He could have tossed aside players like Maurice Clarett and Terrelle Pryor, two players who brought NCAA investigators into his Ohio State program, but has not, describing both as "special young men in (his life), two young men that I love very deeply."
The two were close from the time Clarett first arrived at Ohio State, as he talks during tonight's ESPN Films debut of "Youngstown Boys" of spending every day in Tressel's office when he was a freshman running back at the school.
That bond has done little to disintegrate over the years. Tressel reached out to Clarett when he left prison a few years ago, and the two have often appeared together publicly over the past few years -- with Tressel even taking part in Clarett's charity basketball game this spring just outside of Youngstown.
"I think there's deep respect and compassion and concern and love," Tressel said this week on an ESPN teleconference with Clarett. "We're similar in some ways. We get on the phone a little bit, and Maurice talks so fast and never lets me get a word in edgewise, and I like to talk a little bit, too, and I like to give him my two cents. We have a lot of fun. I think we understand one another. I think we both know neither of us are perfect, and we have a tremendous passion to constantly improve and to constantly try to find where it is we'll make a difference in other people's lives.
"We're both passionate competitors, and I think we just enjoy one another's company, and we appreciate one another's love that has transcended some rocky times. But at the end of the day, I know this: I could count on Maurice, and I think he knows for sure he could count on me."
One of the most poignant moments in the film comes near the very end when Clarett discussed how he never reconnected with his father, Myke, before he passed away last January.
In fact, the search for a male role model in his life is one of the themes of the film, and it's obvious to see that Tressel has at times filed that spot in Clarett's life.
"I think every young man needs some sort of male role model, leader or father figure in his life or somebody to guide him obviously in some area or territory that he's maybe working towards or that he doesn't understand or that he wants," Clarett said. "I think they'll subconsciously kind of gravitate towards that. That's life. I mean, you search and grab a hold to things or to people to kind of help you elevate or get to a level that you may want to get to in different areas of your life. You kind of pull on them and ask questions and things like that.
"And with Coach Tressel, at 18 when you're young and your years are being shaped and you get a chance to be directly across from somebody who you looked at when you was a little kid who was a hero to the area, when you get a chance to ask this person questions and they actually care about it and they give you information to help you improve your life, it's special.
"And then to have the disconnect over those years and then to reconnect again, of course you're going to take work every chance you get to try to work with them, be around them, stand next to them, just because it's fun, it's cool, and obviously Coach Tressel, especially when you live in Ohio, it's not a bad thing. But it's him. He knows how I feel about him, and he's just always fun to be around."
Tressel does admit in the film that he had trouble staying in touch with Clarett when the former running back left the program and found his struggles, something Clarett said he understood as Tressel fought to establish himself at Ohio State in the early years of his tenure.
In the end, though, the former head coach has remained one of Clarett's biggest boosters through all of his troubles, showing exactly why he remains close to those many former players who have experienced similar issues.
"I would tell my coaches often that you can't get frustrated if your guys don't get it all figured out in the four years you have them or the three years or the one year or whatever it happens to be," Tressel said. "But you hope you plant the seeds of information and wisdom and love and all the rest so that at the end of the day that showering of hope and that planting of seeds will allow someone to reach their potential.
"And to me that's what's exciting about this film is that while it's not the path that any of us would have written or the script any of us would have written, what's exciting is what lies ahead for this young guy. I'm just excited to watch all the extraordinary things he does down the road."