Blue And Gold Memories

Akron and Ohio State didn't even play during the 20th century, but that doesn't mean the two schools don't have their fair share of ties on the gridiron. A quartet of OSU coaches have previously coached at UA, while the Buckeyes' Sept. 8, 2001, game with the Zips was a prominent moment for the Buckeye program.

Ohio State and Akron certainly don't have a storied history facing each other. The Buckeye State brethren have fought on the gridiron just six times in history, five of which came before the calendars hit 1900. The Buckeyes hold a 5-1 record in meetings with the Zips.

But ties between Ohio State and its northeastern neighbor run fairly deep for this showdown. Four Buckeye coaches, including head man Jim Tressel, have coached at Akron in their careers; in addition, Tressel's first game coaching at OSU came against the Zips six years to the day before Saturday's upcoming game.

So it's safe to say the University of Akron has a special place in the hearts of many representatives of Ohio State even when they line up against the school tomorrow in Ohio Stadium.

For Tressel, who has a master's degree from UA, his ties to the university go back to 1975 when he was hired by head coach Jim Dennison as a graduate assistant. Tressel said he had another offer at the time to work as a grad assistant at Penn State, but father Lee told him he should probably stay in-state.

"Thank goodness for Jim Dennison giving me a chance to enter this profession and then giving me my first full-time job," Tressel said. "I owe him everything for that opportunity."

Tressel moved up to coach the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs from 1976-78 before taking a job at Miami (Ohio). During Tressel's four years at the school, Akron was 29-16-1 and reached the Division II championship game in '76 before losing to Montana State.

"We had great teams," he said. "Those kids loved to play. … We had kids that they just loved to strike you and practice hard and football was very, very important to them. I enjoyed my four years at Akron tremendously and learned a great deal and got my master's degree there, as a matter of fact, so I'm a graduate.

He is joined on staff by three former Zips in linebackers coach Luke Fickell (defensive line coach, 2000-01), quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, 1989) and tight ends coach John Peterson (offensive line coach, 1995-98).

For Fickell, the job offered to him by head coach Lee Owens was the first full-time coaching job he would take after a year as a graduate assistant under John Cooper at OSU.

"I love the place," he said. "It's the only other place I've ever been other than here. I had a great time there, a great experience, and I learned a lot. The place has changed a ton since I've been there."

Oddly enough, Fickell was on the Akron sideline when the Zips faced Ohio State on Sept. 8, 2001, in Tressel's first game as the Buckeye head man. Tressel was joined on the OSU sideline by Daniels and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, each of whom joined him as first-year Buckeye coaches.

Tressel and the Buckeyes won 28-14, but that's not what he – or many of the coaches involved – remember.

"To show you how disorganized we were, the first time we were down by the goal line, we called a wristband play, and our guys came lined up in a formation that wasn't a formation on the wristband," Tressel said. "And we were screaming and yelling, 'You're wrong, (quarterback) Steve (Bellisari), get them moved or whatever,' and he throws a touchdown. He comes off the field, say, what – he had Thursday's wristband on. We didn't even have the right wristbands on our guy."

For brother Dick Tressel, who was Ohio State's first-year associate director of football operations at the time, the game against the Zips in 2001 served as a pivotal moment.

"What I remember about that game is that it was just a start of an exciting time," "Doc" said. "I remember it less as who Akron was or how good they were at that time or how good we were. I was like, ‘This is the start of hopefully something big.' I have no idea what the score was or how it happened or anything. I was a cheerleader at that time."

Tressel's other first-year staff members at the time were special teams coordinator Ken Conatser, defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio, linebackers coach Mark Snyder and defensive backs coach Mel Tucker. They joined three holdovers: running backs coach Tim Spencer, tight ends coach Bill Conley and Jim Heacock, who is now OSU's defensive coordinator and was then a sixth-year defensive line coach.

In that game against Akron, the Zips, led by Charlie Frye, put together just 248 total yards and one offensive touchdown, but as a consummate defensive coach, Heacock doesn't remember much of the positive aspects of the first game under his new boss.

"The only thing I remember is Akron moving the ball on us and it being a dogfight," he said. "They were pounding the ball, and that's not a great memory."


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