'Intense' Tresey takes reins of USF defense
"Joe had footballs coming out of his eyes," recalls Stuart, an Ohio legend who once coached Archie Griffin at Eastmoor High. "You knew this was a real intense person."
Tresey (pronounced "Tracy") would spend the next decade as a high school coach in Ohio. then seven years at small colleges before breaking into Division I-A as defensive coordinator at Akron in 2002. Stuart remembers a "very thorough coach" who didn't mind going out of his way to learn from more experienced coaches.
"He didn't mind putting in the extra time, driving to clinics," said Stuart, now 84 and retired more than a decade. "He went all over the state, went to Indiana. Hell, we went to Michigan one time. He was never bashful about going to people who had greater expertise than he did and getting ideas from them.'"
Now Tresey brings his expertise to USF, where he's been hired as Jim Leavitt's defensive coordinator, tasked with helping the Bulls improve on a 2-5 conference record in 2008. You want intense? Try coming to campus and trying to install a playbook less than a week before spring practice.
"I only have five days to go. We've got to rock and roll," the 50-year-old Tresey said Thursday after his first day on the job. "We're going Tuesday. It is what it is. We're going to get in what we feel our kids are going to be able to execute. We're going to play fast, have minimal mental errors ... We're going to try to be the best in the Big East, just like every other coordinator is trying to be."
Tresey's defenses have helped Central Michigan and Cincinnati to conference championships in the last three seasons, and his Bearcats had USF's number, forcing eight turnovers in a 2007 win and holding the Bulls to 10 points last season. A full month after the season ended, he was fired by coach Brian Kelly, perhaps because Cincinnati was moving to a 3-4 defense, perhaps because Tresey was strongly considered for Miami's defensive coordinator job.
"It's history. ... It's in the past. Everybody's got an opinion. I think it's done with, it's over with. I'm moving forward. He's moving forward, and I want to leave it at that," Tresey said of his dismissal. "No question, it was a surprise. ... If you're going to run in this profession, in this BCS deal, it's different now. The times have changed. You know what you're into, and if you're going into stay in the hunt, you have to know it can happen."
Leavitt, busy trying to hire a linebackers coach, did not return a call seeking comment on his new coach, but his best players at Cincinnati say a Tresey defense's success is predicated on forcing turnovers -- the Bearcats led the nation with 26 interceptions in 2007 and were one off the Big East lead with 17 last fall.
"His biggest strength, and why we had a lot of our success, is that he runs a very sound defense," said Connor Barwin, a first-team All-Big East defensive end after tying for the conference lead with 11 sacks in 2008. "He's not going to take a lot of big chances, but he won't give up big plays, either. He's going to bring the takeaways. He really stresses turnovers, works with players on stripping the ball and jumping routes."
Tresey's hiring came 11 days after his first interview with Leavitt, who subsequently offered defensive positions to at least four college assistants, each turning him down. Tresey said he stayed in conctact with Leavitt throughout the process.
"Jim and I didn't have any history, so we had to get to know each other through the process. He kept me informed each step of the way," Tresey said. "Did I know exactly know who he was interviewing? No. But he kept me informed whether it was going to be a co-DC, a DC. He was looking at going some different angles. Jim was very, very fair with me, communicated with me throughout the whole process. I knew exactly where I stood. It was just a matter of time, and hoping things would work out."
He inherits a defense led by All-American defensive end George Selvie, which will have two new starters at linebacker and three in the defensive secondary. The Bulls ranked 10th nationally in total defense under Wally Burnham, who resigned to take the same job at Iowa State, and Tresey admits it won't be the same defense.
"It's going to be different because I'm not Wally Burnham," Tresey said. "Wally's got a philosophy, he developed a mindset with this football team. I'm a different individual, I'm going to have a little different mindset, sure."