Jim Tressel, President of Youngstown State University and formerly head football coach of the Youngstown State Penguins and the Ohio State Buckeyes, joins me on the podcast today.
It’s important to study others, but to become yourself.” – Jim Tressel
We discussed Jim’s life growing up poor, the incredible examples of his mother and father, his entrance into a lifelong and legendary career in teaching, sports, and leadership, and his deep, deep faith in Jesus Christ.
Jim is the very definition of a leader. He’s a man who has been through many trials and many successes, and I’m so glad he’s here to teach us what he knows.
In this episode we talked about:
- What betting on yourself means to him
- The importance of his mother and father’s example
- Studying the great players of his generation
- What he learned from the great John Wooden
- Why you have to be the best you can be
- The two biggest moments in his life
- Winning the game of life
- How he approached “the future”
- His transition from player to coach
- His long-term planning approach to coaching
- How he approaches pressure in life
- The mindset of forward progression
- The advice he’d give his sixteen-year-old self
If you’re a fan of the show don’t forget to follow to hear new episodes and Rate or Review us wherever you tune in!
Jim Tressel: I think one thing that's important, and I know you've talked about this with a lot of your guests, is when you bet on yourself you have to bet on yourself. You can't try to be John Wooden. You can't try to be Oscar Robertson. You've got to be the best you can be and then bet on that and develop that. I felt really it was important to study others, but to become yourself.
Michael Redd: Hey everybody. This is Michael Redd and welcome to the Betting on Yourself podcast where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands and bet on themselves. Today, I'm talking with Jim Tressel, President of Youngstown State University and formerly Head Coach of the Youngstown State Penguins and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Michael Redd: In this episode, we talk about Jim's life growing up poor, the incredible examples of his mother and father, his entrance into a lifelong and legendary career in teaching, sports and leadership and his deep, deep faith in Jesus Christ. Jim is the very definition of a leader. He's a man who has been through many trials and many successes. I'm so glad he's here to teach us what he knows. If you need an injection of wisdom, inspiration and direction into your day, this is your episode. Here's my conversation with Jim Tressel.
Michael Redd: I'm really delighted for this podcast. I've known this incredible gentlemen for many years now and he's had an impact on my life and I'm sure he's had an impact on so many's lives over the years. Welcome to the podcast, Coach, President Jim Tressel.
Jim Tressel: Well, thanks Michael. It's so good to be with you. We admired the way you played the game, but what I admired more was the way that you carried your life and were really a great symbol of humility and for young people to look a guy with all that talent, but there were things more important than the game to him, just an honor to be on your podcast and I'm looking forward to some time together.
Michael Redd: Yes, it's been awhile and me and you have known each other for years while you were at Ohio State, obviously, and did a number of faith-based events together. I spoke with the team a number of times with you. We've just had a great relationship over the years. I consider you one of the great leaders, not only in Ohio, but in the nation. The way you carried yourself over the years. Everyone loves Jim Tressel and what's inside of you and on you is magnetic. We could talk more about that, but I want to ask you, and you know the theme of the show, I'm sure by now, that it's about betting on yourself. I want to ask you, the first question is, what has that meant for you in your life, betting on yourself?
Jim Tressel: When you're blessed like I've been, and some have and some haven't, but to grow up in a family where there was a great model, there was a great example. My father was a coach, my mother served others every single day of her life. As I watched that example, and I had two older brothers who were great examples, it really dawned on me that if we bet on ourself we could make a difference, but that it had to be about others. That was the example I saw. If you don't see that example, if see the example of, "I'm going to bet on myself and it's all about me," there's a good chance that that will overtake the way that you do things. Betting on yourself, in my mind, starts with making sure that you wrap your arms around the right examples and place the right bets.
Jim Tressel: I was blessed to have unbelievable people around me, great friends. Grew up in a very diverse neighborhood. We didn't have any money. Ethnicity, we had all kinds of ethnicity. We played sports together. We didn't know the difference between this or that, we just knew that the team was important and we wanted to compete. We wanted to be the best. We wanted to win and we wanted to study those that were the great ones. That's what I loved about athletics was when I was growing up, it wasn't Michael Redd, it was Oscar Robertson. It was Bill Russell winning all the championships. I'm in a whole different generation than you are.
