He has accumulated many nicknames over the years, from the Senator to CheatyPants McSweaterVest. He has also accumulated many wins, conference titles, a national title, and two spectacular flameouts in the past two BCS title games.
He is Jim Tressel, head coach of Ohio State and one of the more controversial figures in the sport.
He would seem an unlikely candidate for the role of controversy. He wins a lot but seldom via embarrassing blowouts. He speaks out in public only on rare occasions. He projects an image of a conservative, almost introverted college professor who is more likely to give a lecture on economics than a pregame motivational speech.
He also has earned that second nickname listed above thanks to a string of off the field incidents that range from player arrests to guys taking money from boosters. They date back to his time at Youngstown State, and a New York Times article from the week before his game against Florida outlines the major stories if you’re interested.
One thing that can’t be denied regardless of affiliation is that the man wins a lot of games. Through seven seasons in Columbus, he has won a national title, four conference titles, and appeared in five BCS bowl games. He is one of only two coaches, along with Bob Stoops, to have made three BCS championship games; however, they are also the only two coaches to have lost two of them in a row.
Ohio State has won the Big Ten three years in a row, and it appears to have the best team going into 2008. That means Tressel is threatening to turn the Big Ten into what Pete Carroll has made the Pac-10: one team on top and everyone else playing for second place.
Here is Tressel’s record broken down by site. This table does not include games against I-AA teams.
Overall, that’s pretty impressive. That’s a winning percentage of .818, which is about as good as anyone can do over an extended period of time. The bowl record obviously could use some work, but I’ll get into more of that later. The home record isn’t quite as good as I had expected, but two of those five losses came in Tressel’s first year.
Here is Tressel’s record broken down by site. As always, first tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.
|Tier||Wins||Losses||Pct.||Avg. Scored||Avg. Allowed|
The obvious: he wins a lot of games, beats the teams he should beat, but doesn’t win by gaudy scores. This much we knew. The two losses to third tier teams, if you were wondering, were to five-win teams in his first year on the job.
That said, the 9-9 record against the top tier surprised me.
Prior to the last two BCS title games, Tressel had a reputation for being one of the best big game coaches in America. He could be counted upon to win the big games, one of the few in the country who were trusted to do so. Yet toss out those two championship game fiascoes, and he’s a good but not great 9-7 against that top tier.
One of those seven other losses was to Vince Young in 2005, which is entirely understandable. Two more were to Illinois’ miracle 2001 squad and Lou Holtz’s one good South Carolina team in Tressel’s first year, which are also understandable.
He also had a loss to Joe Paterno’s last great Penn State team (the 11-1 team in 2005), Kirk Ferentz’s last great Iowa team (his 10-2 team in 2004), and the sole loss to Michigan in 2003 (which can’t be complained about given the outcome of every other Michigan game). Overall, it’s hard to blame him for those.
However, guys don’t get reputations for being a great coach on the biggest stages based on understandable losses. I have to conclude that his big game rep was built on beating Michigan year in and year out and his 4-1 bowl record through the 2005 season.
Perhaps that should be enough to qualify a coach for that status, but perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised to see the losses to Florida and LSU. Given that LSU was almost certainly the better team from the start of 2007 and the overwhelming talent on Florida’s defense, those losses were also understandable (though the final scores were not).
I mentioned Bob Stoops earlier, and now I want to bring him up again. He and Tressel have many similarities, most notably their winning the national title in their second years and then going on to lose two BCS title games in a row. I wanted to see though, just how similar their records are.
So, here are the records of Stoops in his first seven seasons and Tressel side by side.
|vs. 1st Tier||14-7||9-9|
|vs. 2nd Tier||27-7||31-5|
|vs. 3rd Tier||26-2||28-2|
|vs. 4th Tier||7-0||4-0|
|Heismans||1 (J. White)||1 (T. Smith)|
BCSCG means BCS Championship Game. For Stoops, “Rival” means Texas; for Tressel, “Rival” means Michigan.
Their records aren’t just similar, they’re eerily close. Just about as close as Mack Brown and Phil Fulmer through ten years.
Stoops was better against the top tier, but Tressel was a little better against the second. Otherwise, everything is basically the same down to getting blown out in the national title game with their Heisman-winning quarterbacks.
It gets even spookier when you line up the year-by-year records of each from best to worst:
It can’t get any closer than that, can it? Have a look at the year-by-year records for Oklahoma and Ohio State if you want to reconcile the differences in number of games for each season, though most have to do with Oklahoma playing in the Big 12 title game.
This second section was mainly for fun, since there’s not a lot that can be gleaned from it. It’s a remarkable coincidence that these two coaches in different conferences in different time periods with fairly different philosophies can do almost the exact same thing over such a long period of time.
It just goes to show that football success takes all types, and that even high levels of success can be matched elsewhere. Will Tressel go into as big a bowl tailspin as Stoops did? It’s just one of the many interesting subplots that will make the 2008 college football season great.