COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An announced crowd of 105,899 was on hand to witness Ohio State's 26-21 win over Michigan on Nov. 24. Among those who watched the final game of the Buckeyes' 12-0 season from inside of Ohio Stadium was the last coach to bring a perfect record to Columbus.
As fans rushed the field following the OSU victory, Jim Tressel was surely reminded of the scene that he helped create a decade earlier, when the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines to seal a 13-0 regular season record en route to the 2002 national title. In attendance to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that team, Tressel was carried off the field on the shoulders of former players in-between the first and second quarter of the 2012 team's season finale.
But unlike Tressel's second team at Ohio State, head coach Urban Meyer's first wasn't able to translate a perfect regular season into a national title shot. And for that, Tressel is at least partly to blame.
That's because in a scandal that led to his resignation in the spring of 2011, the 10-year OSU head coach allegedly withheld information that he was aware of in regards to a tattoos-and-cash-for-memorabilia scandal involving members of the Buckeyes' 2010 team. As a result, the OSU program was hit with sanctions from the NCAA that included a postseason ban for the 2012 season and scholarship reductions.
Yet despite the manner in which he left, the now 60-year-old Tressel said that he feels good about the legacy that he left for himself in Columbus.
"I was there 10 years, there's a whole bunch of things that I would've done differently," Tressel told The Buckeye Show on 97.1 The Fan/WBNS Radio. "As I look back, I feel very good that I gave my heart and soul to the place for 10 years and turned out a lot of great kids and had some pretty good football teams as well and I feel wonderful about it."
Tressel is well aware that he has become a polarizing figure with Buckeye fans, due to both his successful tenure at OSU and the sanctions that he left behind. But that doesn't really bother the Mentor, Ohio native, who prefers to only try to control what he can currently control.
"The only thing you concern yourself with are the people you work directly with. I feel as I've had a chance to reunite- whether it's often or occasionally- with a lot of the people I coached, and coached with, and worked with and so forth, I feel as though with my relationships with those people are as strong as ever," Tressel said. "They know how I felt about them and they know how I continue to feel about them. They know I'll always be with them until it's impossible."
Nearly two years removed from his resignation at OSU, Tressel is now serving as the Vice President of Strategic Engagement at the University of Akron. The six-time Big Ten champion coach said that he's enjoying his new job, and while he has had conversations about getting back into coaching, it's not something that he has felt the need to do.
"I obviously did miss Saturday afternoons, because there's nothing like trying to figure out if all the work you did that week was going to match up and then play that chess game," Tressel said. "All in all, I've never really had that moment where I've said I've got to put that whistle back on. I've had discussions with people at times, but I'm really pleased with what I'm doing right here."
But while the 2002 National Coach of the Year has kept busy at Akron, he's still managed to keep an eye on his former team and players. Tressel said that he's stayed in touch with Meyer, who beat him as the head coach of Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
"I haven't talked with him since the season. We talked a little bit in the spring leading up to this first year," Tressel said. "One thing I don't think anyone can refute: Urban's always done a great job winning football games."
Just as he bears part of the responsibility for the 2012 Buckeyes' limitations, Tressel is also the root of some of their success. Ohio State's third all-time winningest coach recruited the majority of the players on Meyer's first team in Columbus, including star quarterback Braxton Miller, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
"The mark of a good coach is that you take the personnel you have and you do the things with them that they're capable of doing," Tressel said of Meyer. "He took over a very, very talented group of kids, starting with Braxton and all the rest, and did some things that those guys do very, very well and obviously rolled through the season. I would look for extraordinary things in the future."