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April 22, 2013

Time and Change: Brian Baschnagel

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod

There should be no doubt that recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. Given that the 2013 recruiting class has been inked and the 2014 Ohio State recruiting campaign is in overdrive, I felt that it would be appropriate to share a recruiting story or two as I lead into a great installment of Time and Change with one of the all-time Buckeye greats, Brian Baschnagel.

Despite Brian being recruited for a skill position and me being recruited as an offensive lineman we had ironic similarities in our recruiting experiences.

Brian was born in New York but grew up in the Pittsburgh (Pa.) suburbs; virtually every university in the United States recruited him. I resided in Illinois and was also recruited by most schools in the country.

The commonality was that Brian's final three choices were Ohio State, Penn State and Notre Dame and my final three choices were Ohio State, Colorado and Notre Dame. We were both also raised Catholic, which with our upbringing added different pressures to the equation.

Brian and I both saved our last official on-campus visit for Notre Dame. I will never forget sitting with Woody Hayes at the Ohio State University Golf Club on the last day of my visit to The Ohio State University. Knowing that I would be visiting Notre Dame the very next weekend Woody said to me, "Dammit, don't let them 'Golden Dome' you up in South Bend next week!"

'Golden Dome' me they didn't. I had a great visit to Notre Dame. They had just won the National Championship with players such as Joe Montana, Ross Browner and Ken McAfee, but I was underwhelmed by the interest, or lack thereof, by then coach Dan Devine.

After two days of visitation, I was to meet with Devine on the Sunday prior to my departure. He walked into his office late. Upon arriving he told me that he night before he had just been awarded the Miami (Fla.) Touchdown Club 'Coach of the Year' Award. He said he had some phone calls to make and asked me to look around his office at some of the trophies and photographs from their National Championship season.

It had to be about 45 minutes later when Coach Devine reengaged me and asked me if I had enjoyed a good visit to Notre Dame and if there were any questions he could ask. As a young kid I didn't have many questions. Devine reached into his desk drawer and slid an envelope across his desk in my direction.

"Here is your scholarship to Notre Dame," Devine told me as I looked at the envelope being passed over to me, "Please sign it with your parents and put it in the other pre-addressed, postage paid envelope back to us here at Notre Dame."

That was it!

Brian Baschnagel had the exact same experience at Notre Dame, but with another head coach named Ara Parseghian.

While Brian and I were underwhelmed by Notre Dame and their lack of sincerer personal interest, we were overwhelmed by the sincere personal interest at Ohio State and one person in particular, Woody Hayes.

I will never forget being recruited in the winter of 1977-78 and the ensuing blizzard of '78. I received a call from Dave Adolph, who was the Buckeye defensive line coach, asking me if Coach Hayes could come to our house in Washington (Ill.) for a visit with me and my family. I was so excited and couldn't wait to tell my parents and schedule the visit. Then the reality kicked in.

My mother, after watching Hayes for many years of breaking yard markers, shoving cameramen and throwing headphones, would have no part of Coach Hayes coming for a visit.

"I will not have THAT man in my house," she said emphatically. I was crushed. I then began to lobby, beg, borrow and steal with my Dad to enlist his help in convincing my mother to allow the greatest coach in Big Ten history to enter our home. Convince he did and after a week of weeping and gnashing of teeth, we had the visit scheduled.

The following Tuesday we had more than a foot of snow on the ground and I paced the living room in anticipation of Coach Hayes' visit. Finally, I looked out the window and saw Dave Adolph helping Coach Hayes up our steep driveway in the snow. I prayed to the heavens that he wouldn't slip, fall and slide out into the road. They made it into the house, made warm greetings and Coach Hayes sat on the foyer steps and removed his galoshes.

The rest of the visit was incredible. Coach Hayes never once spoke to me about football, but he spent the evening talking with my brother about his current psychology curriculum at the University of Minnesota. He talked of how he was working to convince Archie Griffin and Brian Baschnagel to enroll in law school, so they could someday run for Governor of Ohio and Lieutenant Governor. He discussed metallurgical properties of metals with my father, who was a senior metallurgical engineer at the Caterpillar Tractor Company, and then he wowed the group with his local literary knowledge.

Washington (Ill.) is a stone's throw from Peoria, which was the hometown of Woody Hayes' favorite orator, Robert G. Ingersoll. Woody had done his homework. He told my parents of Ingersoll's background and the fact that he was his favorite. Then he asked if they would like to hear one of Ingersoll's passages.

