The University of Akron gets the publicity it apparently both wants and needs. Jim Tressel gets his first full-time job in nine months and his first non-football job in, well, probably ever.
But when it comes to Tressel's fancy new job and job title at Akron -- vice president for strategic engagement -- there are more questions than just what, exactly, a vice president for strategic engagement might do all day or all week.
Here's one: Why?
Akron gets the credibility and the pizzazz the Tressel name brings in Ohio and specifically in Northeast Ohio and gets to use it in whatever strategic engaging the university higher-ups ask Tressel to strategically engage upon. But that credibility and pizzazz have taken enough of a hit over the last year-plus that it's fair to wonder if Akron was bidding against itself to acquire Tressel's services, and also if this move is just a precursor to another move now that Tressel is officially a Zip.
Akron must look at it as acquiring a free-agent it never thought would be free, but Tressel is both a proven leader and a proven liar. For all the good he's done and might continue to do, what happened with the scandal(s) at Ohio State is always going to be part of his legacy. Bringing him on board so soon after is not a low-risk proposition.
The NCAA penalties that cost Tressel his job as head football coach at Ohio State will keep him from working directly with the football team, but Akron still felt it necessary and prudent to add him to its administration at a published rate of 200,000 per year.
For Tressel, that's a pretty good rebound job. For Akron, that's an expense that seems pretty tough to explain at a time when the cost of going to college for regular folks has never been higher. There's a fight for relevance and for students amongst universities in Northeast Ohio, and every far-reaching impression counts.
This one is still a head-scratcher.
Apparently and supposedly, this is not a job in athletics. Tressel said he'll be "coaching students every day. I'm an educator." It's clear, though, that his presence -- whether Tressel and university president Luis Proenza admit it or not -- is also going to cast a pretty big shadow over Akron athletic director Tom Wistrcill and new football coach Terry Bowden.
Wistrcill has done an excellent job since taking over in 2009 and has helped oversee a tremendous upgrade in facilities, all part of a process that's taken Akron's campus from a bunch of decaying buildings to looking and feeling like an actual campus over the last decade.
Akron won a national championship in soccer in 2010. The Zips have an outstanding basketball program coached by Akron native Keith Dambrot, the kind of thrive-local, dream-global program many across the country wish they could be. Wistrcill had previously done just about everything right except hire the right football coach, and he surprised everyone by getting Bowden in December.
Introducing Tressel 16 hours after Bowden introduced his first recruiting class was the PR equivalent of an offensive lineman tackling his own running back. Inviting people to think about Tressel serving as an eventual replacement for either Wistrcill or Bowden is just about the same.
The university release says Tressel, in his new job, "will identify, recommend and support strategies and efforts that promote success in all facets of student life, including alumni and friend engagement, and collaborations and partnerships with community organizations that have an influence and impact on UA students and their futures."
That probably translates to well-known, well-paid solicitor of donations. Shake hands, kiss babies, tell football stories. Akron is already promising new football season-ticket buyers a chance to have breakfast with Terry Bowden's famous father, and now here comes The Guy In The Vest.
Come watch the Akron-UMass football game in the luxury suite with Jim Tressel!
There are people who will pay to do it, so Akron might get what it wants out of the deal. Tressel -- a good person who's guilty of making bad mistakes -- gets out of the house, gets paid nicely and gets to move forward in spite of the five-year "show-cause" penalty he's under by the NCAA. He's paid for his mistakes and said he's fortunate to have this opportunity.
Why it's happening now, at Akron, still just seems a little mysterious. Based on his past, it's fair to wonder what might be behind the next door.