Coach Jim Tressel

Tom Shipka

Jim Tressel has been known as a remarkably successful college football coach. With the publication of The Winners Manual for the Game of Life, (1) he is now known in the sports world and beyond as a coach and author. The book is a distillation of a nearly four-hundred page handbook called The Winners Manual which Coach Tressel gives to his football team each year as they begin preparation for a new season. He changes it slightly each year. The heart of the handbook is "The Plan," a "step-by-step process of personal assessment and goal setting" for the players which includes "nineteen fundamentals" which the Coach has boiled down to ten in his book. (2)

Why would a busy coach with a crushing schedule take the time to write a book? It is certainly not to enrich himself. He is already wealthy and he is donating all proceeds from the book to an expansion of the Ohio State University library. His purpose, he tells us, is to help people become more productive and responsible. He writes:

I want to present ideas, principles, and truths in a way that will encourage you, lift you up when you're wrestling with life, and push you forward and motivate you to be a better person and a more vital part of whatever team you serve. (3)

I invite you to read the book and decide whether it offers you the road to improve your life personally and professionally. If it doesn't, I'll be surprised. The book is a mirror image of Tressel the person, a master of time management, organization, and problem-solving, who has an extraordinary gift for bringing people of diverse backgrounds together in a common cause. All of us can learn from him, no matter what our vocation, age or circumstance.

Anyone who reads The Winners Manual for the Game of Life will learn that Coach Tressel is a devout Christian and that his religion shapes his approach to coaching and to life. Yet his practice of religion is refreshingly tolerant and humble. Coach Tressel acknowledges that "non-religious people can be moral and religious people can be immoral" and he insists that "all people are to be loved, regardless of what they think or do..." even when they differ sharply with him. (4) He generously supports many non-religious charities, including colleges and hospitals. He is the antithesis of those strident and arrogant zealots who believe that they have a monopoly on morality and that God speaks directly and exclusively to them. His coaches and players know his religious commitment but he respects their autonomy. On religious issues, he is scrupulously non-coercive. Players may attend chapel services or participate in prayer or not, as they wish. (5) In the goals sheet that his players and coaches fill out in the spiritual/moral domain, about a quarter make no mention of religion at all. Many times he has held practice on Sunday. (5) Further, his book features quotations in the border taken from his team handbook which he carefully selects to inspire his players and to encourage them to think. More than a dozen of these quotes are by atheists and agnostics. Finally, one of his mentors, who receives considerable attention in the book, is an agnostic, and a number of essays in the handbook are by a friend of the Coach's who is an atheist. This friend once paid the Coach the ultimate compliment an atheist can bestow upon a believer when he told a huge banquet audience that "Jim Tressel gives religion a good name." (6)


  1. With Chris Fabry, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008.
  2. Pages xiv-xv. The ten fundamentals are attitude, discipline, excellence, faith and belief, work, handling adversity and success, love, responsibility, team, and hope. See p. xxii and pp. 39-241.
  3. Page xvi.
  4. Online interview of Coach Tressel, 9-18-08.
  5. Online interview of Coach Tressel on 9-18-08 and interviews on 9-17-08 with Ken Conatser and Carmine Cassese, two of Coach Tressel's long-time associates.
  6. The mentor and religious skeptic is Dr. Pat Spurgeon and the atheist friend is Dr. Tom Shipka. The compliment referred to was in an introduction of Coach Tressel at a banquet celebrating his remarkable success at Youngstown State University and his appointment as head football coach at the Ohio State University.

© 2008 Tom Shipka