No notes, no podium, no PowerPoint presentation.
That’s how Jim Tressel made his pitch to be president of the University of Akron on Thursday.
The former coach spoke seemingly off-the-cuff before a near-capacity crowd of 290 in the Student Union Theatre, which seats 323. He was the last of three finalists to present his ideas.
“The No. 1 mission we have is about student success,” said Tressel, 61. “That’s why we’re here. It’s quite a responsibility to ensure that the people who chose us are successful.”
Tressel has spent two years as a top UA official, most recently as executive vice president of student success, one of two top lieutenants for President Luis Proenza, who is stepping down to return to teaching. He oversees the nonacademic and nonathletic side of the university, from recruiting to financial aid to the career center, and that’s what he focused on at the forum.
He spoke of the need to create a sense of unity, or “oneness,” on campus in which everyone is working toward the same goal: making students successful.
“We want this place to be vibrant, full of people who want to learn,” Tressel said.
He said the administration fell short in providing a “structurally sound budget” for the coming fiscal year, where UA has been cutting corners and beefing up recruitment to close a $15 million budget shortfall.
With his guidance, the 2016 budget would be structurally sound, he said.
Bringing in that kind of budget might mean lowering UA’s spending on athletics and beefing up university revenue, he suggested.
The audience broke into applause several times and laughed at Tressel’s self-deprecating humor, as when he said he couldn’t introduce himself within the 10 minutes UA allowed.
“With my ego, I can’t even say hello in 10 minutes,” he said.
He verbally jostled with John Green, director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, when he stepped up to a microphone to ask about the balance between athletics and academics, a worry among faculty given Tressel’s 37 years in athletics.
“What are you trying to do, intimidate me?” Tressel asked good-naturedly of Green, who has earned a national reputation as an expert in politics.
Tressel does not hold a doctorate, which many consider a prerequisite for the job. His bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in education.
And he brings baggage from his days as football coach at Ohio State, where players accepted tattoos in exchange for memorabilia. He did not tell NCAA officials promptly when he learned of the infractions.
However, that didn’t seem to bother most people approached for comments after the forum.
“Excellent speech. He’s definitely a team player,” said Joe Gregor, assistant vice president of physical facilities.
“I feel very confident in his direction for the institution,” said Bill Torgler, director of academic advisement. “I was very happy to hear his ideas about student success.”
Steve Weeks, a biology professor and president of the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors, was more cautious.
“I think Tressel is a coach,” Weeks said. “He talks about teamwork and really emphasized everyone coming together and ‘working as a team.’
“His analogy — about how everyone on a team has to understand that they are only as important as all the others on the team — seemed straight out of a football coaching manual.”
Tressel gets to do it all over again Monday, when he attends a similar forum for the presidency at Youngstown State, where he also is one of three finalists.
Both UA and YSU are moving on parallel tracks as they seek to find a new president by July 1.
Tressel is a favorite son in the Youngstown area because of his coaching there, and many community leaders have welcomed his candidacy with open arms.
YSU trustees reportedly will announce their new president in mid-May.
Jon Pavloff, a UA trustee and chairman of the UA search committee, said trustees “definitely” will pick their new president by Memorial Day.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.