Spartan Nation: Coach, how are you my friend?
Jim Tressel: I’m doing great, Hondo. How’s things going in spring practice?
SN: I’ll tell you what, they’re going good. Your nephew is such a great coach. The apple did not fall far from the tree. With you and his dad, he didn’t have any choice but be great.
JT: Well, he had the advantage of having some of his grandpa’s genes too. He’s a bright, young coach. When he was a graduate assistant for us at Ohio State you could see that he was just a great thinker, related so well with the players, cared deeply for the players and he’s got a great, great future ahead.
SN: You know, coach like you one of his (MSU LB Coach Mike Tressel) gifts is he has tremendous relationships. He’s done so good with the linebackers at Michigan State, but the amazing part is they don’t play for him, they play with him. They love him.
JT: No question. He was always a playful kid, even at 3 years old. And a competitive kid, of course a great wrestler and football player back in his own days. I just think he loves competition so much and loves to get the best out of himself and the best out of those around him. It’s no shock to me that he’s a great coach.
SN: Michigan State recently hired Jim Bollman. I was with him yesterday and I told him the thing I love about him is he could be coaching punters, kickers, long snappers, offensive line, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator. He’s just an old school football coach. Is that a fair way to describe him?
JT: Well, he really is. Jim Bollman was on our staff for 5 years at Youngstown State and he served as both the defensive coordinator and the offensive coordinator. I think 3 years defensive coordinator and 2 years offensive coordinator. So, he’s knows the game inside and out. And then of course he had his stops at Virginia, Michigan State, the Bears, the Eagles and Ohio State. What makes this hire I think special is that you always knew that Jim Bollman felt that East Lansing was a special place for he and his family. And even when we played him when we were at Ohio State it was like he was going back to his home to play, and it was hard on him. So I know that there’s a whole bunch of green running through his veins. I think it’s exciting that he’s back of course with Mark, we call him Dino. Those two are like brothers and it’s just a special time for everyone.
SN: In your tree of coaches that have come through your lineage, you have done an exceptional job of building guys with great relationships. What was your key or your gift or ability that allowed you to bring guys together that just gelled so well?
JT: You know, the best advice I ever got from my first Athletic Director, Joe Malmisur, when he first hired me at Youngstown State, was he said don’t get blinded by any brilliance or gurus. He said be blinded by people who really care about people and who are great teachers. When you go hire your staff, make sure that’s what you’re looking for. Don’t get fooled into anything other than that. I was so lucky in that first staff I had the chance to have with me was Mark Dantonio and Jim Bollman and Donny Treadwell, Kenny Conatser, and they all today are still like brothers because of the kind of people they are, the core values that all of them have. What a blessing it was to have a group like that. Mark and Jim Bollman of course not only spent 5 years together at YSU, but then they came back and had a chance to reunite for 3 or 4 years there at Ohio State. So they’re tighter than tight.
SN: What makes Jim Bollman a great coach?
JT: First of all, he really, really, really knows the game. We have been prefacing all of this by saying of course his number one core value is he cares about the kids and he loves the kids. But as you move into the coaching part he really knows the game. He’s very cerebral, he can sit in a meeting room for 17 hours in a row and watch film. He’s just a true student of the game. He’s an excellent teacher. He leaves no stone unturned. I think he will be a good mesh. I happen to know Mark Staten and David Warner very well, because David I coached at Syracuse. I was his position coach at Syracuse. And then Mark Staten of course worked for us at Ohio State. I think Jim Bollman specifically with those two guys will be a heck of match to who else is on that side of the ball for ya, but he is just a great teacher of coaches and a great teacher of students.
SN: Coach, one of the times that I came with the TV cameras an interviewed you at Ohio State I asked you about one of your keys to success and you said having a staff that’s willing to talk back. You didn’t mean disrespect, but guys that are willing to say coach I disagree with this. How much will that help Mark Dantonio just having another voice of somebody he respects? Because we all know if coach Bollman thinks something’s being missed he’ll speak up.
JT: He really will. It will be kind of fun because he won’t even need to speak up. Mark Dantonio will be able to tell it in his body language, and in the way he tilts his head. That’s how close they are. It’s just like a quarterback and a receiver, when they know what the other guys’ gonna do, they can read one another so well. Deno will be able to read every gesture, every look. Sometimes coach Bollman kind of lowers that forehead and kind of looks at you over his reading glasses and he doesn’t even need to talk to you. You know, uh oh. Maybe I better reconsider this. And so it’s gonna be fun being in that staff room and being around that staff to watch just how easily they communicate and how effectively they’re able to make sure they’re doing the right things for their kids.
SN: Mark Dantonio says that having a guy like Jim Bollman makes him a better coach. You are certainly one of the greatest of all time, so how does adding guys like Jim Bollman make you a better coach?
JT: There’s only two things that even give you a chance to be a good coach. We were at a vice presidents meeting today at the University of Akron, and I forget what the topic was, and I reminded them hey we’re only as good as our students and our faculty. We gotta make sure we’re doing everything we can for both of those groups to be successful. Well that’s the same in coaching. We wouldn’t have victory one if it weren’t for our players and our coaches. Sometimes because we’re always the one at head coach getting the interviews, the attention, the storylines and whatnot we lose sight of the fact that staff is so critical. One of Mark Dantonio’s real things that he’s been able to have success with is maintaining staff. He hasn’t had a whole bunch of staff turnover in his 8 or 9 years as a head coach, however long it’s been. That means he’s a good man to work with, and that also bodes well for his teams because there’ll be continuity in care, continuity in teaching and if it weren’t for our staffs… I was so lucky at YSU and OSU to have great staffs. If it weren’t for that who knows how many games we would have won.
SN: I can’t let you go without telling us what you’re doing at Akron. I know you’re excited about it. What a fine institution. Could you tell everyone what you’re up to at Akron, Sir?
JT: It is a lot of fun. I’ve told many people in the course of this year just in fact today is my 1 year anniversary at being here at the University of Akron, April 4th. When I was a football coach I had 105 players because that was the rule, and I had a dozen coaches counting our strength guys and all that. I always thought that was quite a load. But now I’ve got 28,000 students, we’ve got probably 4,000 employees. There are a lot of moving parts at a university. I’m sure the good folks at Michigan State would tell you it’s not the easiest times in higher education right now. It’s been so much fun trying to be a part of the solution and trying to keep things in a proper perspective and try to keep bringing things back to hey the reason we’re here is to prepare our students and give them a chance to succeed in life, in all phases of their life. Really, it’s no different in what we try to do as coaches. It’s been so much fun. As you say, Hondo, it’s a great institution. As you and I have talked before, how lucky are we to live in this country, to be around college athletics, to be around college students, student athletes. We’re an awfully blessed bunch.
SN: We are. First, I’ve gotta ask you. How is your lovely wife, Ellen? I just love her.
JT: You know what, she’s doing great. She’s a little smarter than I am right now. She went down to visit her parents in Florida. As you guys probably haven’t had the prettiest spring, I know it’s been as cold as heck in here in Ohio. So she’s smarter than me, she’s down hitting the golf balls a little bit and seeing her folks for a week or two. But she’s doing well, she’s in great health and we’re blessed.
SN: I won’t hug him, but when I see Mike I’ll give him your best. When you see her please tell her I asked. Would you?
JT: I’ll do that. I promise ya.
SN: Coach, I’m proud to be your friend.
JT: That’s why your phone message for me, I called 4 minutes after you did. So you know how I feel about you.