He retrieved a book from his bag and began to read Ingersoll's nominating speech for James G. Blaine for the Presidency of the United States, which was delivered at the Republican National Convention on June 15th, 1876.

"Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blaine marched down the halls of the American Congress and threw his shining lance full and fair against the brazen forehead of every traitor to his country and every maligner of his fair reputation." Woody then closed the book and continued to recite Ingersoll's flowing prose, word for word, line for line.

By then, he already had my mother hook, line and sinker. He then asked my mother, "Mrs. Levenick, tell me how you raise wonderful children."

I could see the tears in her eyes when she answered, "With a lot of love."

Woody was then sold too. I obviously was too.

Years later, 27 to be exact, we were moving my mother and father from the home where I grew up into a smaller more manageable home. My father couldn't resist showing me one last point of interest in the old home. He walked me back into the ceramic tile foyer, over to the steps leading upstairs and slid aside a small oriental rug. To my wonder, I saw two white footprints that had been made 27 years earlier, when Coach Woody Hayes had sat down to remove his galoshes and had accidently made those prints in the waxed floor with the salty slush from his Galoshes. My mother vowed to never wax that portion of the floor ever again.

Baschnagel had similar experiences with Woody Hayes in recruiting and beyond. He too found Woody's sincere interest as one of the main reasons he chose Ohio State. Ara Parseghian showed a similar disinterest in Brian as I had felt from Notre Dame and despite being a key recruit in the state of Pennsylvania former Penn State head coaching legend Joe Paterno was distant as well.

Woody was interested in Baschnagel's parents, upbringing and certainly his academics, speaking to Brian about law school before he was even signed to come to Ohio State and enrolled as an undergraduate. Penn State and Notre Dame in hindsight certainly wished they had been more assertive with Baschnagel as he became the team captain of the 1974 Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes. He played in four Rose Bowls, was drafted by the Chicago Bears and enjoyed a successful 10-year NFL career.

When talking with Brian about the greatest experiences he had in all of those great football-playing days, Brian was quick to identify two experiences that linked with each other.

"I will never forget the intensity of the 1973 Ohio State/Michigan game when we tied 10-10," Baschnagel told me. "It was such an incredibly tense game in the greatest rivalry in college football. We then when on to the Rose Bowl and demolished a USC team that included Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell, Pat Haden, Gary Jeter, Jim Obradovich and Lynn Swann. It was one of the greatest times of my life."

Baschnagel had a great Ohio State career during an absolute golden period of Buckeye football. During that time, the Buckeyes record was 40-5-1 and they won four straight Big Ten Championships, played in four Rose Bowls and finished No. 3 in 1972, No. 2 in 1973, No. 3 in 1974 and No. 4 in 1975.

Brian then went on to play 10 years with the Chicago Bears with things coming full-circle from his recruiting days with Woody Hayes.

"I had just been drafted in the 2nd round by the Bears," Baschnagel said. "I was feeling pretty good about myself and thought it was time to go pay a visit to coach Hayes. I walked into Woody's office and he immediately asked me 'What are you going to do?' I wasn't sure exactly what he was asking, so I asked coach Hayes to clarify what he was asking when again he said, 'What the hell are you going to do?'. I said, 'Well, coach, I was just drafted by the Chicago Bears and I intend to go to Chicago and try and make that team.'

"Woody then grabbed a book off his credenza, threw it on the floor and said, 'There goes your law degree, straight to hell. You're going to go to Chicago, make that team and play for ten years and you'll never come back to Ohio State to finish that law degree'. What a prognosticator Woody was."

Each time Baschnagel came back to see Coach Hayes, Woody would not let him in the office to talk until he was finally convinced that Brian was enrolled back at Ohio State and progressing toward a degree.

Brian did play for the Bears for 10 years and he did come back to Ohio State to finish his degree, albeit in business.

It was a great testimonial to Woody's commitment to education but a parallel commitment by Brian Baschnagel to finish his degree as well.

When asking Brian what makes him proud about Ohio State he was quick to identify that his recruiting class was comprised by a total of 17 student-athletes. This is obviously a low number in comparison to the average recruiting classes which now contain more than 20 and approach 30 and beyond at some schools.

"I am most proud that among our small class, we had one of the greatest records in Ohio State history, we had 16 of 17 members of our class go on to play in the NFL, but most importantly, we had 16 of 17 members of our class receive their college degree," Baschnagel said.

"Ohio State has always done it the right way."

Some things will never change.



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