Jim Tressel writes an excellent cover letter. Actually, there are two in his application to succeed Luis Proenza as the president of the University of Akron.
The second refers to his “enthusiastic application” for the position. Yet it is the first that reflects Tressel writing with more zest and drive, making the case for why the trustees should tap him to serve as the interim president. He sees the university facing “urgent demands” and “tough decisions,” the moment “better served by a leader who has been ‘on the ground’ with the current team.”
Tressel seeks to turn weakness into an advantage. If he lacks the academic credentials, not to mention preparation for running something as complex as a public university, he has been in charge of “an ambitious student success agenda” as a university vice president the past two years. Thus, he warns “the university finds itself at a crossroads that a newcomer may not be able to competitively navigate.”
Now he sports the apt experience! Or “the right leader for this time,” as he puts it, indispensable to sustaining momentum.
The concept of an interim president appears off the table (at least for now), Tressel one of 19 applicants for the UA presidency. Yet this thinking remains at the core of his case for the job. Thus, an admission in both cover letters matters, that the strategic initiatives he is leading “are yet to be objectively measured for their impact.”
Or, put another way, there’s nothing firm on whether they are bringing the desired results.
In the first letter, Tressel shares a quote from Point B Consulting on interim leadership, the position calling for “a unique hybrid of leader. It takes more than deep experience in the respective functional role. It also requires the people skills and organizational acumen to build trust and transparency.”
No question, Tressel can be a compelling presence, whether in front of a large audience, engaging small groups or one-on-one. He has been praised for his decisiveness, something many view as missing too long at the university.
Build trust and transparency?
Examine his application, and no surprise, college football dominates, a decade as the head coach at Ohio State, 14 years at Youngstown State, including six as athletic director, an assistant coach going back to the 1970s. The many championship seasons are cited. The nine pages listing lectures, presentations and fundraising talks surely stem from his achievements on the field, Tressel with charisma, a celebrity.
A resume, like a cover letter, is an exercise in self-promotion. So it figures that Tressel would make no mention of his ignominious departure from Ohio State. Neither would he note that the scandal involving Buckeye players trading team memorabilia for cash and tattoos fit into a pattern across his head coaching years — shady characters and rogue boosters, money and cars for players, both Ohio State and Youngstown State getting into trouble with the NCAA.
UA trustees may view all of this as long past. Yet Tressel still faces a show-cause penalty. Among other things, it requires from any school seeking to hire him an explanation about why it needs to do so and how it will monitor his activities as coach to prevent new violations.
The penalty expires in December 2016. Which could invite no insignificant set of complications for a President Tressel who oversees the football program.
What did Tressel do to receive a virtual ban from college coaching? He lied to the NCAA and school administrators. The NCAA counted four instances in which Tressel failed to tell the truth and ran afoul of a leading ethical requirement of coaches: Report possible violations.
When he argued that did not want to jeopardize a federal investigation and worried about the safety of his players, the NCAA found his explanation “not to be credible.”
When Sports Illustrated told the Tressel story three years ago, it captured the coach’s penchant for pleading ignorance about the messes involving players and friends of the team. Might a promising candidate for university president have a better record of paying attention?
Obviously, Tressel has many accomplishments. He has made a positive difference in many young lives. His coming to the university made sense as an opportunity for a new start, and for trying an unconventional brand of leadership.
Two years later landing in the presidency? If the idea plays well with many close to home, it also carries the likelihood of much embarrassment, the Tressel dark side widely rehashed, how the projected image of integrity, trust and sincerity is just part of the story.
Ohio State looked the other way. The University of Akron is too important to the community and the region to see whether Jim Tressel proves true this time to the image.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.