Featured as the keynote speaker for the Ohio Historical Society's Statehood Day celebration, Tressel spoke to a crowd of around 250 in an area where Abraham Lincoln once gave an address. In a half-hour speech, the Ohio State head coach drew upon his own personal history to illustrate the importance of the work the organization does.
The fact that Tressel was there at all was a testament to his mother, the deceased Eloise Tressel. A avid historian herself, Eloise was a president of the Ohio Association of Historical Societies & Museums as well as an athletic historian for Baldwin Wallace College.
"She would love it," Tressel said of the event. "She would travel all across the state. She was the state director and the history of Berea, which became our home, that was where we sunk our roots. These types of events, this is what my mom lived for."
Tressel sets his yearly public-speaking schedule each June. When the historical society reached out to him, the letter asking him to speak had a paragraph about his mother.
"They kind of threw in that line of, ‘We know your mom was very interested,' " he said.
Arriving in the atrium of the statehouse about 45 minutes before giving his speech, Tressel was swarmed by people dressed in period costumes wanting photos and autographs. As he took to the podium, Tressel was greeted by a cheer of "O-H" from one side of the room that he returned with an "I-O" as the crowd laughed.
Once he was introduced by Greg Myers, who holds the same position Tressel's mother held years ago, Tressel spoke on what the state of Ohio has meant to him and his family.
"The one thing that she passed on to all of us is truly there's no place like home, and Ohio is our home," he said. "It's so special. You have a chance when you have opportunities like ours to travel all around the country and take in different places, but there's nothing like when you get to come back home."
Although Tressel went to college at Baldwin Wallace, his family roots trace back to the town of Ada, where his parents grew up. In 1943, his father, Lee, graduated from high school early to take part in spring football at Ohio State.
After a promising quarter spent under then-head coach Paul Brown that saw him throw a touchdown pass to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Les Horvath, Lee opted to enlist in the military and found himself based out of the Berea area. He took courses there, and upon his return from World War II he started a family in the area.
During his speech, Jim pulled out a personal historical artifact: a postcard from his father to his mother depicting Ohio Stadium and dated Feb. 8, 1943.
"I have this postcard reminding me under the glass of my desk that my dad sure wanted to be at Ohio State, but he was willing to do what the country needed," Tressel said. "It's just an historical postcard, but it makes a lot of sense to me."
Fast-forward a half century, and Jim found himself in line to land the head coaching job for the Buckeyes after leading Youngstown State for 15 years. Although his father had passed away due to lung cancer in 1981, Jim sought out some advice from his mother on the position.
She was only too happy to give her opinion on the job.
"When the Ohio State job opened up in January of 2001, she called me up and said, ‘Now don't get any ideas. You don't want to go to Ohio State and coach. They're awfully mean to their coaches,' " Jim said.
Myers, who knew Eloise, said she would be proud of her son for his legacy away from the football field.
"Having known your mother, coach, I think that she would think the most important thing is that you've been inspiring young Ohioans to make history themselves," Myers said. "I think inspiring others is a Tressel family tradition."
As for the nickname of "senator," Tressel said he was not sure where it came from.
"I don't know if the inference is that I'm stuffy or that senators are stuffy or I'm button-downed or senators are button-downed, but it is what it is," he said. "You could be called a lot worse things than a senator."
Being in the state's capital did not kindle any feelings of running for office down the line for the coach, however.
"I don't think so," he said. "I'm an educator. I'm sure there have been educators who have served, (but) I don't foresee it."