Skip to comments.Tressell's faith in Christ evident in Ohio State team
Posted on 01/01/2003 9:33:56 AM PST by ohioWfan
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--By each Friday of the 2002 college football season, the complete football game plan for the Ohio State Buckeyes has already been installed, explained and executed many times in practice.
But on Friday morning and again on Friday evening, an even more important game plan is put into place. That's when several Ohio State coaches and later many players meet for a weekly Bible study, share and accountability time.
Looking for an explanation for the Buckeyes' amazing 13-0 record, which has included seven fourth quarter comebacks, and carried them into a national championship match-up with Miami in January 3rd's Fiesta Bowl?
Look no further than the faith head coach Jim Tressel and his players have shown in each other and their own spiritual progress.
"It's certainly not a liability to be a Christian at Ohio State like it is at some places," said Tom Rody, an Athletes' in Action staff member who helps conduct the coaches and players study along with AIA staff member Jim Schmidtke. "The coaches provide a strong umbrella of support which helps undergird the entire program."
Tressel has been the Buckeyes' coach for less than two years but has taken the Scarlet and Gray back to their once familiar place at the top of the college football mountain. He started their faith when his 6-4 team went into bitter rival's Michigan home field last year and won there for the first time since 1987.
The faith continued this year as OSU pulled off one amazing comeback after another including a fourth quarter, fourth-down rally against Illinois and another comeback win against Michigan to propel the Buckeyes into this year's national championship game.
Maybe not so well known is Tressel's declaration of his job at OSU as, "my ministry," and his faithful attendance at the early Friday morning coaches Bible study, held in the Buckeye coaches' meeting room.
"The coach has been nothing short of great to us," said Schmidtke, who counts Tressel as a true Christian brother regardless of the outcome of this week's game. "He is an active proponent of Christianity to all those around him, but even more important is the way he lives his values and his walk with God."
His star players have been quick to pick up on the positive message delivered through the Ohio State program.
"Football is very important to me at Ohio State, but its importance pales in comparison of Jesus Christ in my life," said starting cornerback Dustin Fox. "It helps keep me strong during all what we've been through, to walk straight and stay in the word."
During his 15-year career at Youngstown State, Tressel's teams compiled a record of 142-62-2, including four national titles and two runners-up finishes. More importantly, he and his team established a pattern of visits to the Salvation Army, local hospitals and an active involvement in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"We wanted our fans to be proud of us in the classroom, in the community and the football field," Tressel said.
"What impressed me most in the interview process was Jim Tressel, the person," said Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger, the man responsible for hiring Tressel as head coach. "As impeccable as his record is, it's the other things which make him stand out for this job."
Today, Tressel can be clearly seen on the Ohio State sideline, wearing a gray OSU sweater vest and red tie, much like a hatless Tom Landry, calmly surveying the often-chaotic football situation and plotting his next move.
"He doesn't give in to the world regardless of the circumstances" Schmidtke said. "He lives his faith for all to see and really takes his integrity to heart. That's what makes him a great leader."
Along with his personal building blocks to success with Ohio State's highly publicized program, Tressel said he counts accountability and spiritual advisement as key elements.
Tressel meets with Rody and Schmidtke during the season along with Columbus FCA staff member Brian Hawkins and West Central Ohio area director David Mabry to stay grounded to what is important.
"He has a favorite Bible verse or Christian message he signs on every football he autographs," Mabry said
His legacy of spiritual leadership has also rubbed off on many. Sophomore running back Maurice Hall, who scored the winning touchdowns against both Illinois and Michigan, has recorded statewide radio interviews about his personal faith as have junior tights Ben Hartsock and Jason Caldwell and sophomore cornerback Fox.
"My faith and my belief system has helped drive my competitive fire and my personal walk with Christ," said Hartsock.
All four players along with their head coach will be part of a special Fiesta Bowl breakfast along with Miami players and coaches, sharing their faith beyond football.
"All the players realize they're front page news now, but a month from now, when people forget about the national championship and football, they want to be recognized for their Christian faith," Schmidtke said.
The optional Friday night gathering at the athletic complex plays a big part in strengthening the players for the challenges on and off the football field.
They have a time of sharing and praying, worship and often hear from a former Buckeye great sharing his Christian faith including among others former Buckeyes' All-American Clark Kellogg.
"We've had over two dozen Buckeye players share their faith in churches, and schools," Schmidtke added. "That is thanks to a great coach, great support and great kids."
