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January 2, 2014

Time and Change - Remembering Woody

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The upcoming Orange Bowl between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Clemson Tigers will certainly trigger memories and reflections of the 1978 Gator Bowl between the two teams. That game culminated in a 17-15 loss for the Buckeyes, but an even greater loss of Woody Hayes as the Ohio State head coach. Hayes struck Clemson middle guard Charlie Bauman after he ended Ohio State's game winning drive with an interception of an Art Schlichter pass on Clemson's own 24-yard line. I was on the sideline behind Coach Hayes during the debacle and while there have been many versions to the story, such as Coach Hayes being "under medicated" or Charlie Bauman swearing and taunting toward the Ohio State sideline, there is no acceptable excuse for that behavior. None whatsoever.

I will never forget that night, December 28, 1978. It was a tough game against Clemson, who seemed to be playing in their home stadium with about 70 percent of the crowd wearing orange and regalia. The Clemson faithful had a cheer exactly like to O-H-I-O cheer that goes "around" Ohio Stadium, with the exception that it was C-L-E-M-S-O-N and you felt like you were in the flush mode of the whirlpool of a toilet as they screamed that cheer. The way we played, we probably should have been. The game went back and forth and Bauman's interception ended the game for us and ended Woody's career. At first we were in a rage on the sidelines to defend our turf and our coach and then we were stunned.

The locker room scene was like none other than I have ever witnessed. The assistant coaches were barred from the coach's locker room as Woody was showering and dressing after the game. They were talking individually with many of us and especially the seniors such as Tom Cousineau, Ron Springs, Joe Robinson and Jim Savoca, who had all just played their last game. It was as quiet, depressing, and somber as a visitation in a funeral home. I looked into the coach's locker room and noticed Woody, sitting in a folding chair, dressed in his suit and tie with his hair slicked back from his shower. He looked down and depressed in a way I had never observed. He was obviously contemplating what he had done and what had just happened.

The next thing I remember was Ohio State Athletic Director, Hugh Hindman, walking decisively and directly toward the coach's locker room with a tight-lipped look of concern on his face. Then as a team, we finished showering, dressed and boarded the bus for the team hotel, which was the Sheraton Jacksonville Beach. A few of the assistants were on the bus, like Dave Adolph and Alex Gibbs, but not all of them and Woody was not present either.

Once at the Sheraton, we ordered some pizza, grabbed some snacks and a few cases of beer. Nobody was really concerned about the coaches at this point, but we closed the room doors to the hallway and opened the adjoining room doors and had a hallway long party behind closed doors, so to speak. It was certainly not a party atmosphere, though, as we had just lost to a team we should have defeated and we had just lost our coach, a legendary coach. The next morning, we boarded the bus for the airport an again it was a somber occasion. A lot of heads were hanging, whispers and discussions about the night before and worry and concern about what our future held. Again, the assistant coaches were aboard the bus with us, but Woody was not. He was driven to the airport by police cruiser and dropped off right on the tarmac at the foot of the stairs to our team plane.

Once onboard the airplane, in much tighter quarters as an entire team, the moods were very diverse. Most were saddened and worried about what had happened the night before. I remember players like Ricardo Volley, Todd Bell and Vince Skillings who were in tears and players like Art Schlicter, who was actually happy, mostly due to his belief that with Woody now gone, we would be moving to a more modern offense.

After the medium length flight, we landed at Port Columbus in freezing rain. As we taxied up to the terminal, Woody stood up and took the flight attendant phone and addressed the team. He said, "All you Ohio kids, listen up. The weather outside is miserable and the roads are icy. Be careful driving home. You all have four days off until classes start, but make sure you all get back to campus early, so you are all back to your classes on time, so you can get a good start on Winter Quarter. And one last thing……..I regret to tell you that I won't be your coach next year."

Woody then hung up the phone and exited down the stairs of the plane into a waiting police cruiser, which whisked him away. It was the last many of us would see of him for quite some time.

What we have all learned over time, was that behavior and other comparable examples of Woody's temper, were overshadowed one hundred fold by all the extraordinary acts of kindness, charity and leadership that he delivered and taught us, time and time again.

In this issue of "Time and Change"' I have the distinct pleasure of visiting with many Ohio State Greats regarding the late, great, Woody Hayes. Recently, I was perusing the book, "Woody Hayes - A Reflection" which was written by longtime Columbus Dispatch Sportswriter, Paul Hornung. I was reading a letter published in the book, from my mother to Woody Hayes after he had lost his job due to the Gator Bowl debacle. It brought a tear to my eye and prompted me to reflect on some of the terrific stories and some of the also humorous stories from this unique, once in a lifetime, leader of young men.

This Time & Change column, subtitled "We Remember Woody", may well become a series with all the wonderful behind the scenes stories. I have asked many former players, assistant coaches and staffers to think back and provide me one of their personal favorite impactful stories about Woody as well as one which they feel is more light hearted. We all as former players have quite a few stories that are "behind closed doors" or stories that have not seen the "light of day". There are many from which I have chosen.

Certainly the Michigan game is a good foundation from which to build on these unique memories of a great man and the Michigan State game is a good topic as well, given the recent Big Ten Championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan State Spartans.

Here are some recent memories of a few former Buckeyes:

"We had some great years during my career at Ohio State. At the time we were the winningest class in Ohio State history and we had only lost two games, both to Michigan State in 1972 and 1974. I'll never forget how keyed up Woody was prior to our game in 1975 against the Spartans. They had beaten us the prior two years and Woody was not going to let that happen again. He called the four captains to his office the Thursday prior to the game and he wanted to make sure we were more intense than ever during the remainder of the week with the team. He was pounding the table and yelling to get our attention. After the meeting, as we were leaving the office, he asked me to stay behind a moment with him. During that "one on one" visit, Woody said, "Brian, during this afternoon's team meeting, when I ask you Team Captains to address the rest of the team, I want you to get as angry as you've ever been and I want you to swear. Do you think you can do that? I said Coach, you know I never swear. I'll try but I can't guarantee it. Woody said, "(Expletive), do your best!" As I was leaving, he had asked one of the team managers to make sure there were two pitchers of water on the head table in the front of the meeting room during our upcoming team meeting that day. I didn't think anything of it, but once the meeting started, Woody was "on fire" with emotion when he asked the team captains, Archie, Tim Fox, Ken Kuhn and myself, to get up and talk to the rest of the team. We got up and each one of us addressed the team about how important this game was to our season and our career at Ohio State. As we were finishing up, Woody came over and took one of the pitchers of water and smashed it against the wall!! The team was so fired up and we stormed out to a great practice and the mood was set for the rest of the week and a terrific game against the Spartans, which we went on to win 21 to 0."

--Brian Baschnagel
Starting Flanker 1973, 1974, 1975, 1975 Team Captain, All-Big Ten 1975

"I remember the 1972 Michigan game in Columbus. Everybody was fired up in the locker room and it was about five minutes to kickoff and we couldn't find Coach Hayes. We're all wondering where is the "Old Man"? Just then he came barging through the door huffing and puffing and he says, "I can't believe those sons of bitches (Michigan team) are here. I didn't think they would even have the guts to show up! Okay, let's go out and kick their ass! We stormed out and beat Michigan, who was ranked #3 in the country 14 to 11."

--John Hicks

Starting Offensive Tackle 1971, 72 & 73, All-American 1972 & 73, Outland and Lombardi Trophy Winner - 1973

There will be more "I Remember Woody" stories to come in the weeks to come, some things should never change.



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