Jim Tressel: I wanted to be like John Wooden. I wanted to win all those National Championships, so I studied the example of John Wooden. I think one thing that's important, and I know you've talked about this with a lot of your guests, is when you bet on yourself, you have to bet on yourself. You can't try to be John Wooden, you can't try to be Oscar Robertson, you've got to be the best you can be and then bet on that and develop that. I felt really it was important to study others, but to become yourself.
Michael Redd: That's a powerful thought. Identity is everything. As you travel through life, not plagiarizing or wanting to be exactly like someone else, but being yourself, which takes a lot of courage. Was there a moment as a kid, teenager, young adult, a pivotal moment where you said, "Hey, you know what? I've got take the massive bet on myself."?
Jim Tressel: I think there were two big moments, Michael, in my life. One was when my coach sent me to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Camp. I only went because my coach said it would be good for me. Whatever coach said, I'm in, but it changed my life. I had a chance to hear from a guy named Bobby Richardson. He's more in the Bill Russel, Oscar Robertson era than he is in the Michael Redd and Lebron James world, but Bobby Richardson was 10 time All Star for the New York Yankees. He was in the World Series seven or eight times, was the World Series MVP. He said to us at that Fellowship of Christian Athletes Camp, "If the game of life ended tonight, would you be a winner?"
Jim Tressel: It was like, whoa. I loved sports and I knew the difference between winning and losing and I knew there was nothing you could do about it after it was decided. Then when he said, "If the game of life ended, would you be a winner?" And fortunately, even though I couldn't answer the question at the moment, he gave me the answer. He said, "If you'd ask Jesus into your life and allow God to direct everything that you do, you win." That was a pivotal moment in my life, moment of confidence that, "You know what? I'm going to bet on myself because I've now learned that I can win."
Jim Tressel: The other pivotal moment, Michael, was when I was a junior in high school. This first one was when I was sophomore. Then when I was a junior in high school, the guidance counselor called me and said, "Okay, you've got to start thinking about the future." To me, the future was, is it football season, is it basketball season or is it baseball season? The future was what's the next season? I didn't care about was I going to work? I mean, I had a paper route. I had some money in my pocket. I wasn't thinking about career. The guidance counselor said, "Well, your math scores are really good, you ought to think about being an engineer." I thought, "Man, I don't.... Really, the thought of driving in a train every day, being an engineer, doesn't appeal to me."
Jim Tressel: He said, "No, not that kind of engineer, an engineer that builds things and figures out." I said, "Ew, I'm not real good at that. That doesn't interest me." He said, "Well, what interests you?" I said, "Working with other people, becoming a part of the team. My dad was a coach, my two older brothers were in education. I want to serve others. My mom served people every day." That was a pivotal moment when I decided that, "You know what? I know where I want to go with my life. I want to go teach. I want to go coach. I want to go make difference in people's lives." Those were probably the two biggest pivots in my life over 50 years ago, Michael.
Michael Redd: It's interesting because, for all the listeners, it's interesting, people know Coach Tressel, President Tressel and the last 50 years of success, but that was the foundation of all of this, of what we've seen. Faith has always been the core centric play in your life.
Jim Tressel: No question. One of my favorite authors is a guy named John Maxwell and John's a... I'm kind of prejudice to John because he's an Ohio guy and he used to come spend time with our teams and all that. One of the best books, and he's written 40 books, hundreds of millions of copies, but I remember he gave my wife, Ellen, a copy of his Leadership Bible and he wrote on the inside of it, he said, "Everything I've learned about leadership, I learned in this book."
Michael Redd: Wow.
Jim Tressel: I don't know if you've ever seen John Maxwell's Leadership Bible, but every scripture, every chapter, every everything has a leadership direction as to how you apply that scripture to leadership. You're right, Michael, that's the foundation. You have to have a foundation because times are going to be tough at times. You're not going to win sometimes, it's going to go the wrong way sometimes. You're going to make mistakes, but if you have fundamentals or a foundation to go back to, I mean, you know yourself... I can't even imagine, NBA season, 82 games. The swings. You get on a little roll and then you lose a couple and it's not going the right way. What do you do? You go back to the foundation, the fundamentals. That's life. Life is an 82 game season. I mean, you have to have something that is your rock.
