The rumors swirled last December: Jim Tressel as the next Akron Head Football Coach? It was the worst-kept secret in all of Northeastern Ohio. The stories ranged from him actually being the coach to just being involved in the head coaching search. Athletic Director Tom Wistrcill was so tight-lipped about the situation that speculations came from everywhere. It was true Tressel was actually in Akron, and that was about all that was confirmed. When Terry Bowden was officially named the head coach, Zips fans were excited, but were also left wondering what could have been. Yes, Tressel has that whole 5-year show cause deal, but having an icon on the sidelines seemed to outweigh the fact that the Akron program would be facing sanctions. It really showed how much the fan base wanted the University to find someone who could win, especially after suffering two 1-11 seasons under Rob Ianello.
But now, Tressel has been officially hired as the Vice President of Strategic Engagement, a position that was created specifically for him. His offer letter states that his main function is to help support The University of Akron's strategic plan aptly named Vision: 2020. Tressel will be paid a $200,000 salary for his services as a University Administrator. Was this a good hire though? Or just a PR move to ensure The University of Akron its time in the limelight?
Tressel's problems with the NCAA are well documented. Numerous people made the joke that he should be the Director of Compliance at Akron. If you're Akron, do you really want the NCAA on your radar, checking out everything you do? The University made it very clear that his position would not be involved in athletics. His five-year show cause says that he cannot coach, but nothing about being on the sidelines or giving Terry Bowden advice.
That brings up the question, is Bowden now looking over his shoulder? He certainly should have been asked about having Tressel around, and his opinion should have mattered in making the final decision. But one would think that would always be in the back of Bowden's mind. Maybe it puts more pressure on him to win now, or maybe it doesn't. Having that distraction though, and no matter what anyone says it will be a distraction, will be something that Bowden and Tressel should to come to terms on. Really, the hiring of Tressel was not a football decision. It just so happens that the new hire used to be a football coach.
One common concern was the simple question of "Why?". Some friends of mine on Facebook who are students asked that simple question. It's legitimate too. Yes, he is an alumnus. Yes, he is a big name. But is it worth it? Did the University feel that they needed to "get" him so bad that they made up a position for him? He was apparently looking at other positions in academia at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio and Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio (Tressel played quarterback for his father Dick at B-W). This shows that he was serious about pursuing an academic career at an institution, and he did say that this job is one that he would like to have for the rest of his life.
How much impact will he actually have though? The University of Akron's Vision: 2020 boasts three main goals: increase enrollment to 40,000 (up from 30,000), have $1 billion invested in the University and surrounding community, and a $200 million commitment to research and hiring new employees. Certainly, the hiring of Jim Tressel would serve to help all three. When prospective students think of The University of Akron, one thing that will come to mind is "that's where Jim Tressel works." Not saying that that will be a determining factor in a high school senior's college decision, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Also, with Tressel working in Alumni Relations and Fund-raising, one would think that donations to Akron would increase. Tressel has pretty big pull in the area and over the state, and also has many connections that he can tap into. Akron has a large alumni base already, and now that Tressel is "on the team," there may be a renewed motivation to give back to the school.This question, like many questions about this hire, will only be answered in time. Tressel does not even start until May 1, but one would think that the visibility that Tressel brings is enough to start Vision: 2020 on the right foot.
The good thing is all of the publicity that The University of Akron is getting. Making the front page of espn.com is a big deal for a MAC institution, and the hiring of Tressel did just that. Akron was a media circus on Wednesday, and as University President Luis Proenza told the Akron Beacon Journal, "It was overwhelming...I've never had six or eight reporters with microphones in front of me." When you add this to the Terry Bowden hire and the success of the men's basketball team, the excitement on campus is strikingly different. Current students seem to be more prouder than ever to be a Zip, and hopefully that means they will stop wearing other school's apparel on campus (sorry, pet peeve of mine). There seems to be a renewed energy on campus, and students generally see this as a positive thing for the University.
The baggage is obviously there. People can say, "once a liar, always a liar." They are entitled to their opinion. Maybe it is a little bit of jealousy. That doesn't matter though. Jim Tressel could be best thing that happens to The University of Akron. He can bring in a lot of money, be a fixture on campus, and support the student body with all that he has. He can be the new face of The University of Akron, and make students want to attend the and be a Zip. Or, he can bring unintended trouble. Now under the ever-present eye of the NCAA, Akron has to be sure that everyone in every sport is playing by the rules. Tressel has a unfortunate black mark on him that will never go away, and Akron needs to be sure that their compliance is strict as possible. He can't be hidden either. What I mean is, he can't sit eight hours in his office making phone calls to alumni (I'm sure this isn't the case). He has to be a part of this University, and be a true representative. Getting out in the community is a must. Seeing him wearing an Akron tie and lapel pin is a great start. But his actions will ultimately speak the loudest.
His first few weeks are key. We will likely know whether Akron hit a home run or not after a month or so. Yes, his salary is large for an administrator, but if he can bring in, let's say, $5 million in donations in his first month, wouldn't that be considered a success? I think so. As a student at The University of Akron, I want to see this happen. I hope that Tressel will be a bridge between the students and alumni and current administration. If he wants to leave his mark here, and I think he will, he's going to have to really work hard and take this University to the next level.