COLUMBUS - Ohio State coach Jim Tressel considers Mark Dantonio a close friend and confidante.
They have known each other for nearly 20 years. They have been on the same coaching staff three different times.
Dantonio was the architect of the Buckeyes' vaunted defense the last three seasons, but in December he was hired as Cincinnati's head coach.
Ironically, Dantonio will make his coaching debut Saturday against Tressel at Ohio Stadium, when his Bearcats square off against No. 9 OSU in their non-conference opener.
Tressel admits it will be a little odd seeing his old friend on the opposite sideline.
"Mark is a good friend and a fine coach," he said. "I don't remember ever coaching against a former assistant who was a head coach. I suppose it's a lot like coaching against your brother, and I have done that."
Dantonio plans to approach his first game just like Tressel would.
"He stays very composed," Dantonio said. "He doesn't let things rattle him. He continues to coach for the next play. He doesn't get too emotional. There's that element of emotion that needs to be handled. You have to keep things in perspective in that area."
Dantonio admits leaving Tressel's staff wasn't easy. He left behind a defense that was the nation's second stingiest against the run last season, allowing 62.3 yards per game. The year before, Dantoni's defense lifted OSU to a 14-0 record and its first national championship in 34 years.
"Losing him was a big loss," OSU senior cornerback Dustin Fox said. "Any time you lose a great leader like him, it's going to be a loss. It will be fun to play against him, but it will be weird. We still talk on the phone a lot. And I tell him, 'I'll be on the sidelines harassing you.' He said, 'Yeah, I'll have my eyes on you if the play comes my way.'●"
Tressel and Dantonio first worked together on Earle Bruce's staff at OSU in 1983 and 1984. Tressel coached the quarterbacks and receivers and Dantonio was a graduate assistant. When Tressel was hired as the head coach at Division I-A Youngstown State in 1986,
he hired Dantonio as his defensive coordinator.
Tressel re-hired Dantonio to run his defense at OSU in 2001. Six Buckeyes were named first-team All-Big Ten performers during his tenure and 13 players were drafted by NFL teams, including two first-round picks.
"None of us would have national championship rings if it weren't for Mark Dantonio," Tressel said. "We understand that, and we respect that, and our players do the same."
When Tressel looks across the field Saturday, the 48-year-old Dantonio won't be the only familiar face he sees.
His nephew, Mike, is Cincinnati's linebackers and special teams coach, and the son of OSU's running backs coach Dick Tressel. UC's offensive coordinator, Don Treadwell, was on Tressel's Youngstown State staff from 1986-91. Tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Mark Staten was a graduate assistant at OSU the last two seasons. And offensive line coach Jeff Uhlenhake is a 1990 OSU graduate who served as a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes a year ago.
"Cincinnati knows very well what we're going to do," Tressel said. "We don't know exactly what they're going to do, but I do know what coach Dantonio and the guys on his coaching staff believe in."
Ohio State hasn't lost to an Ohio team in 83 years, but the Bearcats nearly pulled off the feat in 2002, falling 23-19 in a game that went down to the wire at Paul Brown Stadium. It was the first of seven narrow wins for the Buckeyes during their championship march.
"We were lucky to win that game," Fox said. "Real lucky."
Even so, Fox said he's glad the Buckeyes are playing theBearcats again.
"You don't ever want to start out with a St. Mary's of the Woods," he said, laughing. "You want to have a good, challenging game. You don't need a pushover for the first game."
QUICK HITS: Special teams player Michael DeMaria, a fifth-year senior from Cardinal Stritch High School who just was awarded a scholarship last week, will not play against the Bearcats because of a knee injury. Tressel said DeMaria may not return until the third game at North Carolina State. Justin Zwick will get his first career start at quarterback, but backup Troy Smith also will play. "How much, what percent, what series, I have no idea," Tressel said. Fullback Branden Joe is doubtful with an ankle injury. A pair of fifth-year seniors, Findlay's Josh Huston and Kyle Turano, are still battling for the punting job. "I wouldn't call it worrisome," Tressel said. Talented freshman Ted Ginn is expected to play as both receiver and cornerback.
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Ohio State coach Jim Tressel considers Mark Dantonio a close friend and confidante. They have known each other for nearly 20 years. They have been on the same coaching staff three different times. Dantonio was the architect of the Buckeyes' vaunted defense the last three seasons, but in December he was hired as Cincinnati's head coach.