Great Moments in Michigan Stadium History: Promise Fulfilled

By Jason Priestas on November 27, 2013 at 10:45a

When John Cooper was fired after the 2000 season, it brought to a close 13 years of highs – big wins, insane talent, and a recruiting juggernaut, to name just a few – and lows, like an ugly 2-10-1 record against the hated Michigan Wolverines.

Despite Coopers' many successes, and make no mistake, there were many, it was his abysmal record against Michigan that led to his termination. Going 14-10 over his final two seasons were just the straws that broke the proverbial camel's back.

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger launched a search to replace Cooper and talked to some of the several rising stars in the profession, including Oregon's Mike Bellotti, Minnesota's Glen Mason, Ohio State defensive coordinator Fred Pagac and even Buckeye legend Chris Spielman.

In the end, he settled on a coach from tiny Youngstown State. Jim Tressel was well-known within Ohio – his father, Lee, was a coaching legend in the Buckeye State, and Jim, himself, had won several Division II national championships with the Penguins.

Still, many Ohio State fans were left scratching their heads. Who was this guy, exactly, and why was Ohio State – the Ohio State – turning to a coach from a lower division?

In January, they found out when Tressel, introduced to fans at halftime of a men's basketball game, made a promise:

"I can assure you that you will be proud of our young people, in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field."

The Schottenstein Center exploded.

It's one thing to make a promise like that, but it's another thing altogether to deliver on it. That's just what Tressel's first Buckeye team did.

Leading up to The Game, quarterback Steve Bellisari was arrested for DUI and Tressel responded by sitting him in the regular season finale. In his place, Michigan-native Craig Krenzel would start and play the entire game for the Buckeyes.

With a green quarterback, Tressel turned to the run and it paid off early. Running back Jonathan Wells scored three times and the Buckeyes took a 23-0 halftime lead into the locker room. Michigan would rally to make a game of it, but Tressel and his Buckeyes held on for a 26-20 victory, the program's first win in Ann Arbor in 14 years.

Ohio State fans had found their savior. Someone that not only understood the importance of the rivalry, but possessed the power to pull a 180 on a decade of slips, missed tackles and various other late November tragedies. The coach would go on to win nine of his 10 meetings with the Wolverines, cementing his legacy as the Mayor of Ann Arbor.


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andyb's picture

That was so much fun to watch! I remember it like it was yesterday! 
Side note: The first hit by Wilhelm makes me sad because that would now be called "targeting"  The announcer said it was indicative of the rivalry!! Lets get back to being humans and just play the game with big hits like that....hate this new rule! 

dbit's picture

Great minds...

NitroBuck's picture

Not to be picky, but those were not Division II titles Jim Tressel won at Youngstown State.  He led the Penguins to 4 NCAA Div-1AA (FCS) titles.  There is a difference.

Ferio.  Tego.

dbit's picture

Boom.  Love the hit by Matt Wilhelm in that highlight video...  Definitely targeting and I love it

buckeyepastor's picture

I remember my excitement at the Tressel statement when it first occurred, but by game time it wasn't something that I thought of as being all that prophetic.  We were sort of reeling and inconsistent going into that one.   Jonathan Wells was such a BEAST that day.  What was unmistakable as the game wore on was the fact that we did not have a sideline that had a dark cloud hanging over it anymore.   We didn't get tight or look panicked.  It was just one game, but clearly now we see how much of a turning point it was.   It was also one of only three times I can remember that I didn't get to watch THE GAME in its entirety.  I had to attend a rehearsal for a Christmas drama that started about during the fourth quarter so I listened to the last of it on the radio.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Jonnferrell's picture

We were like 6-4 going into that game.  Belisari's DUI was quite a blessing.  

"I miss Brady Hoke."

stevebelliseeya's picture

Ahhhh my namesake....the DUI heard round the state. I wish the best for Steve but I was elated at the thought of him not playing quarterback for us.

"We are eternal. All this pain is an illusion." - Tool

Seattle Linga's picture

Well said Jonn ............... Glad to see Steve getting bench - it was deserved after that DUI

Jonnferrell's picture

It was like having Bauserman all year long.  LOL.  I still remember that's the first time I heard the QB joke--"Why did Belisari go to Afghanistan?  To overthrow the Taliban." 

"I miss Brady Hoke."

osu07asu10's picture

Jim Tressel.  scU*s worst nightmare.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

buckeyeEddie27's picture

I was 16.  I remember talking to my dad about the hire. I asked, "Who the hell is this guy?"  So Dad answered "He's been coaching in Youngstown and winning Championships.  He's a winner." That was all I needed.  All in with Tress ever since.

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Seattle Linga's picture

I thought Wells was going to punch the Ref on the first TD

cplunk's picture

It's funny how video from 2001 already looks like video from 1868. 
Tress's promise was one of the best moments in the history of The Game (and there have obviously been many). Given the history at that time, it was big talk. That team followed it up with big walk, and thus began the newest rise of the Buckeye.

Doc's picture

Coach Tressel bringing the swag back. That took huge cajones to say it, but even bigger ones to back it up. 

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

GOOMBAY's picture

Bam Childress sighting. Solid.

45has2's picture

The sly senator. I remember him deflecting questions about his guaranteed win after The Game by saying:"I didn't guarantee a win, only that Buckeye fans would be proud of their team and I think they are." I love Urb's directness with the media but Tress could say so much by saying so little.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

Buckabroad's picture

So much respect for that man.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

chitown buckeye's picture

The 1rst and only time I ever stepped foot into the big house! Was fortunate to be at that game and after pulling off the upset walked out saying I will never come back to this stadium!

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Hovenaut's picture

Got on the phone after that ga_e, called up two old Navy buddies fro_ that state....payback.
We don't talk _uch any_ore.

bucknut3011's picture

Jim Tressel was a savior to the program.  I lived through the early/mid '90's on campus -- it psychologically imprinted on me.  I got to the point where I could only watch the game by myself in a locked room.  No interaction with anyone else at all. 
The way Tress 'got' The Game, and taught his players to understand it... awesome! I have so much respect for Tress.  Many people around the country now look down on him for bad decisions (who really knows what all went down?), but I thinke he will always be a legend at Ohio State.

Metal Guru's picture

After the tragic 1996 game, where I nearly got into about 20 fights with Walmart Wolverines on my way out of the stadium, 2001 felt like a blessing. Taking my son to his first OSU game, winning the game in style, singing the Alma Mater with the team in the south end zone and no ScUM having a thing to say to me on the way out are memories that will live forever.
Tress was the right coach at the right time for OSU.

Seattle Linga's picture

Minnesota's Glen "UH-HI-UH" Mason
Fixed it for you Jason....... no problem..........I got your back 

wahoobuck's picture

I miss those uniforms :-(

This is my house, I have to defend it

nm_buck's picture

I.  Hate.  _eechigan.
Thank you Coach Tressel.  From the Heart.  Thank you.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15