“I have one sin, and that is that I want to win too badly.”
That’s what fabled Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes told a Columbus Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the fall of 1978, after he was fired. Former Columbus Dispatch editor Robert Smith remembers Hayes making that sad admission – and he remembers deeds of the coach that far outweighed that one sin.
There are few Americans who have achieved fame and in so doing have carved out two entirely different public personas as Hayes, the most famous coach The Ohio State University ever had.
Hayes coached the Buckeyes; from 1951 to 1978 and in those years guided the Scarlet and Gray to some of their greatest triumphs. Beyond that he was like a father to many of his players and there are more than a few who would have fallen by the wayside if not for his stern but paternal guidance. And those close to him know he was responsible for countless acts of charity for which he sought no publicity.
It is perhaps a cliche to say that he was larger than life, but the phrase fits. No matter the weather, Woody paced the sidelines in his shirtsleeves, shouting advice to his team and even giving officials and the other side an unwanted piece of his mind.
To say that Hayes was tightly wound is to state the obvious. He always was in overdrive. His inability to step back and calmly view a situation was finally his undoing.
In 1978 in a Gator Bowl game against Clemson, Hayes became incensed, ran onto the field and punched one of the opposing players.
He had displayed embarrassing fits of temper before – such as destroying yard markers in a game against arch rival the University of Michigan – and this was the final unforgivable act. University officials fired the most successful coach the school had, but one who had lost his sense of perspective.
Before this proud man’s fall, Woody had compiled an envious record. Only Paul “Bear” Bryant, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Glenn “Pop” Warner were ahead of him in career victories when he Left coaching.
In 33 years, his college teams won 238 games, suffered 72 defeats and 10 ties. He crafted two national championships, one in 1954 and the second in 1978. He held 13 Big Ten titles or co-titles and molded 58 All-American players.
Like Vincent Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Hayes drove his players mercilessly. At practices he would often pound on their helmets and let loose a stream of invectives when they did something wrong. Yet few would say a word against him because of the bond between this volcanic, yet deeply caring man, and the young men who played for him.
Archie Griffin, former tailback at OSU and a two-time Heisman Trophy winner, felt that bond. When he learned of Hayes’ death, Griffin said, “It hit Me like a bomb. It feels like my father had passed away. He was like a father to us Maws-”
Archie, one of Hayes’ greatest stars, stresses how close the coach was to his players and how he stressed teamwork. Asked if it was Hayes’ prodding that propelled him to two Heismans, Griffin says no – it was a team effort.
“The coach always emphasized that every player had to give his very best all the time. The way he gave his best,” Griffin said.
Griffin also says, “What most people don’t know is all the good things that the coach did without anybody knowing. For instance, he would grab up a couple of us players and go to the bum unit at Children’s Hospital. He was always doing things like that and didn’t want any publicity about it.”
Hayes was married to the former Anne Gross in 1942. Anne Hayes was a formidable and popular woman in her own right, who used to jokingly say at numerous sports banquets, “Divorce Woody? Never! But there were plenty of times I wanted to murder him!” The couple had one son, Steven, who went on to become a lawyer and judge. Coincidentally, the younger Hayes would be assigned to the 2003 trial of former Ohio State standout Maurice Clarett.
Woody Hayes passed away on March 12, 1987.
Hayes’s coaching career overshadows his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He enlisted in the Navy before the U.S. was involved in the war – during July, 1941, five months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was commissioned as an officer. By 1943, he took command of the USS Rinehart, a destroyer-escort manned by 15 officers and 201 enlisted men. The ship operated in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
He also commanded the USS Ukiah (PCC-1251), a control submarine chaser, during in the invasion of Palau Island. By the end of the war, he attained the rank of lieutenant commander.
Throughout the rest of his life, he was an avid supporter of the U.S. military. During the Vietnam War, he made four trips to meet, encourage, and entertain the troops.
He also studied military history and talked about it whenever he had the opportunity. He hosted the broadcast of six World War II movies for Columbus’s WBNS-TV: Patton, Midway, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, and Tora! Tora! Tora! Hayes did historical research so he could add substantive commentary on each film. He even went to Stuttgart, Germany, to interview Manfred Rommel, the son of the “the desert fox,” Erwin Rommel.