When Ohio State hired James Patrick Tressel as its 22nd head football coach on January 18th , 2001 even the most hardcore fans in the football knowledgeable state of Ohio had reservations. Even though Tressel was wildly successful as a head coach over 15 seasons at Youngstown State, most Buckeye fans wondered if he could handle a program the size and caliber of Ohio State's. After going 7-and-5 during his first season with the Buckeyes, including a win over rival Michigan, Tressel instilled confidence in the Ohio State faithful by leading the Buckeyes to a perfect 14-and-0 mark, including a victory over the Miami Hurricanes in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, claiming the school's first national title since 1968.
The 2002 national championship, 5-and-1 record against Michigan and wins over storied programs like Penn State, Notre Dame and Texas have led many analysts around the country to proclaim Jim Tressel as the best big-game coach in the country. Whether that's reality or not, his players appear to have ultimate confidence in their bench boss.
Buckeyes' senior defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock says Tressel approaches big games just the way you would expect him to, intelligently. "I think him being such a good big-game coach is – he plays very passive. But at the time he needs to be aggressive, he does," Pitcock explained during Thursday morning's press conference at the Camelback Inn just outside of Phoenix. "You have to take that approach into big games, knowing when to, you know, to take the chance and not always sitting back and let the game control its own destiny like in regular season games."
Fellow senior defensive lineman David Patterson said it's not just Tressel's feeling for how to call plays on game day that makes him great. "Preparation I think is a key for that. I think Coach Tressel does a great job in preparing in each game. He is beast at drawing up schemes. Since I have been here, there is only maybe one game we haven't been in a position to win it at the end," Patterson stated. "We have lost games, but every game we lost except for one we have been in a position to win it. He is great at managing games and decision-making and managing the clock and calling the right plays when they need to be called."
OSU's steady rock in the defensive backfield, Antonio Smith, agreed with his teammates on Tressel's influence on big games. "Again, just what Quinn and Dave said. First it is composure and his approach to each and every game. Also, his preparation in his coaching staff and his ability to prepare us and get us ready," explained Smith. "We have been doing a great job, you know, our time off preparing for Florida. Out coaching staff has done a great job in preparing us and getting us ready, just ready to play."
Smith went on to joke that Ohio isn't the only place where the politician-like coach is an icon. Where else might Coach Tressel be considered a deity, how about Paris or other places know for their fashion and trendsetting? "Outside Ohio, I mean, he is an idol, I guess you could say," Smith quipped. "People are talking about his trend and fashion and his sweater vests and a lot of people look up to him as one of the greatest coaches in college football."
"Our team, you know, we just have a lot respect for Coach Tressel and what he does for us as players," Smith said as his mood turned serious. "We go in, come into Ohio State as young, teenage adults, 18-years-old, 19-years-old. He really instills values in us and we come out as men."
With his team just days away from possibly claiming its second national title in six seasons on the job, Tressel's reputation as the country's top big-game coach has a chance to grow to legendary status, at least in Ohio.