Dantonio Calls Tressel a “Tragic Hero”
By Brandon Castel
CHICAGO — Unlike former Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster, who was hanging outside the conference room at the Hyatt Regency Thursday, Jim Tressel did not make an appearance at the 2011 Big Ten Media Days.
Photo by Dan Harker
Less than two months after his forced resignation at Ohio State, Tressel’s named floated around Chicago on a whisper. He was hardly spoken about by the 12 Big Ten coaches except for Bret Bielema’s indirect insinuatations about bringing the hammer down on rule breakers.
Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno abstained from speaking directly about his former colleague because was not familiar enough with the situation. Even Luke Fickell looked uncomfortable answering questions about his former boss, but not Mark Dantonio.
“To me, it's tragic,” Dantonio said of Tressel’s demise.
“He becomes a tragic hero in my respect, in my view. Usually tragic heroes have the ability to rise above it all in the end and that's what I'll look for in the end.”
One of Tressel’s closest friends in the coaching community, and Ohio State’s defensive coordinator during the 2002 BCS National Championship, it was difficult for him to watch the events that unfolded in Columbus.
“It is very heart-wrenching for me and my family because we're close to Coach Tress,” Michigan State’s Head Coach said Thursday.
“He's had a lot to do with my life as a mentor really since 1983, and that's a long time. That's a tough situation.”
Dantonio’s relationship with Tressel goes back to their days as graduate assistants at Ohio State in the early 1980’s under former head coach Earle Bruce. When Tressel left Columbus to become the head coach at Youngstown State in 1986, he quickly brought Dantonio on board as his defensive coordinator.
The two served together until 1990, when Dantonio took a job as the defensive backs coach for Glen Mason at the University of Kansas. A product of Zanesville, Ohio, Dantonio would go on to coach for Nick Saban at Michigan State before being reunited with Tressel in 2001.
That’s when Tressel left Youngstown State to become the head football coach at Ohio State. During his three seasons in Columbus, Dantonio turned the Buckeyes’ “Silver Bullets” defense into one of the stingiest in all of college football.
In their second year together at Ohio State, Tressel and Dantonio added a young, fiery assistant to the coaching staff named Luke Fickell.
“I’ve known Luke for a long time. We have a great relationship, a close relationship,” Dantonio said of his former special teams coordinator.
“I think he’s got a great staff that is with him at Ohio State. He’s got a great program to sell.”
Some of that staff was in place during Ohio State’s run to the national championship in 2002. That includes offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, who served as OSU’s defensive line coach under Dantonio.
The Buckeyes could have promoted either one of their coordinators to the head coach position after Tressel’s departure, but opted for the 37-year old Fickell instead.
“I think players will play for him. He’s got a good demeanor and think he’s a great person,” Dantonio said.
“I think he did a great job at the podium and I think he’ll be very successful.”
After serving as the Head Coach at Cincinnati from 2004-06, Dantonio has been the man in charge of the Spartans since 2007. Although he is 55 years old, he could very well be considered a candidate for the OSU head-coaching job if they decide not to keep Fickell at the end of the 2011 season.
Ohio State will always hold a place in his heart, but it might be hard to come back after the way everything has transpired this off-season.
“As I mentioned out there, he's done a lot of good for college football,” Dantonio said of Tressel.
“Every person he's come in contact with as a player and a coach, he's made a positive impact on their lives.”
That includes Dantonio, who has led Michigan State to a 33-19 record in his five seasons in East Lansing.
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