Michael Redd: Wow. That's why I miss you because of these conversations. John Maxwell is a friend of mine. You know him and he's been a mentor of mine over the last few years. I'll get him on the podcast one day, but he's special. Like you, I've watched you over the years. Have you always wanted to be a coach? You started out playing football. I think there's a story about you watching Rex Kern, who we both love, win a National Championship and have the Bible in his hand. Talk about that nuance of being a player to being a coach.
Jim Tressel: When I first fell in love with Rex Kern was when I was a sophomore quarterback at Berea High School and he was the sophomore quarterback at Ohio State. He won the Rose Bowl and the National Championship and he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which I was a Cleveland Plain Dealer delivery boy. He just became my idol. At that moment, I think my thoughts are I wanted to play like him, though there was no way I could ever become as good as him, I wanted to try. I wanted to be like him, most important. The good news is, is you don't have to be tall or fast or talented or big hands or a great throwing motion to be the right kind of person.
Jim Tressel: At the beginning, Rex Kern was my person/player/hero. I didn't really decide to have coaching heroes until that moment where I decided, "You know what? I think in the future, I want to be a teacher/coach." Immediately, I started thinking about studying folks like John Wooden and Tom Landry and just reading everything I could about the people that I admired.
Michael Redd: You have a unique approach, it's almost like a fathering approach to the guys you've coached over the years and how you lead in general. It's the heart of the father that's displayed in your life. Talk about fast forwarding in your coaching career to Youngstown State. And even before you got to Youngstown State, you were at Ohio State before that, I think, so talk about that journey from Ohio State to being now the Head Coach Youngstown State, I believe it was four National Championships there. Talk about that experience there before you became President.
Jim Tressel: What's interesting is as you go through those stages in life, and I'm sure it was the same thing, stages in your 82 game season, the first 20 you're trying to figure out who you are, the next 20 you're starting to progress a little bit. Well, life is a little bit like that. My first 11 years out of college, I was an Assistant Coach. I was going to school on four really good head coaches from Dennison at Akron, Tom Reed at Miami, Dick McPherson at Syracuse and Earl Bruce at Ohio State. I was going to school on. Plus, I was learning from my colleagues, the other assistant coaches.
Jim Tressel: We'd spend time together. We'd study the game. I learned from my players. That was a part of the journey. All of a sudden, you get a chance to be a head coach and it's a whole different deal. It was like you get to that game 61 and you got a chance to get in the playoffs. Now, oops, this is different. This is a whole different level. When I got to Youngstown State after having watched my dad all those years have all that success and be with those four head coaches and be an assistant coach and continue to grow. I said, "Okay, now it's my turn to create my own signature way that I'd like to do this."
Jim Tressel: I had done lots of reading on other coaches, I had experienced my own experiences. I used to drive around and recruiting. You know how recruiting was back in the day. They didn't have all these rules about certain months you could recruit, we recruited every day. We used to say, "Recruiting is like shaving and most of the day you look like a bum." I would be driving around and I'd be listening to tickets of coaches; Tom Landry and Grant Taft and Paul Brown. I mean, you name it. Now, I'm the Head Coach. I decided that, "You know what? Obviously, we have to win some games and we want to win some games and we want to be the champion, but what is it really that I want to accomplish?"
Jim Tressel: That's when we created our Wheel of Life, which later became our blocko of life at Ohio State. Talking about all the ares that while had that relationship with those young people, 110 young guys and anywhere from freshmen to seniors, of lots of different talent levels, all different backgrounds from all different places, what could we provide for them? What could we assure them that we were going to help them grow in what areas of their life? That's when we came to the conclusion of, "You know what? We've got to grow spiritually, morally and ethically, so we got to work on that." Obviously, we have to continue to grow as family members because now some of them are leaving home. That's never happened before. Maybe someday they're going to have a family, so we've got to work on that.