Maybe Ohio State's amazing runs towards the 2002 national title isn't so amazing when you know the true source of strength for the head coach and his players.
We've got a good guy coach here!
National Championship, here we come!!
In regard to the romantic notion that opposites attract, sometimes the opposite rings true.
When describing Ellen Tressel, a former employer could easily be talking about her husband -- Jim Tressel, the Ohio State football coach.
She is a ''quick study, . . . organized, . . . focused -- . . . a great communicator who can build relationships,'' said Thomas J. Cavalier, president and chief executive officer of Butler Wick, the Youngstown investment company where Mrs. Tressel worked for 15 years.
When summarizing her background, friends could easily be identifying her husband. She is ''a quality person from a quality family,'' said Bob Mansfield, an academic adviser for the Youngstown State University football team, which Mr. Tressel coached to four national championships in 15 years before taking over at OSU.
When defining the formula for victory, Mrs. Tressel herself could easily be mistaken for her husband. ''Success,'' she said during a recent interview in their Upper Arlington home, ''takes everyone working together toward the same goals. That is a process, and what you saw this year is more of that process developing.''
No wonder OSU Athletics Director Andy Geiger calls Mrs. Tressel ''the perfect partner'' for the head football coach.
Mansfield has known the Tressels since the couple met 6 years ago.
"They are very similar, and I think that is what attracted them to each other,'' said Mansfield, whose wife, Linda, also counts the Tressels among her close friends. "They are basically conservative, private people with strong moral values and Christian beliefs.''
Her loyalty -- she readily acknowledges, "My job is to support Jim'' -- shouldn't be confused with acquiescence, Mansfield said.
"She is a strong, determined woman -- not one you can easily push over. She is an important decision-maker in that household. . . . He needs her because he can't do it all.''
A career in securities fortified her for the pressures at OSU.
"The nature of that Wall Street business is speed, action and competition -- all the things that go on with football in Columbus,'' said Mark Summers, a former teammate of Tressel's at Baldwin-Wallace College and the best man at his wedding in 1999.
After starting with no experience in an entry-level position, Mrs. Tressel ascended to vice president of trading at Butler Wick -- where she has an open invitation from Cavalier to return.
She put her career on hold after her husband accepted the OSU job in January 2001.
"I've worked all my life,'' she said. "It was difficult to give that up.''
Mr. Tressel recognizes the sacrifice.
"For her to give up a business in the financial world to play a different role,'' he said, "was unselfish.''
Initially, she planned to resume her career in central Ohio.
"I wondered, 'What am I going to do all day?' ''
She quickly learned, though, that the first lady of OSU football constitutes a full-time job.
"I don't think I've done the same thing two days in a row since I've been here,'' she said.
Mrs. Tressel, 48, makes many appearances with her husband or on behalf of him.
"She does a great job pinch-hitting for me,'' especially at golf outings, the coach said.
She usually scores in the 90s.
"I'm not much of a golfer,'' he said.
She also does charity work, helps organize his schedule and hosts parties at home.
Most important, she welcomes high-school recruits and their families to Ohio Stadium on game days.
"When we bring families in, she is very helpful,'' Mr. Tressel said. "It's important for the moms and dads of our recruits to know that coaches are regular people.''
She travels with her husband and dines with the players.
"She is part of the team,'' Geiger said.
Much of her emotional investment in the games is tied to her relationships with the athletes.
She was especially pleased, she said, when Michael Jenkins caught the game-winning touchdown pass at Purdue.
"He's such a great kid.''
Before the family moved to Columbus, Mrs. Tressel had some exposure to the off-the-field operation of a college football program.
Her father -- Frank Watson, a prominent Youngstown booster and former business owner -- joined the Youngstown State board of trustees from 1978 to '87 and chaired campaigns to build and expand the football stadium.
"I was on the board when Jim came to Youngstown (in 1986),'' said Watson, 78. "He helped put us on the map.''
Watson and his wife, Norma, introduced their daughter to Mr. Tressel in 1997: Invited to tour the stadium during an expansion project, they asked her to join them.
Mr. Tressel had known Watson for several years, Mrs. Tressel said, but "He didn't know I existed.''
Her mother, she suspects, was playing matchmaker.
"Mom wanted her daughter to meet a good-looking football coach.''
She sent the coach a thank-you note for the tour, and he called her on "June 26, 1997,'' she said.
They married May 28, 1999, in Mahoning County.
"I don't think Jim was looking for somebody at the time,'' said Summers, his longtime friend. "It was kind of hard for him to be looking because he was going 100 mph on the job.''
