It was still dark and below freezing as people streamed into Sheridan High School early Friday morning to hear Jim Tressel speak at the 2nd Annual Groundhog Breakfast. They arrived at the home of the General’s in Perry County with the same enthusiasm they had when coach Tressel was leading the Ohio State football Buckeyes to Big Ten conference victories and national championships.
Coffee, juice, donuts, eggs, sausages and pancakes was breakfast fare for about 400 people and students, who even before daylight broke in Ohio’s 55th largest county were clapping to rousing renditions of songs performed by student musicians, including The General’s fight song, the Buckeye Battle Cry and Hang On Sloopy, Ohio’s rock’n state song.
So why was OSU’s former winning football coach and Youngstown State University’s current president making an early bird morning breakfast talk in Perry County, Trump land located about 45 minutes southeast of Columbus? Political fortune trackers thought the well-liked coach—he did beat Michigan nine times versus losing once—who might be hitting the hinterlands to work on his story before entering Ohio’s political scene as a real player.Mr. Tressel was there, in fact, because Larry Householder, former Speaker of the Ohio House when Tressel’s Buckeyes beat the Miami Hurricanes for the national championship in 2003, asked him to come “speak to our team” in Perry County, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.
As Tressel told the story, he offered House Speaker Householder a chance to speak to the OSU football team before the championship game against the powerful Miami Hurricanes. Despite Miami being favored to win by two touchdowns, the Scarlet and Gray won the day. Householder hasn’t let Tressel forget that talk. When Householder, now representing the 72nd District and prepping, some say, for the speakership again, asked the YSU president to speak at the Groundhog Breakfast, Tressel couldn’t say no.
President Tressel’s recent eight-day economic development trip to Israel, along with other talks he’s made to outside groups, has Capital Square observers wondering whether he’s testing the waters for a run at governor or even Lt. Governor in 2018, when the seat becomes open as term limits force Gov. John Kasich to move on.
The political calculus Jim Tressel was this, that he’s a polar opposite to Kasich, his demeanor may be bland but his successes are exciting. His interest in economic development makes him a player in an arena where campaigns are won, and where administrations are judged. With a wide and loyal following, including decades of former players who have played in the NFL and gone on to achieve other professional goals, Jim Tressel would bring a big following with him, adding to his attraction as a candidate with his own merits, or as a ticketmate for a career politician seeking the state’s highest office. Some even thought Tressel, a Republican, could create a nightmare for Republicans who have much weaker ties to everyone except lobbyists, if he was bold enough to campaign as a Youngstown Democrat. If any candidate, especially a Republican candidate, could recruit Tressel to play ball, that ticket would become the instant league leader to be elected. If such a ticket could materialize, Ohio’s senator in Washington, Sherrod Brown, could lose his seat when he runs to win a third term in two years.
Do You Want To Have The Scoop?
Plunderbund went to Perry County Friday to ask Jim Tressel directly whether he’s had any thoughts, or been approached by anyone else, about running for governor or as a ticketmate to another candidate?
“Do you want to have the scoop?” Tressel asked me? “No. how’s that?” he said, indicating he wasn’t surprised by the question. Jim Tressel said he’d spent most of his time working in the realms of athletics and education. “That’s where my expertise is. I’m not in the political realm.”
Asked about Gov. Kasich’s recently released budget and its impact on higher education, Tressel said it’s just the first iteration, and that things will change over time as more and different people grapple with it. “There’s always more needs than dollars, we wish more of our needs were met, but we want to make sure we can make college affordable. On the other hand, we have to make sure we’re cutting edge and competitive. Everyone knew going into the budget cycle that it was going to be tight.”
Tressel said one part of the budget needs more digging into, referring to the part on text book affordability. “It’s a tough issue,” he said, adding that Youngstown State University probably candle handle it.” What he said he’s found over the years, is that whether it’s the governor Tim Keen in the budget office, or House or Senate members, “everyone has the same goals in mind. “It will be a work in progress.”
When Congressman Tim Ryan’s name was mentioned, Jim Tressel called him a “dear friend,” adding that he once tried to recruit a young Ryan to play football at YSU. “He had big dreams,” Tressel said of Ryan, who wound up at Bowling Green State University.
Wearing his signature sweater vest underneath a sport coat, Jim Tressel talked for more than 30 minutes about the lessons he’s learned so far in life. Chief among them was starting out each day with an “attitude of gratitude” and giving thanks for blessings, whatever they might be. Clearing the mind, he said, is what he instructed his coaches and players to do first off.
He then discussed five other “boxes to check” each day, starting with what he called “connectedness.” Who you are connected to is important, so be connected to good people. Ask yourself, “Are you valued,” and do you “value others.” Asking these questions helps you find God’s purpose for you in life. Next, ask yourself, “How do I feel about how I feel?” People and players are at their best when they feel physically good, so eat right and exercise. Perspective, he said, is important. Is the big game really as important to you as everyone else says it is? Maybe, maybe not. Finally, you’re only one person, but you are a person, so do what you can do, and do it as best as you can.