Jim Tressel: We have to work on taking our blessings and doing things for others, so we have to work on our outreach and those kinds of things. Obviously, we have to work on our football family. We want to be a great football team. We want to work on our academic things. We can be... I remember coming to Ohio State and I said, "You know what? We're going to be the best team in Big 10 academically because we're going to be the best at everything." Within two years, we had the best academic record in the Big 10 because we decided to emphasis it. Of course, you've got to work on your strength, conditioning, explosion, but we wanted them to develop health habits for life because you can run and jump and play football and all that, but pretty soon someone is going to figure out you can't run and jump fast enough any more and they want to get the next group, but your health is going to follow you the rest of your life.
Jim Tressel: We decided to take all those areas of life and help our student athletes understand goal setting for the short-term, plans to accomplish and then dreams for the long-term, plans to accomplish. We just always felt that of course we wanted to win games, but we believed that the harder we worked on the whole person, the end result, we'd win more games if we were working on the right things, if we were working on those foundations. That's what we set about to do for 15 years at Youngstown State and then 10 years at Ohio State. As you say, when you get back together with the guys, very seldom do you talk about this game or that game, you talk about the lessons you learned from one another and times where you watched one another grow and the things that... The ones I love, Michael, is when they get ahold of me and they say, "Hey, I'm applying today every day with my family and my business, things we talked about."
Michael Redd: Wow.
Jim Tressel: That's success.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Jim Tressel: The rings, they get tarnished. They get dust on them and all that. You become a trivia question: who won the One AA National Championship in 1991? Well, people in Youngstown know, but nobody else remembers who won that. But life's lessons, they go on forever. That's what it's all about. The hard part about life, Michael, you know this, is you can take over a business and you know you have to produce so you get nervous that you get so worried about producing, but you know what? If you built the whole foundation, you probably end up producing more in the long run. Society though, is impatient, an impatient player. It gets tougher and tougher, but I've always believed that you still have to have that foundational, fundamental plan in place.
Jim Tressel: In fact, it's funny, we're creating all of the various educational things in this changing world that our students need and then we're trying to add things so that they can get stackable certificates. Like our engineering students, we want them to get a robotics certificate or our business students, we want them to get a non-profit certificate or an additive manufacturing certificate. We want to stack on those kinds of things. One thing we're working on right now is to stack on a leadership and teamwork certification for our students because here's what we hear from the employees, "They know their engineering, they know their accounting, they know their business, whether it's social work or nursing or whatever it is you've taught them, they know it, but I'm not sure they understand what leadership is about, what communication is about, what teamwork's all about." Those "soft skills."
Michael Redd: Soft skills, yeah.
Jim Tressel: We're really working hard right now, Michael, to develop an institute for leadership and teamwork. Financial literary. You might have someone leave here that's brilliant in biology and pre-med, whatever, then they know nothing about finance because that wasn't their major or whatever. There are certain fundamentals. So to me, the exciting thing about working with young people is, yes, you want victories and I want graduate rate and I want them to get hired, but I also want to equip them with what it's going to take to make it in... Life's not easy and I want them equipped to battle.
Michael Redd: I just miss spending time with you. I don't miss losing to your wife on the golf course. You mentioned Coach Bruce.
Jim Tressel: She's good.
Michael Redd: Oh, I know. I know. Me and Coach Bruce here and your wife would go play golf at various courses around Columbus. I miss him and obviously I miss spending time with your wife too. The three of us would play golf all the time together and it was a great time. I'll never forget it. You seem impervious to pressure, Coach. You get to Ohio State, you have this incredible success, achievement with investing in young men. You win National Championships. You make the move after 15 years to Ohio State. The pressure is ratcheted up a bit because Ohio State's a national power and the team up north and you make that proclamation when you first get the job. How do you approach pressure in life? Do you lean into it?
Jim Tressel: I've always looked at it as I've been too busy to be concerned with it. There's nothing you can do about pressure or expectation or whatever to lessen it or change it or whatever, but there is something you can do about your readiness to compete and your ability to focus on what's really important, but to be sitting around... Let's say I want to get into law school and I know the LSAT is the big thing. I got to pass the LSATs right? Well, if I sit around worrying about the LSAT and worrying about it, what's that going to do for me? I need to study. I need to work on it. I've always just been... People used to always say, "Oh man, you're calm on the sideline or whatever." I'd say, "Well, no, I'm at work. I'm busy. I mean, I don't have time to carry on because regardless of what just happened, there's a play coming up."
