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Thursday, October 30, 2014

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Variations on a Jim Tressel guarantee

BY DAVID DEN HERDER
The SportsMonday Column
Published January 22, 2001

A far-too-typical demonstration of my academic strategy yesterday found me in the basement of Michigan Book and Supply, searching frantically for a text on campaign reform.

I expected the afternoon to be wasted on a wild goose chase for the obscure book, so you can imagine my delight at the sight of a freshly shipped stack, gleaming on the dusty shelf.

Smiling outright at my good fortune while feathering the pages across my fingertips, another of life"s little lessons came into focus.

It seems to me that just when you think you"re completely doomed, you"re usually okay.

What worries me is that the inverse is probably also true.

Now, while it"s been a big week in Washington amidst the inauguration fanfare, it might have been a bigger week in Columbus. The Buckeyes announced Thursday that former Youngstown State man Jim Tressel will fill their recently vacated position of head football coach.

That in itself has received mixed reviews from pundits and faithful but Tressel"s performance at the Michigan-Ohio State basketball game left very little to question.

"I can assure you that you"ll be proud of our young people," Tressel said to an attentive halftime crowd, "in the classroom, in the community and especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor"

So there it is.

A guarantee? Not really.

Lockerroom material? I"ve seen better.

But Tressel"s remarks certainly reveal a bit about his job objectives and they more than insinuate that he plans to leave Michigan Stadium victorious this November.

What struck me was not Tressel"s lip service, but the general disregard with which it was treated at least in Ann Arbor.

Even the most zealous Michigan supporters could do nothing but chuckle at the very idea of an Ohio State victory in the Big House next season.

The Wolverines not only return Heisman Trophy candidate Drew Henson and an improved defensive front seven, but will also have the No. 1 incoming freshman class. Meanwhile in Columbus, recruits are abandoning a ship with a Division I rookie at the helm who has yet to hire a crew.

Add the fact that Ohio State has not won in Michigan Stadium since 1987, and who could blame local newspapers for essentially burying Tressel"s comments beneath the other news of the day? Nobody around here (outside Schembechler Hall) is taking him seriously.

And maybe that"s okay. But this rivalry spans many a decade and there was a time when the scales favored Ohio State.

From 1959 to 1968, Michigan coach Bump Elliot went 3-7 against the Buckeyes. The final contest of his Michigan career, a 50-14 drubbing, was a particularly painful loss.

And when the Wolverines brought in a no-name assistant to guide their ship in 1969, the prospect of beating Ohio State was nothing short of laughable.

But every player harbored the sting of the 36-point loss, and Michigan"s new coach wouldn"t let them forget it. As the story goes, Bo Schembechler reserved 15 minutes at the end of each day that year to practice for Ohio State. As far as the Wolverines were concerned, 1969 was a one-game season.

When November arrived, to the disbelief of perhaps all but one rookie head coach, the Wolverines were victorious, 24-10, and were headed to Pasadena.

A mentor was fond of saying that "you can"t have one with out the other." I always figured that phrase applied to life"s little lessons.

So it seems to me that just when you think you"re completely okay, you"re usually doomed.

I don"t know if Jim Tressel is the right man for Ohio State. I don"t know if the Buckeyes even have a chance this November.

But I am sure about one thing: Tressel is counting the days.

And for that reason alone, so am I.

306.

David Den Herder can be reached at dden@umich.edu.


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