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Wednesday, January 1
Updated: January 2, 7:29 PM ET
Tressel isn't flashy, but he sure wins a lot

By Ivan Maisel

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tresselball is as exciting as a white button-down shirt, as thrilling as mashed potatoes, as electrifying as Mister Rogers.

Unless, of course, you like winning. Tresselball, the style of football coached by Jim Tressel at Ohio State, has won 13 straight games. In an era of offensive pyrotechnics, the Buckeyes are a breath of moldy air. They win games by scores such as 10-6, 13-7, 14-9. Ohio State turns football into a war of attrition.

Take a look at the last game that the Buckeyes won. Michigan held the ball for 34:53, outgained Ohio State 368-264, and lost, 14-9. The Wolverines led in turnovers, 2-0, and started their possessions, on average, at their own 24-yard-line.

Jim Tressel
Jim Tressel is 20-5 in just his second season as head coach at Ohio State.
"They find a way to win games," Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon said. "Go back to Youngstown State. Nickel-and-dime, nickel-and-dime, nickel-and-dime. Let you make mistakes. Be sound. Coach Tressel plays field position. He wants a short field for his offense and a long field for his defense.

"We've got to be patient, like him."

If Ohio State plays its style of ball well, the other team is forced to play the same way. That may explain Tressel's career record of 155-62-2 (.712). It is the same style of football that Tressel employed to win four Division I-AA championships at Youngstown State during the 1990s. On his right wrist, Tressel wears a WWJD bracelet. On his left wrist is a watch commemorating one of the titles. He peered down at it with his 50-year-old eyes and said, "1997." The last one must mean the most to him.

Uh, no.

"It's the only one with a battery that works," Tressel said.

It's also the same style of ball that his father Lee used to win 155 games at Baldwin-Wallace College, where he won the Division III national championship in 1978.

"I'm not sure I was old enough to understand football philosophy when I was around my dad," Jim Tressel said. "I played for him. I understood it from a player's standpoint. I think he was very meticulous in every area. That's what not making mistakes is, being meticulous."

If he didn't understand the philosophy then, he obviously gets it now.

"Offensively, there's the understanding that you have to stress the defense," said Dick Tressel, Jim's older brother and the Buckeyes' associate director of football operations. "Get them out of their comfort zone. You're trying to be the defense for your defense. You don't want to put your defense in a position where it is stressed. Defense is such an attitude. They can't just keep rising to the occasion."

So Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes make sure they're well prepared. In practice, the first-team offense serves as the "show team" for the defense, and vice versa. The offense will run plays that the defense needs to see. When Tressel decided that wide receiver Chris Gamble needed to play cornerback as well, he got no argument from the offensive coaches. There is no rivalry between the offensive and defensive staffs. That comity is often missing among coaches.

"Jim is a great believer in fundamentals," said offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who has been on Tressel's staff for nine seasons. It's not merely football fundamentals, either. When the coaches meet daily, they first discuss things other than football.

"He makes all of us think about things like being thankful that I'm sitting here instead of sitting here thinking how good we are. I tell my players once a week, 'Why aren't we dodging bullets in Afghanistan? Why are we sitting where we are?' It helps to think about this."

In Tressel's first meeting with the Ohio State players in January 2001, he didn't mention football once. He talked about the standards that he would set, the unity that he would demand. "Tradition and appreciation and gratitude have got to be the fundamental building blocks for all these young people," Tressel said.

"I've only seen Coach Tressel go 'off' (get mad) one time," split end Michael Jenkins said. "It was an away game, the Penn State game last year. A lot of guys on the plane had headsets on. You can't have them on when the plane is trying to depart. Something was going on between the stewardesses and some players. They called Coach Tressel into the cockpit."

Jenkins smiled a little smile. "He told us in a team meeting how he felt," Jenkins said.

There have been no more issues on planes.

It is all of a piece. The Buckeyes go about their business on and off the field with sound fundamentals. They play Hippocratic football: first, do no harm. It's no coincidence that both punter Andy Groom and kicker Mike Nugent made at least one All-America first team. Let the other team make the mistakes.

If Ohio State is to beat Miami, the Buckeyes will do it with Tresselball. It won't be exciting, unless you're wearing scarlet and gray.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at He can be reached at

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