Jim Tressel: Well, that's the same thing in life. I can't worry about what just happened, "I didn't make that sale," or, "I didn't get that promotion," whatever it happens to be. Assess where I am right now and what do I have to do to progress? I think if you get focused on that and just immerse yourself in what it is I have to do to get better? In the course of the game, football is so different than basketball. I could never understand how you could transition from offense to defense like that. We usually puncture something [crosstalk 00:23:04] or whatever, so we could take our time. But play by play, we would start and stop. You guys never stopped. Okay.
Michael Redd: Right.
Jim Tressel: So in our game, we had to get to the moment where, and I think it's like life too, is something happens that day or that week in work, or football, something happened that play, the first thing we have to do is assess what we did right or wrong. Did I take the right step? Did I the read the right key? What did I do right or wrong? Right off the bat then, I've got to assess, "What's the situation now? It was first and 10, it's now second and 12." Whatever. The third thing I have to do is look for the next play, what's the call, and then get focused on that. I can't sit and think about, "Oh, woe is me, we're second and 12. The world's going to end, we might not win this game. Oh my gosh, we're down by seven points and there's only eight minutes." You've got to think play by play and that's kind of the same immersion I think you need in life.
Jim Tressel: Again, I don't know how you do it in basketball. You play on Saturday and then you play on Tuesday and then you play... Football, it was so easy. We played one day and then we had a week to figure it out. We weren't as smart as you guys. You guys had two days, you guys had two days to figure it out. But whatever your world is, you have to adapt to your world. I'm sure you had to adapt. How you get on that plane and go to the next city and figure it out and not worry about what just happened or the pressure of, "Oh my gosh, we're two games down for the playoffs. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh."? If that strangles you, you're not going to make the playoffs. "Focus on the moment," is what we used to always say. "Focus on the moment. There's nothing I can do about yesterday, but today I can get better."
Michael Redd: No, I think there was a calming effect because of the focus. I never saw you rattled on the sidelines. Is there a game or games that stand out to you?
Jim Tressel: Just as if you ask your coach that and then you've had 25 years worth of players. They say, "How come you didn't pick that game when we beat [crosstalk 00:25:25]?"
Michael Redd: Right.
Jim Tressel: Here's the hard part about coaches, and you know this, how we are, because we're different. The ones I remember are the losses that really taught us some lessons that propelled us to unbelievable wins.
Michael Redd: Sure.
Jim Tressel: I mean, I've learned much more lessons from losses. Now, I didn't like that. I never wanted to lose to have a lesson and I always liked it where we could squeak out a win and still learn some lessons, but still, the ones that really make you suffer, that you really have to do an autopsy of, "What am I doing and am I doing this right? Am I going about this the right way? I can't believe I allowed myself or my team to get in that mindset where we were not ready," those kinds of things. So unfortunately, I've probably got more losses that I recall as opposed to big wins. Plus, if I bring up the big wins, then I'll get a bunch of texts and emails that, "When you were on Michael's podcast, you didn't even talk about me."
Michael Redd: When I asked the question, I said, "Et oh, why'd I ask that question?" Pick a favorite kid, right.
Jim Tressel: Right.
Michael Redd: No, I totally understand that. What has been your mindset? Because people talk about the successes and achievements, the mindset to your point about losses, the transition from Ohio State, which was one of the sad days for us, particularly me as a fan of yours and a friend of yours. How do you and the mindset that you have to have to deal with adversity in life?
Jim Tressel: I think that's really the mark of a person is how do they deal with the tough times? Because all of us can, when we're winning and everyone's saying, "Well, wonderful," and things are going good. We always talk about the law of progression and everyone thinks the law of progression is a linear one where you just go from point A to point B and it just is in a straight line. Well, you and I both know that the law of progression is that you go for a bit and then there's a little blip. You go for a bit and then there's a blip, right? I mean, that's just the way it is. What you've got to try to keep from having is a giant crash. What I've found is you've got to get back on that road to progression, even though there might be a detour, but you can't allow yourself to hit the bottom because it takes so much time...
