Profiling the Michigan State Assistant Coaches: Linebacker Coach Mike Tressel

Publish date:
A great coach and person, Mike Tressel has had a impact on the Spartan defense.  Photo courtesy of MSU SID.

A great coach and person, Mike Tressel has had a impact on the Spartan defense. Photo courtesy of MSU SID.


Who do you get when you combine a coaching bloodline, a passion for football, a talent in teaching and coaching, and seemingly endless enthusiasm? Michigan State linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel.

 Mike Tressel is the third generation of Tressels to coach football. Mike’s grandfather, Lee, coached at Baldwin Wallace College in Northeast Ohio, racking up one of the highest number of wins in Division III football history. Mike’s father, Richard (more commonly known as Dick), coaches the running backs at Ohio State. Former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel is Mike’s uncle. Mike’s brother, Luke, was a wide receivers coach at Minnesota for six years. But although he practically has football in his blood, Mike Tressel was wary of going into his family’s profession. Mike attended Cornell College in Iowa and played at defensive back there. Much of his family advised him to stay out of coaching (too many hours, it is tough to raise a family, etc.), and Tressel almost listened. Luckily for Michigan State, he didn’t! He acquired a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1996, but could not stay away from coaching. “My heart is in coaching: I love it,” says Tressel.

 Mike Tressel thus started his college coaching career at South Dakota in 1996. He served as a graduate assistant coach for two years before he was promoted to offensive line coach in 1998. He served in that position for three years until heading back to Iowa to be an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Wartburg College. After the 2001 season, Mike joined his uncle Jim’s Ohio State coaching staff, becoming a graduate assistant linebackers coach. The Tressels were able to win the 2002 National Championship after a thrilling 31-24 victory in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2004, Mike Tressel followed Mark Dantonio to Cincinnati, where Tressel served as the Bearcats’ linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. After three seasons at Cincy, Coach Dantonio and his staff packed their bags for East Lansing.

 When Tressel became a coach at Michigan State, two things surprised him. The first: “I knew Michigan State had history. But as to the extent of it, I had no idea.” The second thing was: “The passion of Michigan State fans…Michigan State’s right up with anybody in the country as far as diehards.” Tressel matches up to Spartan fans in that way: he has a great passion for the sport, as evident in practice. Though he is not quite the loudest guy out there, Tressel is very enthusiastic: “I don’t lack energy. I don’t lack enthusiasm. No doubt about that, I have fun,” says the coach. In fact, he went as far to say: “My energy is one of my strongest areas.” He uses that seemingly endless supply of energy to “Get everything I can out of every single player I work with,” said Tressel. The goal, as both he and Dantonio have pointed out, is to help each and every single player perform above his potential. This does not negate talent, as Tressel says: “You need talent. To win the Big Ten, you need talent. Every team in this league does have talent. Where the differences lie are can you play above your potential.” In order to do that, according to Tressel, you need two things: “It takes that heart and that work ethic to exceed your potential. I don’t care how talented you are…you need heart to exceed your potential.”

 Thanks to Tressel’s great ability to coach and teach (the same thing in his mind- “A teacher is the same thing as a coach”), his linebackers and special teams squad have exceeded their potential consistently. As former three-time All-Big Ten Spartan linebacker Greg Jones put it: “Coach Tressel knows how to teach.” In his four years, Tressel has coached eight All-Big Ten players. He tutored Eric Gordon and Greg Jones, who earned a first team All-American spot two years in a row. Gordon and Jones will go down in history as one of the best linebacker tandems in Spartan history. Tressel’s special teams unit has been a consistent force for the Green and White in the last four years.

 The 2010 season was the most successful for Tressel so far. His linebacking core shut down opposing defenses, especially on the ground, as Jones and Gordon combined for 198 tackles. The special teams unit was among the nation’s leaders in many categories. In addition, the unit was key in four wins over the course of the season- versus Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Purdue. “The Little Giants” play and Aaron Bates’ fake punt pass to Bennie Fowler rank as two of the most clutch special teams plays in recent history. Overall, Tressel chalks up the success not only to talent, but to three things critical to a football player: “Effort, toughness, and knowledge are certain things that don’t require talent,” Tressel preaches. “A lot of times those are the difference makers. The guys who have been great football players here have had those characteristics.”

 Tressel’s role at Michigan State is truly unique. His two positions as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator are clearly very important in the Spartan way of playing football. As the coach says, “MSU is a great place to play linebacker. Our guys get to blitz 15 times a game and have the freedom to go and get the ball in base defense. The bottom line is go make plays.” Plus, unlike at some other schools, special teams is top priority to the Spartans. “Our players see first-hand that this [special teams] is important.” Tressel says. “We definitely realize that this is a place where the game can change. Field position is critical, that’s what special teams is all about.”

 Now in his fifth year of coaching at Michigan State, Tressel is committed to Coach Dantonio and the Green and White: “I would much rather be a Spartan for as long as possible and enjoy coaching here… I’m not going to jump ship just to move up another notch.” Spartan Nation can breathe a sigh of relief because it has a loyal coach with a stunning combination of knowledge, teaching ability, and enthusiasm on its side. Above all, besides his family of course, he has three loves. The first is coaching. The second- “working for Coach Dantonio”. And last, but certainly not least, Tressel says: “I love being a Spartan.”