Sunday, September 09, 2001

Tressel's in harmony with OSU

New coach senses Buckeye tradition

        COLUMBUS — Jim Tressel has been over this ground so many times he could tell you where each seed was scattered. Ohio State's new football coach is a detail guy who makes other detail guys look sloppy. He doesn't draw up a game plan so much as he scripts an experience.

        His Buckeyes did not pull up outside their dressing room in a bus convoy Saturday afternoon but made a formal procession there by way of a band concert, along Woody Hayes Drive, through Jesse Owens Plaza, inside the North Rotunda, Across The Field.

        Then, after a 28-14 victory over Akron, Tressel led his team to the south end zone of Ohio Stadium and led them in a chorus of “Carmen Ohio.” It was as corny as an Iowa harvest, as spontaneous as guard duty at Buckingham Palace, and it was everything Buckeye Nation adores.

        “He's had this day in his head, written out, way before he got the job at Ohio State,” linebacker Matt Wilhelm said. “If and when he got this job, he knew exactly the way this day would be.”

        Jim Tressel understands Ohio State at root level — its history, its traditions, its obsession, its sentimentality. He had done more to ingratiate himself with his demanding public by the end of his first game in Columbus than John Cooper did in his entire coaching tenure. Now, having said all of the right things, Tressel is trying to teach the world to sing.

        “I thought some of the guys sang well and others need some work,” Tressel said. “(But) It was great to be a part of that band. You look up into the faces of that crowd and you saw people you know are Ohio State graduates and you know what that song means for them. That was a thrill for me.”

        Coaches rarely get misty at the playing of the alma mater. Most of them think themselves too busy to be bothered with the frilly side of college football. Jim Tressel, meanwhile, holds choir rehearsals. He wants his players to be a part of their school rather than apart from it.

        “Maybe,” he admits, “I'm an old-fashioned guy.”

        Ohio State is one of those places that prefers old-fashioned to newfangled. Among the reasons Buckeye fans have embraced Tressel is because they are beginning to abandon hope of a comeback by Woody Hayes. The length of Tressel's honeymoon will be determined by how well he fares against Michigan, but the ardor is already appreciable. Saturday's record crowd of 102,602 reflected renewed interest as well as expanded seating.

        Tressel's Buckeyes weren't brilliant Saturday. Two of their touchdowns were gifts, and four fumbles by Steve Bellisari revived the call for a new quarterback. Tressel installed a limited package of plays and defensive schemes for the opener to underscore the urgency of fundamentals and as a safeguard against fatigue.

        He expects to get more ambitious as his players get better acclimated. His twin goals are to return Ohio State to college football's elite and to have a whole stadium singing in harmony.

        “What are you?” a reporter wondered. “Bass? Baritone? Tenor?”

        “Horrible,” Jim Tressel said. “Ask my wife.”

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