The question was pointed and direct.
He had 10 great years, then a quick end to his career because of scandal. Would his career at Ohio State be looked at fairly?
Hours before he was inducted officially into the Ohio State Varsity "O" Athletics Hall of Fame Friday evening, Jim Tressel had a quick answer.
"You can't throw away in a game a fumble," he said. "You're just not allowed to do that. I think in general, people are fair about how they view the totality of anything, but what is most important is the people that you intimately worked with and you were trying to make a difference with. What is most important is how they feel about it, and I guess that's what's so thrilling about something like this weekend and the College Football Hall of Fame and all that. That's the people you worked with, and it's humbling that Varsity 'O' and their Hall of Fame felt like this era should be recognized."
Perhaps Tressel's answer was the most fair answer when it was given at the Columbus Renaissance hotel, where Tressel along with 13 others would be inducted in -- perhaps fittingly -- the Woody Hayes Grand Ballroom.
The "Tattoogate" scandal that surfaced in December 2010 and stretched on until his May 2011 firing on Memorial Day defined the end of Tressel's legacy, but before that his Ohio State record was beyond reproach. After winning four national championships at Youngstown State, the former OSU asssistant was hired after the 2000 season to rescue a program in turmoil.
He did just that, winning the school's national championship in 34 years in 2002 when the Buckeyes went 14-0 and upset No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl. That kicked off a golden decade of Buckeye football, one in which Ohio State went 106-22, played in eight BCS bowls, captured seven Big Ten championships and finished in the top five of the national rankings seven times.
He was also noted for his work in the community and is also set to enter the Colege Football Hall of Fame in December.
Tressel has not returned to coaching since being let go by Ohio State, instead enterting academia, and he is now the president at Youngstown State.
"I was on with Lou Holtz and Jack Arute earlier today and I was sitting in the Blackwell (hotel) and I said, 'I've been in the Blackwell on Friday afternoon many times, but I'm not nervous. This is different," Tressel said, referencing the hotel in which the team stays before games. "It's an amazing journey as you go, and some day I'm going to sit down and just list every single person and every single thing that made up the fun we had and the excitement that was created."
Tressel attended the College Football Playoff National Championship last winter and last returned to Ohio State for the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 national title team. At that event, he was cheered by the crowd and lifted on the shoulders of his players.
Most would expect he'll get a similar reaction this weekend. But for Tressel, the weekend was about remembering the good times, as he'd already met with former OSU coach Earle Bruce upon his return. Some of his former players and coaches such as Jim Heacock were also at the banquet, and he was set to be honored at the first break in the action Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
"You really do become reflective when things like this occur," Tressel said. "A coach in a Hall of Fame is totally different than a participant because you reflect about all 10 teams and all of the people who make up the entire fabric of what Ohio State athletics is about -- in our case, specifically Ohio State football.
"It goes fast and it's a blur while it's happening and life gets in the way. You don't sit around in a rocking chair thinking about those things, but when moments like this happen, you think about how fortunate you've been."