Woody Hayes, a leader of football troops, battled to win but exhibited softer side, too
For a lot of people who had a stake in college football during his long tenure in the game, former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was an acquired taste. Hayes's critics (and he had his share) didn't like his crusty veneer, his aggressiveness, his legendary temper, his macho image, his low opinion of photographers, and the importance he placed on wars and generals. They also liked to knock his offense, which resembled 11 guys laying track en route to the end zone.Skip to next paragraph
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Woody tolerated the forward pass, but just barely. Gimmicks he threw out with the trash. Yet only Eddie Robinson, Bear Bryant, Amos Alonzo Stagg, and Pop Warner, led teams to more major college football victories.
The success of Hayes's teams certainly influenced others (including such prot'eg'es as Michigan's Bo Schembechler) to emulate the ``three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust'' style that worked so well for the Buckeyes. But the flip side of this was that whenever Woody or one of his followers got beaten by a team with a more wide-open attack - especially in the latter part of his career - critics were quick to charge that he hadn't kept up with the modern game.
There's a place for both styles, however, and Hayes's 238-72-10 record offers a good argument for his way. Woody's teams won 13 Big Ten and three national championships and made eight Rose Bowl appearances. He was also a winner in three decades (the '50s, '60s, and '70s).
Hayes, who had been retired from coaching more than eight years when he died recently, became a popular figure on the nation's lecture circuit in his post-coaching years, often making three or four speeches a week.
This keen student of military history, whose favorite general was George S. Patton, often declared that there was nothing wrong with winning.
``Without winning, there would be no civilization,'' Hayes said. ``But winning never comes easy. You have to earn it, and in football you have to earn it as a team, which means that a lot of guys sacrifice for each other.''
When Woody was younger and did more of his own recruiting, he would go almost anywhere if reports on the player in question indicated exceptional size, multiple talents, and good character.
Once inside the door, Hayes seldom bothered the parents with football talk, preferring instead to discuss current events with the boy's father, while sharing his Eastern European recipes with mom.
Woody always mentioned Ohio State's high academic standing. One source of pride to him was that nearly 90 percent of his four-year players got their degrees. Yet you'd have to ask someone close to him to confirm the many hospital visits he made, and the fact that he once took a Vietnamese refugee family into his home.
Hayes put loyalty right next to discipline, yet said most people didn't know what he was talking about because they always assumed he meant superimposed rules when discussing the latter.
``To me, discipline implies disciples,'' Hayes said. ``If someone believes in you, and also believes what you are trying to do, and has accepted your basic integrity - to me that's important.
``Basically, it's the team-oriented boy that I'm looking for, the one who realizes the importance of being part of something good. Usually, to be successful he has to experience this feeling in his own home before we get him. Otherwise, it's slow to come, or maybe doesn't happen at all.
``In any civilization, winning is the epitome of group effort. In other words, working together and achieving. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a man who discourages individual effort or thinking. ... But a team has to move as a unit. It can't be going off in different directions.''
Once Hayes's salary at Ohio State reached a comfortable figure (for him), he suggested that all future raises meant for the head coach be split among his assistants.
On road trips, Woody would sometimes call ahead and arrange to have a professor at the other school lecture his players on a nonfootball topic.
Asked several years ago to comment on a popular statement of the day, that football is more of a coach's medium than almost any other sport, Hayes replied:
``I'm surprised you had to ask. Of course it is. Football is a much more intricate game than most other sports, and therefore has to be controlled more. .. .you've got 22 players all moving at the same time. If each man didn't have a particular assignment, it would be chaos.
``Now, I'm not saying that other sports don't also have movement. But in baseball, for example, the emphasis most of the time is on nine fielders stopping one batter. Even if the hitter makes good contact, he can still be put out instantly if the ball is a line drive and catchable. But in football, potentially every man on the field could somehow be involved in the same play.''
The manner in which Hayes's career came to a sad and abrupt end during the 1978 Gator Bowl was not the way Hollywood would have done it.
Trailing 17-15, Ohio State reached the Clemson 24 with less than two minutes to go. But Charlie Bauman, the Tigers' middle guard, intercepted a pass and was tackled near the Buckeye bench. At that point, Hayes lost control of his emotions in front of a national TV audience. He grabbed Bauman and punched him.
Worse yet, when one of Hayes's own players tried to stop him, Woody turned on him, too. Later, a still-angry Hayes would run onto the field and have to be escorted off by one of his assistants.
Twenty-four hours later, Hayes was fired as Ohio State football coach, a man shattered by his own temper - his records as impressive as ever but forever destined in almost any discussion of him to be mentioned second.