Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MICHIGAN WEEK: JIM TRESSEL IS THE REASON FOR BUCKEYES' DOMINANCE

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. (The Buckeye Times/Joshua Stueve)
COLUMBUS — Some can say that Ohio State's recent dominance of Michigan — eight wins in the last nine meetings, including six straight — can be attributed to the Buckeyes simply having better personnel.

I say hogwash. (Actually I would like to say another word, but it wouldn't be fit for print.)

No, the very reason why the Buckeyes have made the series so one-sided the last decade is simple — head coach Jim Tressel.

It can be argued that Ohio State in the 1990's — under then head coach John Cooper — had better overall talent than the Buckeyes have had under Tressel. Cooper had two top NFL draft picks (Dan Wilkinson and Orlando Pace) for crying out loud, among countless other first rounders and all-Americans.

The difference is, Cooper just never understood how important the series between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines was, and because of that, he only garnered two wins (and a tie) in 13 tries against "that school up north."

Tressel made it known right away that Ohio State and Michigan was "The Game."

During his introductory speech at halftime of the Ohio State men's basketball game against Michigan in January 2001, Tressel uttered these memorable words to the Buckeye fans on hand ... "I can assure you that you will be proud of our young people, in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field."

"The Game" would never be the same after that.

Tressel, unlike Cooper, gets it. He knows that this game is extra special. He blares the Michigan fight song on the loud speakers during preseason practices. He makes sure that everything is geared toward Michigan week. Even the weekly press conferences take place inside the football facility, instead of across the street at the Fawcett Center. He just doesn't want his team to stray too far away from the film room, the weight room or the practice field during Michigan week.

I guess that's why he's 8-1 against the Wolverines in his career at Ohio State.

"Impressive," OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said about Tressel's record against Michigan. "I wouldn't say surprising, though. Not saying it to be arrogant but I think he's put such an emphasis on this game. He relays it to the team, making sure everybody knows that it's bigger than any other game."

Buckeyes senior linebacker Brian Rolle — who's a native of south Florida — said he didn't realize how big "The Game" really was until he came to play for Tressel at Ohio State.

"Before coming here to Ohio State, I didn't know how important it was to actually beat Michigan," Rolle said. "But since being here I know that you can go 0-11 and win that 12th game against Michigan and that's like winning the Rose Bowl or the national championship."

Sanzenbacher explained how Michigan week is different than the others.

"I think it's actually a lot different," Sanzenbacher said. "And it's heightened, as well. Not in a sense that we didn't want to prepare hard for the other games, but there's so much more that goes into this week. Obviously, we have other stuff that we do. We met with the band last night. You have other people coming in this week.

"Everything changes a little bit, and I think everybody's a little bit more excited about the game."

Tressel, who is the son of the late Lee Tressel — a longtime football coach and athletic director at Baldwin-Wallace — was raised on the importance of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Although, he admits that he never attended "The Game" until he became the Buckeyes' head coach.

"Never was at an Ohio State-Michigan game until I coached here," Tressel joked. "Tickets were hard, and they didn't have eBay back then. But we always watched it. I mean, it was "The Game." You felt like you were a part of it, just like everyone does now."

Being that Lee Tressel was a college coach, young Jim didn't get to spend much time with his father during the football seasons. Of course, that wouldn't be the case when the Buckeyes and Wolverines would meet up each November.

"I don't know what age I first remember that, but I guess the era that I remember the most is the Rex Kern era and then beyond," Tressel said. "It was just one of those weekends as I've mentioned many times, my dad was pretty busy. We didn't see him much from August until the Ohio State-Michigan game.

"We got to sit and have a couple hours with him (during the Michigan game). When you don't get much time and you get a little bit, it's special."

Saturday's showdown against Michigan will be Tressel's 10th as head coach at Ohio State.

If the Buckeyes mentor doesn't get his ninth win against the Wolverines on Saturday, it certainly won't be because his team didn't understand the importance of "The Game."

Luke Fickell
FICKELL HONORED ... Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, Luke Fickell, was named the 2010 Assistant Coach of the Year, by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) on Monday.

The award is given annually to one assistant from the five divisions of college football for their dedication to their teams and communities.

Fickell, who is in his ninth season at Ohio State, said he is proud of receiving such a great honor from the

"I am extremely honored, becuase I know there are eight other assistant coaches at Ohio State and thousands of assistants across the country that deserve this recognition," Fickell said. "Thanks especially to all our players, becuase they are the ones who make us look good as coaches."

Fickell will be honored on January 10 at the 2011 AFCA Convention in Dallas, Texas.