COLUMBUS — Jim Tressel prefers to look forward, keeping a schedule that permits little pause for reflection.
An admitted Type A personality, the former Ohio State coach arrives to his office at the University of Akron by 7 a.m. and takes his work home at night.
“You go to bed thinking about what you’ve got to get done the next day, and you wake up before the alarm clock rings because you want to go get that done,” said Tressel, 59, who was hired in February as UA’s vice president of strategic engagement.
A man who reached the top of his profession before plummeting from grace has regrets. He just has no time for them.
“If you expend your emotion on yesterday or two weeks from now, I’m not sure you’re going to have enough emotional energy to handle today,” Tressel told The Blade in a recent interview.
That outlook, though, will be challenged this month as Ohio State turns back the clock to recognize its 2002 national title team.
Will Tressel return for his first public appearance at OSU since he was forced to resign last May?
Plans to recognize the 2002 team at halftime of the Michigan game on Nov. 24 have lent to the potentially awkward scenario of honoring the coach in part responsible for the Buckeyes’ banishment from postseason play this year.
Tressel is not the only one from that season whose narrative detoured.
Running back Maurice Clarett was dismissed from the team after his sensational freshman season and later served time in the Toledo Correctional Institution for an armed robbery conviction. Offensive lineman T.J. Downing, a freshman in 2002, was arrested in 2008 on felony drug abuse, drug trafficking, and weapons charges. (Downing pleaded guilty to felony possession of cocaine and told The Blade last year he has not used drugs since his arrest.)
But Tressel’s appearance seems to present the most complications. While the coach remains a popular figure in Ohio, it was just last year he admitted to lying to NCAA investigators — and failing to alert his superiors — about his knowledge of Buckeyes players receiving improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo parlor. The NCAA leveled Ohio State with a one-year postseason ban and scholarship restrictions, and Tressel with a show-cause penalty that effectively prevents him from coaching college football until 2016.
Tressel and Clarett did not return messages this week seeking to clarify their plans for the reunion, though former players said they hope both come — at least for the private dinner the night before the Michigan game. (Tressel, Clarett, and several others figures from 2002 team are committed to appear at the Ohio State Alumni Club of Greater Cleveland's annual football banquet on Nov. 27.)
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith also confirmed Tressel and Clarett will be welcome.
“Jim Tressel, Maurice Clarett, they were part of that team,” Smith said in a phone interview. “They’re not banned from campus. We’ll welcome them if they choose to show up for the ceremony and halftime of the Michigan game.”
Tressel, meanwhile, remains busy with his newly created job, which pays $200,000 per year — more than $3 million less than his annual compensation at OSU. He said he enjoys working to engage alumni and improve the student experience, including for a military veteran he met during a recent walk across campus.
“So I’m trying to figure out the quickest way to his degree so he’s able to move on with his life,” said Tressel, who won more than 80 percent of his games during 10 seasons at Ohio State. “Or maybe we’re talking about a young family and discussing a better daycare situation for some of our folks who are trying to juggle jobs and job care and all the rest.”
Tressel had nothing more to say about his abrupt departure from OSU, other than he feels blessed.
“It was a wonderful 10 years,” he said. “Think about being a college football coach who grew up in Ohio, and you had a chance for 10 years to be the head coach at Ohio State, and got to meet so many wonderful fans and band members and students, not to mention your own players. … Gosh I pick up the paper every day, and you see folks that are struggling to get employment, folks that are struggling with health issues, families that have lost people in the war. I would be the last one in the world to say that I’ve not been blessed."