Former Coach for President?

Amid controversy over premature departure of Youngstown State president, community leaders -- including a congressman -- push the football icon Jim Tressel for the university's top job.

February 21, 2014
Jim Tressel

Jim Tressel, the former Ohio State University football coach, ought to be the next president of Youngstown State University, according to an Ohio congressman and 30 other community leaders.

Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, is among those urging Youngstown's Board of Trustees to quickly name Tressel the university's next president. The university was left stunned when its current president, Randy Dunn, announced this week he would leave to become president of the Southern Illinois University system. Dunn is only seven months into a three-year contract at Youngstown.

“As long time supporters of Youngstown State University, we are writing to offer our full and unequivocal support behind Jim Tressel to be the next president of Youngstown State University,” Ryan and others said in the letter to the university’s board of trustees. “We hope that the Board considers moving expeditiously to make this happen.”

Two months ago, Ryan urged the Cleveland Browns to look to hire Tressel for the professional football team's top coaching job. It's not certain that Tressel is interested in the Youngstown job. Tressel did not immediately respond Thursday evening to an email seeking comment. A spokesman for Ryan said he didn't know if Tressel was interested. 

Tressel resigned as Ohio State's coach in 2011 after a scandal in which up to dozens of athletes, throughout most of Tressel’s tenure, exchanged memorabilia for tattoos and cash. Before that, Tressel coached at Youngstown from 1986 to 2000, where he helped win four Division I-AA national football championships. His is also a significant donor to the university.

Tressel is currently a vice president at the University of Akron. While he remains beloved in the Youngstown area, a quick appointment could be met with resistance by Youngstown faculty members. For one thing, Tressel holds only a master's degree, which is likely to turn off some professors who prefer presidents with a Ph.D. A sudden appointment could also spook faculty.

“Anybody that is going to be considered for the presidency of YSU -- the faculty will not accept anybody who is anointed,” said Chet Cooper, chairman of the Youngstown State Academic Senate. “It is going to have be somebody who goes through a national search – be that anybody.”

Cooper said there would be a “real problem” if the university’s trustees are swayed to quickly pick a candidate. The president should work for the trustees, not a group of people from the community, Cooper said.

It is not clear what the Youngstown board will do. Earlier this week, Chairman Sudershan Garg said Dunn would stick around at most six months before he starts the Southern Illinois job, but the university can ask him to leave when it wants.

Garg also said in that interview that the university was likely to conduct a search using AGB Search, the headhunting firm that Youngstown used to find Dunn. That suggested a typical, national search, rather than an expedited one.

When he was hired last year, Dunn was a faculty favorite, Cooper said. But Dunn was poached from Youngstown State after mere months by Southern Illinois, where he was once a professor, and by the search firm R. William Funk & Associates. Critics questioned the behavior of both Funk and Dunn.

During his past presidency at Murray State University, in Kentucky, Dunn was constantly stepping out on the university in search of different jobs. While at Murray State, he was a finalist for presidencies at Missouri State University, Illinois State University and the University of Tennessee, and for the head of the Florida Department of Education.


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