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Published: Sunday, 12/14/2008

Author interviews top college football coaches

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - While Andrew Hemminger fidgeted nervously in the outer foyer of the Woody Hayes Center - ground zero for the brain trust that runs Ohio State's monolithic football program - the secretary behind the sliding glass window cast a skeptical glance in his direction.

Hemminger professed to have an appointment to see OSU coach Jim Tressel, and she was not buying it.

But once his credibility was established, Hemminger was escorted through the locked double doors and down a long hallway where the walls are adorned with countless photos and trophies and awards - all the spoils of more than 100 years of college football conquests.

"We turned left, and then left, and then left again - it seemed to go on forever," Hemminger said. "It's like a bunker in there."

Once he reached Tressel's office, another secretary explained that the coach was on the phone talking to an NFL boss who was considering drafting one of the Buckeyes last spring.

"While I waited, I could see that coach Tressel was exactly like I expected him to be - very organized and on top of things, and very senator-like," Hemminger said. "I hoped he'd be that way. I didn't want him in sweat pants or all sloppy. He was in his trademark vest and khaki pants - very crisp and neat, just like you'd expect."

Tressel finished his call and spent the next 30 minutes with Hemminger, a recent Bowling Green State University grad who was compiling a series of interviews with the premier football coaches in the country, active and retired, for a book titled College Football's Best - One-on-One With 15 Five-Star Coaches.

In the book, Tressel tells the author, surprisingly, that winninga national championship with the Buckeyes in the 2002 season did not change his life at all. He won national championships several times before coming to Ohio State and has been back in a title game three times with the Buckeyes.

"I've tried very hard not to have my self-worth be based upon winning games or winning championships," Tressel said. "I've led an unbelievably blessed head-coaching life. I've been a head coach for 22 years and nine times played for the national championship. But I don't feel any better about myself just because of that."

While compiling the interviews that follow biographical portraits of Tressel and the other high-profile coaches, Hemminger criss-crossed the country in much the same fashion he had done a year or so earlier with long-time friend Dave Bensch, when the two Oak Harbor natives put together their first literary creation: Destination Basketball.

Hemminger went solo on the football book but often consulted with Bensch while working through strategy to secure interviews with the likes of Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, USC's Pete Carroll and Florida's Urban Meyer.

In his section of the book, Meyer explained that he did not possess some mystical "Midas Touch" that enabled him to quickly resurrect the program at Bowling Green, and achieve immediate success at Utah, and then Florida. At all three stops, his predecessor had recruited well, Meyer said.

"I've turned down many positions because I felt the previous coach was not a good recruiter," Meyer said. "You don't have time to turn around programs. You have two or three years to get things right, or you're out the door."

Meyer also told Hemminger he doesn't believe the coaching mantra that you treat every player the same.

"I treat them how they deserve to be treated," Meyer said. "The third-string lineman that doesn't go to class and doesn't work real hard in the weight room, it's not real comfortable for them around here. The Heisman Trophy quarterback that gets straight A's, and does a lot of community service, he gets treated really well around here."

Hemminger, who will be signing copies of his book at the Barnes & Noble at The Shops at Fallen Timbers at 4 p.m. today, found USC coach Pete Carroll the model "laid-back Californian" until the conversation moved to his practice philosophy, and then the veins in Carroll's neck bulged out as he explained how intense those sessions are.

At Oklahoma, the 23-year-old Hemminger saw what he said were "the best facilities anywhere," but Stoops indicated a major upgrade was in the works.

"Football is so big at these places, it is hard to comprehend unless you go there and see it firsthand," Hemminger said. "If you think about it, on any given Saturday there is something like 1.23 million people in those stadiums, watching these guys work. It's phenomenal how big college football is."

Hemminger chronicles spending a night sleeping on a metal bench outside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin after the rate at his hotel spiked from about $100 a night to more than $400 on the second day of his stay. That anecdote is part of the One-On-One section in the back of the book, where Hemminger shares a lot of the personal details of his travels while landing in-person interviews with this collection of football legends.

In the heart of the 214-page, hardcover book, Hemminger takes you on a quick walk through the bio of each mega-coach, highlighting the stops in their careers in a comfortable, breezy and easy-to-read format. You learn just enough about Meyer's abbreviated pro baseball career, and that Tressel credits former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce with fully preparing him to be a head coach by putting Tressel in charge of the Buckeyes quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs in 1984. Two years later, Tressel was the head coach at Youngstown State.

"Of course it was a thrill getting to sit down and talk with these guys. Any sports fan would die for that," Hemminger said.

"But I think one of the most interesting things I learned from talking to these coaches is that there are so many different ways to get to the right answer. They are all winners, but all in their own, unique way. It's just a fun, uplifting thing to read about how they do it."

Signed and personalized copies of Hemminger's book are available at www.collegefoot-

ballsbest.com. Hemminger said a dollar from each copy sold will be donated to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, which was founded by ESPN and former college basketball coach Jim Valvano.

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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