"In my mind, the number one mission that we have is student success. That's why we're here," Tressel told a near capacity crowd inside of UA's Student Union Theatre. "We are all responsible for recruiting -- attracting -- students to come to our campus."
It'd be impossible to know whether the former Ohio State head coach's verbiage was accidental, coincidental or has merely been ingrained in him. But after Tressel's two-year stint as an Executive Vice President at Akron has produced success similar to what he found on the gridiron during his decade-long stint in Columbus, he now finds himself as one of three finalists for the university's position of President.
"We've got to work extremely hard to tell a compelling story of why you wanna be a part of the University of Akron," Tressel continued with his recruiting pitch. "We need to develop relationships. Of course we need to research, we need to discover knowledge, we need to hit the home runs in the laboratory."
Since leaving Ohio State in 2011 amidst NCAA violations committed by both he and former players, Tressel has found a home in the Rubber City where he was hired as the Vice President of Strategic Engagement in 2012. Having since been promoted to Executive Vice President for Student Success, the 10-year Buckeye headman has been responsible for a number of roles on the UA campus, including but not limited to academic advising, the Adult Focus program, the Career Center, the Counseling Center, financial aid, the Military Services Center, the Transfer and Adult Student Enrollment Center, tutoring and workforce development and continuing education.
But while Tressel's resume in academia speaks for itself, he is still best known for his sweater vest-wearing days on the Ohio State sideline. Athletics were unsurprisingly a hot topic of conversation during his 45-minute question and answer student with students, faculty members and alumni, where Tressel admitted that a balance must be struck with academics.
"How much do you invest in the potential impact of an extraordinary athletic department?" Tressel asked rhetorically. "It's going to be an interesting time in our history. I don't know where athletics are going. The NCAA basketball tournament pays for all of the catastrophic insurance at a university. That's huge."
The Mentor, Ohio, native also didn't shy away from any potential awkwardness between he and the athletic department should he be hired as president. Given that he has plenty of experience as not only a football coach, but also as the athletic director at Youngstown State, Tressel admitted that he would have his own thoughts as to how the Zips athletic department should be operated.
"If I was the athletic department, I would not love having the university president being a former athletics guy," he said. "Just being real."
It wasn't just sports that took center stage during Tressel's Q&A session, as he discussed topics ranging from campus diversity to alumni involvement to what he'd look for should he need to hire a provost. One area that the five-time national champion coach did stress in particular was the importance of Akron's retention rate, which the US News reported to be 69.8 percent in 2014.
"We have so many financial discussions that are real," said Tressel. "Retention is the number one financial resource that we have."
A native of Northeast, Ohio, Tressel also spoke to the university's importance beyond campus boarders.
Akron is one of Ohio's most unique cities, where suburbs and ghettos can be separated by less than a mile. There are encouraging areas of the city for certain, but others that appear to be in dire need of economic revival.
Tressel, for his part, believes that UA can assists in providing just that. Having researched cities of similar size across the United States, he doesn't see why a thriving university can't turn into even more.
"In my mind, we can also be here as a real part of making sure that our region flourishes. I think if you study some of the regions of the similar size of Akron, Ohio, they are the ones that have raised their education higher," he said. "The Kansas City's, the Oklahoma City's, the charlottes, the Nashville's -- they've done a great job of closing that gap and it's allowed those cities to flourish."
In addition to Akron, Tressel is a finalist for the President position at another Northeast Ohio school that he's been employed by before in Youngstown State. On May 5, Tressel will be part of a similar open forum at the YSU campus, where he coached from 1986-2000.
Despite being the only finalist at either Akron or Youngstown State to not hold a Ph.D., Tressel remains the frontrunner for both positions due to his visibility and fundraising abilities. Where his future in academia remains to be seen, but wherever it is, his message won't likely vary -- nor will the premium that he places on athletics.
"Concern for man and his fate must form the chief interest of all our technical endeavors," Tressel stated, quoting Albert Einstein. "God bless you all and Go Zips."