Four days after the University of Akron nearly upset Michigan on Sept. 14, co-instructors Jim Tressel and Jim Dennison asked the nearly 100 students in their UA “Principles of Coaching” class what they would have said to the Zips in the postgame locker room.
Colleen Vincent’s mini-speech blew them away.
Her voice was filled with passion. She figuratively told the Zips they had played hard, played their best. She said they had nothing to be ashamed of, that they could build off what they could have done, nearly shocking the collegiate football world.
“She came across like she’s been in the locker room before,” Dennison said of Vincent, who is a 40-year-old physical education and health teacher at Coventry High School.
She has in a sense, but not the environs of Ohio State and Youngstown State and UA and Walsh where Tressel and Dennison toiled for many years. Vincent, the daughter-in-law of former UA football player Dave Vincent, coaches CYO girls basketball and a 14-and-under softball team.
The true measure of Vincent’s words came Nov. 6, when UA football coach Terry Bowden spoke and Tressel and Dennison asked him what he had said after the four-point loss to the Wolverines.
“His had a little different twist, something else that was very good, too, but very similar to hers,” Tressel said.
Graduate student Vincent wonders, with just two of 16 classes remaining, what she’ll do after the final exam.
“I have three kids at home and I coach CYO basketball right now, and I’m extremely busy. Things have changed in teaching and we have all these extra things we’re doing, and I’m drained,” Vincent said. “But on Wednesday nights, I come get inspired.”
An April vision
That is exactly what Dr. Victor Pinheiro, chairman of UA’s Department of Sports Science and Wellness Education, envisioned in April when he broached the idea of the class to Tressel.
“These are the types of interactions that will change the life of a student,” Pinheiro said by telephone Thursday. “In my humble beginnings I had people like this that changed my life. I’m sure Mr. Tressel has touched a lot of students.”
The class, which meets from 6:40 to 9:10 p.m. on Wednesdays in Leigh Hall, didn’t come together until just before the fall semester began. Tressel, now UA’s Vice President for Student Success, didn’t agree to do it until Dennison signed on.
Dennison gave Tressel his first job in coaching in 1975, a graduate assistant post at UA. Tressel spent three more seasons with the Zips coaching receivers, running backs and quarterbacks before departing. Dennison amassed the most victories in UA football history in his 28 years, then spent 18 more as Walsh’s football coach and athletic director before retiring in November 2012.
“I like working with students,” Tressel said of what he’s enjoyed most about this experience. “I’ve loved listening to Jim Dennison. It’s like I’m reliving my childhood.”
Just as enthralled are most of the 78 enrolled students, 44 of them undergraduates, some at satellite campuses participating through a live video feed. About 20 more are taking the class for no credit. One is a former minister, another a 59-year-old female sports junkie. The roll includes three UA athletes — Demetrius Treadwell (basketball), Matt Rembielak (baseball) and Malachi Freeman (football).
Tressel serves as closer
Treadwell said he has found it hard to sit though such a long class but looks forward to hearing Tressel, who usually speaks last.
“Tressel keeps me a little more interested,” Treadwell said.
Tressel’s time was brief Wednesday as he allowed former Mount Union football coach Larry Kehres to talk until the 8 o’clock break. Nearly every week, Tressel has invited a speaker. The list has included UA coaches Dennis Mitchell (track and field), Jodi Kest (women’s basketball), Jenny King (women’s golf), Julie Jones (softball) and Jared Embick (men’s soccer). The two left on the schedule are Kirk Barton, a former Perry High School, Ohio State and NFL offensive tackle, and Dave Adolph, an Akron native whose career included two stints as a Browns assistant and time on the OSU football academic support staff under Tressel.
For the final exam/project, Tressel split up the class into teams of six. Each picked a sport to coach and will essentially create a small version of his legendary Winners’ Manual, putting together a six-section binder that includes goal-setting procedures, a theme for the season, full-year calendar, a staff organization plan, an alcohol/drug policy and pertinent articles relevant to the sport.
Tressel occasionally dives into his personal coaching archives. On Wednesday, he put on the projector a list of things that had to be accomplished for Ohio State to beat Michigan and showed a list of off-the-field concerns the Buckeye coaching staff had before a season began.
Class has growth potential
Pinheiro said he hopes the class might eventually go national or international via a distant learning concept. Next semester is not feasible for Tressel or Dennison, who plans to spend two or three months at his condominium in Cape Coral, Fla. Tressel said it might be offered during a May intercession, when high school football coaches could participate.
“He has spent a tremendous amount of time getting this course organized, getting different types of coaches, from high school to championship coaches. Where can you get experience like that?” Pinheiro said of Tressel. “You know how much money I’d have to spend if I had to do this on my own? I’d go broke.”
This semester’s students said they believe they’re learning principles that will carry them through life.
“These guys are unbelievable. You know that there’s greatness in front of you,” said Vincent, a Green resident. “But beyond winning records, they’re very inspirational. I take what I learn from them and use it with my girls and in my classroom.”
Vincent said she treasures the book lists Dennison and Tressel passed out at the beginning as they shared titles they consider the most valuable in their careers.
“Each coach brings how they got to where they are and what attitude drives that. All great coaching, as you can see from this, comes from attitude,” Vincent said of the speakers.
“I can make the argument that every student, every person should take this class,” said Leslie Ungar, 59, of Sharon Township, who works at Electric Impulse Communications in Akron. With undergraduate and graduate degrees from UA, Ungar is receiving no credit but has studied for the exams, and she is participating in the final project.
Michael Bull, 26, of Canton, enrolled because he played football for Dennison at Walsh, graduating in 2010. He works in marketing for Hygenic Corp., an Akron company specializing in exercise and rehabilitation products, and he trains people one-on-one.
“I’ve learned a lot that can be applied to more than coaching, outside leadership,” Bull said. “Seeing two guys who are so passionate about what they do is really a motivator and everyone’s really receptive to that. It’s a class where everyone is so tuned in every single week. There are not many experiences like that on college campuses.
“I tell my wife, I’ve never been so excited to go to a class in my entire life.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.