Jim Tressel: If in the first quarter of your game, it doesn't go right. You go in the tank for a while and all of a sudden, they're up by 23. How much energy is it going to take to climb back? Sometimes you've seen those games where people climb back from being down 23. They get to the last four minutes and they're spent and they can't go the rest of the way. So handling adversity, I think, is a mindset of getting back on the road to progression, even if it's a little different road than what you planned. I was fortunate to have a great mentor in my life. His name was Doctor Patrick Spurgeon and he was an old retired English professor from Georgia Southern. I had gotten to know him through the One AA ranks because Georgia Southern was like the king pin when we were trying to become the king pin. He just became a mentor that I would talk with on the phone a lot and so forth.
Jim Tressel: Right after the Ohio State situation, I'll never forget what he said. He said, "I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but your greatest impact you're going to have in your life is ahead of you."
Michael Redd: Whoa.
Jim Tressel: Like, "Whoa, now a minute, I just was the head coach for Ohio State for 10 years. I don't know. I mean, I don't know. How can you have more impact?" He said, "Now, the greatest impact you're going to have in your life is ahead of as long as you believe that." To me, that was the operative statement. It wasn't like it's automatically when you have adversity, the things ahead of you are going to be better. It's not automatic, but if you believe they will be, then you go to work making them that way, that can be the case. I think it's a mindset. It's a, "Okay, this is the situation. What are you going to do?" I just saw a cartoon someone sent me on an email just yesterday. It had a little elementary school and it had as you come in the hallway of the elementary school, a whole group of mirrors. It said, "The person who will have the most to do with your future or your outcomes or your career or whatever is the person you're looking at. It's up to you."
Jim Tressel: It's not a matter of if any of us are going to have adversity, it's a matter of when. And most importantly, what are you going to do? One of the hardest things, and you've been through this, when you work with world class athletes like we did at Ohio State, you played with at Ohio State in the NBA, the day ends when you're not a world class athlete. Just the way it is. The adjustment at that moment can go one way or the other and it's tough and that's about... I don't care how much money you've made or any of that kind of thing, that when, "I'm not adored like I was," or, "People aren't coming, paying to see me play," or "They're not sending me fan mail anymore. How am I going to adjust to that?" To me, it's a mindset that goes all the way back to what's your foundation?
Jim Tressel: You have to count on that foundation. Without that and without strong people around you, family, friends... Everyone's your friend when you're playing in the NBA. When you're not playing in the NBA, all of a sudden, you don't get quite as many text messages.
Michael Redd: That's right.
Jim Tressel: I mean, that's just the way it is. I was no longer the head coach at Ohio State. You're not getting some calls from some people you used to.
Michael Redd: That's right.
Jim Tressel: So you have to surround yourself with the right people. You know what's really neat? And you asked about what was one of the best games or whatever. We had gone to the National Championship at the Youngstown State in 1991, '92, '93 and '94. We won three of them. Okay. We didn't go for two years to the playoffs. We didn't go to the playoffs, let alone the championship game. In 1997, we went back to the playoffs and won the National Championship. I remember my mentor saying to me, "It's one thing to climb to the top of the mountain like you did and you climbed and you stayed there for four years. That's a long time to be at the top of the mountain. You came tumbling down. Most teams don't make it back up anytime soon. You guys made it back up to the top of the mountain in two years. That's an extraordinary feat."
Jim Tressel: I think it's because our people handled adversity. It wasn't, "Well, this or that or other people's fault." It was, "What didn't we do?" You know what's neat, Michael, as we talk about fundamentals? After we went four straight years in the National Championship, then had a poor year the next year, we went back and we looked at every practice schedule. We said, "It's got to be our fault because we have talented guys, so it's got to be the coach's fault." What we found was we had veered away and we had spent a little less time in fundamental periods. We were doing more group work, as opposed to those fundamental things. We had allowed our practice schedule to slip, just by inches. We always say, "You slip in inches." I mean, you never just fall of a cliff, you slip in inches.
Michael Redd: That's so good.
