Former OSU football coach Jim Tressel moved deeply into the red zone last week when the University of Akron board of trustees awarded him a new title: executive vice president. It is his third title since his arrival in 2011 as vice president of strategic engagement and later as the veep for student success.
The board’s action spurred further speculation that his next title will put him in the end zone: president.
Not all of the speculation has met with bravissimos in some faculty quarters, where there are untidy questions about his lack of the doctorate so prized in academe for any rise to the top administrative chair.
Such talk among faculty and the school’s boosters has been the subtext of his whirlwind career path since the school’s president, Luis Proenza, announced he was heading out in June from the position he’s held for 15 years to engage in a one-year sabbatical. That would be followed by his return to the campus as a full time professor and president emeritus..
Since settling on the downtown campus, Tressel has been treated as a celebrity while busily engaged in motivational work with students as well as poetry reading to a UA creative-writing session and speaking at a Program Learn fund-raiser where attendees could get an autographed copy of his book, The Winner’s Manual.
He’s also considered to be an excellent fund-raiser at a time when the school is trying to find a way out of deep debt and a declining graduation rate. With those elements in the equation, it might be reasonably asked how much is a doctorate really worth in today’s academic marketplace?
Meantime, everyone directly involved in Tressel’s future has been quite guarded about his next move. They have politely spun around media questions about his future, particularly now that the formal search for Proenza’s successor has begun. But several sources close to the scene have told me: “It’s a done deal.”
Following this week’s board meeting, the Beacon Journal noted that Tressel “sidestepped” a question about his interest in the job. Reporter Carol Biliczky quoted him as saying, “I think in fairness I’m interested in whatever role it is that our leadership wants of me”. Cool.
Beyond that, the play calling remains in the brass’ huddle. But when you are this close to the goal line it would certainly sound foolish to call for a Hail Mary.