Thursday, January 2, 2003

UC coach saw early stardom in Tressel

Peters worked with OSU coach at YSU

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dan Peters understands how talented the University of Miami football team is. He knows Ohio State isn't expected to beat the Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday and win its first national title since 1968.

But he also knows it's never wise to bet against his old friend, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel.

From 1993-99, Peters was the head basketball coach at Youngstown State University, where he watched Tressel, then the Penguins' football coach.

What Peters saw was an intense competitor who ran a disciplined program, set high standards and demanded that they be followed.

"Like most coaches who are successful, he had a vision of how he wanted to do things and he sold that vision to everybody around him," said Peters, who's in his fourth season as the University of Cincinnati's associate head basketball coach.

Tressel, 49, used those elements to win 135 games and four Division I-AA national championships at Youngstown State from 1986-2000.

And in just two seasons at Ohio State, that same approach has pushed the Buckeyes, an underachieving team under previous coach John Cooper, into the national championship game against Miami.

"He was a very good disciplinarian," Peters said of Tressel. "It wasn't screaming and yelling and cursing. It was, 'Fellas, here are the things I think are important: You're not going to get into trouble. You're going to go to class and you're going to be on time.' There were always consequences for your actions."

Peters, who also worked with UC coach Bob Huggins for three years at Walsh College in the '80s, says the coaches are similar in their philosophies, if not in their approaches. Both are the sons of successful coaches, both have Ohio roots and both enjoyed rapid success in their current jobs. Huggins made it to the Final Four in his third UC season; Tressel has OSU in the national title game in just his second season.

Tressel isn't a screamer; Huggins is. Tressel is concerned about images, and insists that his players wear coats and ties on the road; Huggins allows more freedom.

"They're different in their presentation, but they're exactly the same in terms of their coaching," Peters said. "They're very strong in their beliefs, very good teachers, care very deeply about their players, and they care about the people around them."

Nothing Tressel has done at Ohio State has surprised Peters, from the offense he runs to the emphasis he has placed on the annual rivalry game against Michigan.

Peters remembers sitting in the stands for the Penguins' first game of the season after they had won the national championship and hearing a fan complain Tressel was running the plays he ran the year before.

When Peters told Tressel about the fan's complaint, Tressel laughed.

"I've got news for that guy," Tressel said. "Tell him those are the same plays I've run for the last 10 years and the same plays I'm going to run for the next 10 years."

Tressel's success against Michigan and his willingness to embrace the rivalry also stem from his days at Youngstown when he used to prepare his players for their annual rivalry against Akron by spending a few minutes at the end of practices running extra drills and preaching about the importance of the Akron game.

As a former Ohio State assistant, Tressel knows instinctively how important the Michigan game is for OSU fans, just as he understood the significance of Youngstown St.-Akron on a smaller scale.

"The first time we met in person," Peters said, "I asked him how he liked coaching at Ohio State. He said, 'I'll tell you one thing. If you're going to coach at Ohio State, you've got to beat Michigan or you're not going to keep that job very long.'

"He understood the importance of that game. He knew the tradition of it. I guarantee the first time he met those kids he told them, 'You will be ready to play against Michigan.'"

Tressel has a knack for envisioning how a game will unfold and for steering his team into position to win. That's why Peters won't be surprised if the Buckeyes pull an upset.

"They'll play as a unified group that believes in each other," Peters said. "On paper, they don't have the personnel that Miami does. But there's a lot to be said for having people believing in each other, especially when you've got one or two great players."

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