting are par for the course.

Like I said before, nothing has contributed to that change more than the Internet, but as Tressel points out, the deregulation of television can’t be ignored.

“When I started coaching, you could only be on TV five times every two years. That was the rule,” Tressel said. “When TV was deregulated, all of the sudden, people from all over the country saw you, saw your stadium, saw your team.”

Few coaches were better at getting the everyday fan to watch OSU than The Vest. He went 106–22 94–22 with the Buckeyes and led the team to three national championship appearances, winning one.

Most importantly, Tressel consistently brought in top-notch recruiting classes. Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Nick Mangold, Malcolm Jenkins, and James Laurinaitis speak for themselves. And that's just the tip of the iceberg Tressel signed over the years.

His final class in 2011 alone features Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones, Ryan Shazier and others who went on to be stars, not to mention building blocks of the Urban Meyer era.

The recruiting successes he enjoyed with OSU had more to do with the actual school itself than anything else, according to Tressel.

“The thing we had was a special school,” Tressel said. “We had The Horseshoe, the great tradition and we had great recruiting areas. I remember when I was an assistant coach at Syracuse and I used to think, ‘Man, if I was ever coaching at a place like OSU, I'd never lose a recruit.’ You don’t get them all, but we certainly got our share.”

Tressel and his staff more than got their share. They cleaned up around the Midwest, established a pipeline in Florida and continued to pluck players nationwide.

The system in place at OSU worked as well as any in the country, but it could’ve faltered if not for the lessons Tressel learned early on in his coaching career.

“It’s funny, when I was a graduate assistant at Akron, they sent me out to an area and gave me a list of schools,” Tressel said. “They told me to bring back film and an academic transcript, and we’ll compare it against the other guys we’re recruiting. That’s the start I got. Sometimes you have to get thrown out into the water and see if you can survive.”

Having been removed from OSU for six years, it’s clear Tressel made his mark on the football program in more ways than one.

For all he accomplished on the field, it was Tressel’s ability to adapt to the ever-changing recruiting landscape and routinely sign elite classes that kept the Buckeyes on top.

“I had a lot of respect for all of the guys we recruited against,” Tressel said. “The head coach gets a lot of the credit for recruiting, but it’s really the collection of your staff and how they work together.”