Mrs. Tressel credits her parents as well as divine intervention for the union.
"God put us together in the same place and the same time for a reason,'' she said.
Their marriage blended children from previous marriages.
His oldest child, 23-year-old Zak, is a senior expecting to graduate from OSU in June. Carlee, 20, is a sophomore at the University of Chicago; and Whitney, 17, is a junior at Boardman High School in Youngstown.
Her son, 19-year-old Eric, is a freshman at Youngstown State, her alma mater.
"They all get together and come to the games,'' said Mrs. Tressel, who hails from Canfield, near Youngstown -- where she served on the cheerleading squad at Canfield High School.
Her sister, Janet Cleghorn, teaches special education in Mahoning County; her brother, Dave, died of complications from hepatitis in 1991 at age 35.
While living in Columbus during the past two years, Mrs. Tressel has maintained her ties to home.
"The most important thing to me is that Ellen has not forgotten her friends,'' said Phyllis Beard, a former neighbor in Boardman. "She calls us and invites us to games. She sends me gifts -- OSU jackets, shorts, footballs and pictures of her and Jim. My husband and I are going to the Fiesta Bowl because they asked us to come.''
Mrs. Tressel calls the Mansfields several times a week.
"She needs someone to talk to,'' Mr. Mansfield said. "If there were anything about her situation she could change, she would like to be with her husband more.''
Mr. Tressel, who works an average of 14 hours a day, shortens his schedule on Thursdays to have dinner with his wife.
"That's our date night,'' she said.
The demands on his time continue in the off-season with spring practices, recruiting, speaking engagements and summer camps.
"His schedule takes time away from us,'' Mrs. Tressel said. "As a coach's wife, you have to be pretty independent.''
She especially enjoys the road games because "I don't have the obligations I do for home games and I get to spend more time with Jim.''
Mr. Tressel refused to accept the OSU job until he consulted his wife.
Only firsthand experience, she said, could have prepared her for the enormousness of Buckeye football in the Columbus area.
"I had no idea,'' she said. "Everywhere you go, people are nuts about the Buckeyes. It's not like that in Youngstown.''
For now, thanks to an undefeated team, her husband is the toast of the town.
His popularity, she realizes, will flow and ebb with wins and losses.
"Everything cycles,'' she said, "and there will be some difficult rebuilding years.''
Even this year, she noted, "Some people have not been happy with the way we have won or by how much we have won. You just have to be confident enough in yourself to say, 'I am doing it the way it should be done.' ''
The Mansfields, who often sit with Mrs. Tressel at games, watch her maintain the unruffled demeanor that her husband displays on the sidelines.
"You don't see a real emotional side to her,'' Mrs. Mansfield said. "She is trying to understand each and every move.''
Still, the coach's wife deals with butterflies before every matchup.
"The nervousness is there,'' she confirmed.
Her emotions peaked on the final play of the Michigan game, when Will Allen preserved the victory for Ohio State with an interception.
"I think I cried at that one,'' she said. "I was drained for the next few days. It was the culmination of a long, exhausting season.
"I guess I am not surprised. I knew Jim could do it. He is a great coach.''
Yet she doesn't define success solely on the basis of the record.
"The first season was successful, and we were 7-4,'' she said. "Jim talked about the same things then, repeated the same messages.''
His message could easily be hers, Mr. Mansfield said.
"She has totally bought into that university,'' he said, "and it is not always about football. It is about taking these kids and turning them into men. The Jim Tressel philosophy of recruiting is that he is taking over the role of parent for his players. She is part of that philosophy.''
As a Youngstown area native, I went to school with both Butlers and Wicks, and attended YSU for some graduate courses.......(great music school!)
Sounds like Mrs. Tressell is a winner too!
Still want to get together with you sometime. Freep me if you have any ideas........I have some time in the next couple of weeks before my classes start up again.
Nothing does the heart good than to see players at the end of football games-from both sides-kneel and say a prayer to God. This young generation may have it's quirks, but they still believe. That's what should be built upon!
What this young generation needs is real leadership from the adults in their lives. In sports, they especially need leadership that teaches them how to live their lives, and not just win games. There are many good athletes who don't have a clue as to what's really important in life.
Tressell fills that role, and I'm sure provides a model that many of these young men are missing.
And they win games too! :o)
Amen, Ohio! It is a shame that strong, moral adult leadership can sometimes be hard to find. I'm glad the Bucks have found it.
Happy New Year 2003................!!!