Youngstown State taps Tressel as president


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Ohio residents soon may learn if -- and how well -- charisma and leadership shown as a football coach translate into running one of the state's public research universities.

Trustees at Youngstown State University voted unanimously Friday to offer the school's presidency to James P. Tressel, 61, an administrator at the University of Akron who spent most of his career coaching football at institutions including Ohio State University and Youngstown State.

The appointment will not be final until the northeast Ohio native and trustee leaders come to terms on a contract, a process that could wrap up as early as Monday evening when the board meets.

Mr. Tressel would be the ninth president of the comprehensive urban research university with 13,500 students, one of Ohio's 13 public universities. He underwent campus interviews earlier this week as one of three finalists, two of whom lead university campuses in North Carolina and Oregon.

Mr. Tressel is executive vice president for student success at the University of Akron, a post he ascended to after serving since 2012 as Akron's vice president for strategic engagement.

But the bulk of his career has been spent as a football coach. He amassed a highly successful track record over the years but left his last head coaching job amid a scandal that led to NCAA sanctions.

Between 2001 and 2010, he coached Ohio State teams that captured the national championship in 2002 and seven Big Ten championships. Previously, he coached at Youngstown State for 14 years beginning in 1986, winning four Division I-AA national championships.

He also served as Youngstown State's executive director of athletics from 1994 to 2000. And he worked as an assistant football coach at Ohio State, Syracuse University, Miami University of Ohio and the University of Akron.

"After fully examining each and every candidate and reviewing the input from hundreds of individuals across the campus and the community, the Board of Trustees believes Mr. Tressel is the right individual at the right time to lead Youngstown State University," board chairman Sudershan Garg said in a statement. "Mr. Tressel has the personality and leadership skills, in addition to widespread community support, to dramatically raise YSU's profile and prominence across Ohio and the nation."

Mr. Tressel was not available Friday for comment but plans to address the media following Monday's 6 p.m. trustees meeting on campus, said Ron Cole, a Youngstown spokesman. The president-elect issued a statement for himself, his wife, Ellen, and family:

"We are honored and privileged to accept the board's offer and we are humbled by this opportunity to return to the area and school that we deeply love," the statement read in part. "We look forward to working with the Board, the faculty, staff, students and the entire Mahoning Valley community to build on what has been more than a century of service and success at the university.

"Ellen and I plan to be on campus for that meeting. Until then, out of respect for the process, I will reserve any further comment," he said.

Mr. Tressel, if appointed, would succeed Randy J. Dunn, who resigned in March after eight months on the job to take the presidency of Southern Illinois University. At the time, he was making $375,000 in salary plus benefits, Dr. Garg said.

As Ohio State football coach, Mr. Tressel was paid more than $3.5 million in 2010, according to The Associated Press. But he was forced to resign for failing to tell his superiors that he had learned players were trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos, breaking NCAA rules, The Associated Press reported.

Among them was Jeannette High School graduate Terrelle Pryor, one of the most heavily recruited athletes in Western Pennsylvania high school history.

Mr. Tressel received a bachelor's degree in education from Baldwin Wallace College in 1975 and a master's degree in education from the University of Akron two years later, according in Youngstown officials. According to the school's website, he has published two books: "The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life" in 2008 and "Life Promises for Success" in 2011.

Mr. Tressel also was a finalist for the presidency at Akron. That search ended this week with the naming of Scott L. Scarborough as Akron's 16th president.

Mr. Cole said the nationwide search that led to Mr. Tressel produced 30 to 40 candidates. The other finalists were Gary Miller, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Mary Cullinan, president of Southern Oregon University, officials said.

In a phone interview, Dr. Garg said the president-elect's somewhat nontraditional path to the presidency was not a liability, noting that universities increasingly are recruiting individuals from jobs that are not considered stepping stones to the president's chair.

"Even in the past, we have considered nontraditionalists," he said. "You can run the university on a status quo basis by having a traditionalist, but I think in the current-day environment, you need people who can bring into focus new ideas."

With the university on break, many faculty were off campus Friday. So presidents of the four campus unions representing faculty, staff, administrators and police issued a statement on behalf of themselves welcoming the president-elect. It read, in part:

"We expect that he will be an excellent ambassador and an effective fundraiser for the University. We believe he has an understanding of the past, is in a position to evaluate the present, and will strive to create a future that brings us together as a well functioning, nationally recognized urban research institution."


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG. Ryan Petrovich: rpetrovich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2193. First Published May 9, 2014 11:25 AM

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