Jim Tressel: We were slipping even when we were winning because we were taking time away from the fundamentals. Then all of a sudden, we graduated 26 seniors and we hadn't worked on the fundamentals with the kids returning and they were just as talented as those kids we lost, but we had not built their fundamentals. When we talk about how do you handle adversity in life, it's through the competency of your fundamentals. Well, it's the same thing in basketball or football, you've got to have those fundamentals. When you read about all the great players... If they really thought about, how did Michael Redd or Michael Jordan or Lebron James or whomever get good? It's the stuff you didn't even see that work... you guys work on your fundamentals.
Jim Tressel: People think you were born Michael Redd. Well, no, that's not the way it is. There's many people that your height, weight, speed, right?
Michael Redd: Better. Better.
Jim Tressel: Yeah, but you worked on your fundamentals. I think that's so critical, especially when you hit those devastating moments, when, "I can't believe that happened. Can it get any worse than this?" That's when your fundamentals really are called upon.
Michael Redd: There's so much sage wisdom in what you just said. I can go a myriad of directions on what you just said. But with all that and transitioning, which you've become really, really proficient at, you returned back to Youngstown State in a different capacity as the president. Talk about making a bet on yourself, that's a massive bet to become a president of a university. Talk about that experience. Obviously, you're doing a phenomenal job with the team you have now. Talk about that initial feeling.
Jim Tressel: It was really interesting, Michael. I said after June of 2011, "We're not at Ohio State. Now, what are we going to do?" I said, "I'm going to read 100 books because, I don't know, I mean, I've coached a lot. I've been there, done that. I got lots of rings. I don't need anymore rings." Jim Caldwell called me from the Colts. He said, "Hey, we don't have Peyton Manning. He's out for the year with a neck injury. We're not going to win many games. Could you come over and help? Maybe we could win a couple." I don't know if you know Jim Caldwell, but one of the greatest human beings God ever made and I couldn't turn him down. I went over there for.... as a Colt consultant. All the while, thinking about, "What do I want to do next?"
Jim Tressel: Spending that year in the NFL was helpful for me because I realized I wanted to work with young people. The NFL is great, the NBA is great, but it's different than it is young people.
Michael Redd: Totally.
Jim Tressel: It's a whole new world. I thought, "No, I think I'm more suited to work with young people." All of a sudden, a couple of small colleges wanted me to interview for the presidency. I'm thinking, "What?" I went and interviewed and I listened to the questions and I tried to answer the best I could. I left both interviews thinking, "You know what? I'm not sure I have the experience to do this as well as I would like to, so I'm probably not going to get called back for the second interview anyway." Well, in the meantime, the University of Akron called and said, "Hey, would you like to come and be a Vice President? We've heard that you're interested in higher ed. You could really come and learn." I said, "Well, that sounds pretty good." Well, then those two smaller schools called back and said, "Hey, you're in the final three. We'd like you to come to campus."
Jim Tressel: All of a sudden, panic set in and I'm like, "You know what? I'm not ready, so I'm going to go to the University of Akron." What a blessing to spend two years as a Vice President, learning, going to school on it, seeing if I like it, seeing if you can make the impact, all those things. Wouldn't you know it, my old stomping grounds, Youngstown State, the president who had just gone there left after six months. They were traumatized. I mean, how could someone come and leave them at the altar? They were looking for something that who calm the feeling of the community and the university and they asked if I'd interview. I thought, "You know what? I don't know if I'm ready, but I'm going to bet on myself because I've been going to school on this. I don't pretend to know everything. I'm going to keep learning. I know that I can calm the nervousness about do we have a president who loves this place?" Because when you get jilted like that, you say, "Well, are we unworthy of love? I mean, this person left in six months."
Jim Tressel: You start having doubts about yourself. I said, "I know I can prove to them that there's someone here that loves them because I loved them for 15 years and that hasn't changed." It's been a learning curve ever since. I'm finishing my seventh year. In fact, it was seven years ago yesterday that I told them that, "Yes, I'd come," and it's been a blur, but, I mean, I've learned a little bit every day, hopefully tried to serve them, been betting on myself. It's gone well so far, but boy, higher education has a lot of challenge, just like every business. The COVID thing was a challenge. I mean, that was... you talk about having your world flipped upside down, but we became closer. You talk about adversity, what it does to you as a team. Well, you've been on those plane flights where you just lost two in a row on the road. All of a sudden, you either became close or it all blew up. It's been quite an experience.
