TOLEDO – Four years and two presidential searches ago, Jim Tressel was king of the Big Ten. Thirty-six months after his ouster at Ohio State, he’s passed the torch to a loyal assistant.
When Tressel was asked Wednesday about a return to coaching, he smiled and nodded in Mark Dantonio’s direction saying, “I'll leave the sideline up to the guys who know how to win.”
They still know how to play football in Columbus – Urban Meyer did orchestrate a school-record winning streak – but life is tougher for the Buckeyes with Michigan State rearranging the conference’s hierarchy in one fell swoop last December.
“When we [arrived in East Lansing] in 2006, we dreamed big,” Dantonio said at a charity event in Toledo. “What we’ve been able to accomplish this past year was a result of that – seven years of sacrifice, commitment, laying our plan out and going through our goals.
“We’re now at the top, and that’s where Ohio State has been. A lot of that is thanks to Coach Tressel and the things he did. That’s where they’re at right now. The opportunity to compete at that level at this point in time in just a mindset. But we’re very fortunate to be there.”
When Ohio State met the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship Game, Michigan State was 11-1 but unheralded. It didn’t have a marquee win and the one blemish was a loss to subpar Notre Dame. But as it did in 1998 and 1974, Michigan State topped the undefeated Buckeyes, spoiling a possible national championship.
“We’re now at the top, and that’s where Ohio State has been.”– Mark Dantonio
This time the Spartans also ended Ohio State’s 24-game win streak. The schools’ Nov. 8 rematch in East Lansing is among the most anticipated games of the college football season. For at least one year, Michigan State has become That School Up North.
“I’m awful proud of him,” Tressel said of Dantonio. “All the hard work he put into Michigan State, to see him with that [Rose Bowl] ring on, I’m like a proud father.”
Tressel’s statement came as he and Dantonio modeled their Rose Bowl championship rings – Tressel’s from the 2010 season, Dantonio’s from last year. And Tressel made sure to point out those are the Big Ten’s only victories in Pasadena dating to 2001.
Both triumphs came in part due to players from Ohio. Michigan State’s roster is stocked with Ohioans – 23 in all. The two heroes of the Big Ten title game, Connor Cook and Denicos Allen, hail from the Buckeye State and neither held a scholarship offer from Ohio State.
“There’s great football throughout the state of Ohio,” Dantonio said. “First of all, I’m from Ohio and I appreciate the level of football in Ohio. We’re always going to be involved heavily in this state. That’s a credit to the state of Ohio. There are a lot of good football players here, so there are a lot of opportunities to come here and recruit.”
Dantonio will find it’s much easier to pluck talent from Ohio when he’s on the right side of the scoreboard.
When asked about his comments about never coaching again, Tressel said “ever is a long time,” but he doesn’t foresee a return in the future.
“I happen to be involved in two university’s presidents searches,” Tressel said. “Right now, that’s foremost on my mind.”
Last week Tressel said he has more important things to do than coach. Asked to clarify, he said, “I think working with kids is the most important thing. That’s why Mark works with the kids he does, that’s why all those years I coached the kids I coached and, now, I’m coaching 26,000. That’s why I said it’s more important, because it’s more kids.”
Tressel on Jack Mewhort: “Jack Mewhort is a great kid. Jack’s going to be a good NFL player. He’s shown he can play tackle, he can play center. He’s smart, he’s durable, he’s tough. I don’t know about [getting drafted] the first day, it’s going to be close. But second day for sure.”