Will Jim Tressel be the next president of the University of Akron? The former Ohio State football coach and current UA executive vice president for student success added to his campus resume last week. The university trustees gave him the job of helping Luis Proenza complete his strategic goals before he exits the presidency in June after 15 years in the post.
Many Tressel watchers thought they saw the beginnings of an attempted seamless transition, the coach gaining further credentials in a bid to look more like presidential material. Nothing so blunt was uttered. The university has launched a national search for a successor. Yet, Tressel clearly has champions in these parts, warm to the idea of him playing the leading role.
Since arriving at the university, Tressel has been an engaging presence. He connects with many students. His door is open. One line of thought is that universities would benefit from fresh eyes, crisp decision-making and improved organization. It may be that Tressel would bring all of that, and deliver as a fund-raiser, too. He is smart and accomplished.
At the same time, those at the university making the choice of a new president must weigh fully the baggage that Tressel carries. Old news? Not really. Any university seeking to hire him as a coach must “show cause,” or what amounts to a practical ban on his returning to the sideline. That requirement does not expire until December 2016. So a Tressel presidency likely would begin with the university looking for a designee to oversee the athletic department.
Recall what Tressel did at Ohio State to receive the “show cause” sanction. He lied to his superiors at the school and the NCAA. In its report, the NCAA identified four chances in which Tressel could have come clean about players receiving cash and tattoos in exchange for autographed jerseys, rings and other memorabilia. He proved untruthful each time.
The NCAA wasn’t impressed with his explanation about wanting to protect a federal investigation and the safety of the players. The report cited “a deliberate effort to conceal” in order to preserve the eligibility of the players, many of whom contributing to a highly successful season.
This episode at Ohio State was part of a pattern, similar circumstances surfacing earlier at Youngstown State University, where Tressel coached from 1986 to 2000, the school acknowledging violations and applying its own sanctions.
All of this isn’t to say Tressel never can escape the shadow. He has made a positive start at the university. Yet a leap to the presidency should trigger concerns. The university surely wants to reflect the highest standards of ethics and integrity in its choice of a president.
Then there is the considerable gap in experience. Again, universities would be aided by new ideas about their operations. Still, academic credentials and administrative know-how matter greatly as preparation for leading an institution of such complexity and scale, for knowing something as simple as the precise question to ask.
Jim Tressel can be hard to resist. The University of Akron should know it can do better.