Michael Redd: Well, you answered my COVID question and the pressure to lead in that moment. Yeah.
Jim Tressel: And the safety. What really made you nervous was we knew so little about it. We have such a variety... We have people all the way from 70 years old that work on this campus, to 18 years old that go to school on this campus. Meeting the needs of everyone, meeting the trepidation of everyone. We have students that have a grandma they live with at home. They're petrified that, "Am I going to take this and kill my grandma?" All of the decisions we had to make, we found a real togetherness amongst the 14 public universities in Ohio. We met twice a week on the phone as it began and we met once a week after that and we still meet two times a month on the phone, Zooms and so forth, to see how we can give each other ideas to do things properly. Because while we want people safe, we also want people healthy mentally and putting someone locked up in a room at home or whatever, it's a tough balance.
Jim Tressel: Yeah, I think 2020, we're all going to remember. Can you imagine the kids in college right now, Michael, when they were like 10 years old or eight years old, we had the recession, the big bubble in the world. Lots of people lost their jobs and et cetera, et cetera. And then 10 or 12 years later, now they're in college, they were in elementary school when that happens and they don't really understand it. You get to college and this happens. In their 20 years, there's been some adversity. It's going to be interesting to see the net effect of that in the confidence level and in the belief and the foundations. I always tell our people here, "There's no time more important for us to be with these students than this moment."
Michael Redd: I think it has the makings of being the most resilient generation in the world.
Jim Tressel: They're either going to be resilient or they're going to not.
Michael Redd: Yep. Correct. Correct.
Jim Tressel: Unfortunately, we've got to make... we've got to tilt it towards the direction of, "You know what? It can't get tougher than this and I'm ready." It's like when you play an opening schedule that you play the top teams. It's like, "Hey, you know what? We got through that, so we're going to be fine," but we have to keep doing our work.
Michael Redd: Yep. Last question for me. With all that you experienced in your career, in your personal life, being married, being a father, being a husband, what would you share with your 16 year old self? Any advice.
Jim Tressel: The bottom line is how you treat one another individually. We talk a lot in society about societal things. Societal things are nothing but an accumulation of individual things. I want you to be a part of the right individual things. Now, I know there's going to be some things around you that aren't... don't seem fair, don't seem right, that you may not feel good about, but first and foremost, you take care of your business. If you take care of your business and then the people around you, there can be a ripple effect and that's, to me, a message that our young people... There's a personal responsibility to the team, there's a personal responsibility to the society and we can't count on someone other than ourselves to do the right things. It goes back to that personal leadership. If you can lead yourself... And leadership, as we always talk about, is the action you take to serve others.
Jim Tressel: So if personally you can serve others, personally you can develop yourself, you can make a difference.
Michael Redd: There's nothing to add to that. It was an honor, Coach Tressel, to have you on this podcast. We all love you here in Ohio. I love you and appreciate you and your legacy is that love. So appreciate you, sir.
Jim Tressel: That was always the thing at the top of all of our whiteboards where we could put all the X's and O's we wanted, the word love, that's above everything else. I appreciate you, my brother.
Michael Redd: Yes, sir. An honor.
Jim Tressel: All right. I'll get Ellen down to take your lunch money pretty soon.
Michael Redd: You don't love me, but so much. I know she certainly doesn't, but give her my love and tell her I said hello. Please do.
Jim Tressel: All right. God bless you my friend. Thanks for doing this.
Michael Redd: Yes, sir. [crosstalk 00:44:55] thank you.
Jim Tressel: Listening to every single of your podcasts.
Michael Redd: Please do, sir. Thank you so much for that. Let's stay connected [crosstalk 00:45:01]. Okay.
Michael Redd: Jim said, "It's important to study others, but to become yourself." I can't think of a better note to end this episode of the Betting on Yourself podcast. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Jim. You can follow Jim Tressel on Twitter at JimTressel5. Thanks for listening. Until next time, I'm Michael Redd. And remember, betting on yourself is the secret to your success.
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