Mondays With Murray: Woody’s Own War




Woody’s Own War

   A lot of people were surprised to hear that Woody Hayes suffered a heart attack last spring, because they didn’t think he had one.

  When a stranger wanted to know if the incident had mellowed the old coach, the answer was, “Well, he called off practice for the day.”

  A visitor once wanted to know why a reporter didn’t stand up to Woody Hayes, and the mondaysmurray2answer was, “I can’t. I’ve got relatives in Germany.”

  When a Woody Hayes squad was circled around him at the start of a game once, a youngster in the press box asked an old-timer what he thought Woody was telling them. “Not to take prisoners,” was the cynical response.

  Woody Hayes’ Ohio State squad is not a team, it’s a horde. It is going through the Big Ten like Attila the Hun through the gates of Rome. When someone wanted to know which way the team got back from the Rose Bowl practice session each day, an observer said, “The usual way — by goose step.”

  Lots of guys lock the press out when their team loses 42-17, as Woody Hayes did in the Rose Bowl once. But Woody locked the TEAM out.

  Coach Hayes, whose idol is Gen. Patton, also slaps his troops in the heat of battle. He throws projectors at assistants, stomps on his wristwatch and once crumpled a pair of eyeglasses in a bare hand. George C. Scott gets the role if they make a movie.

  There are new books about him in the stalls this fall, ‘Woody Hayes and the 100-Yard War,’ by Jerry Brondfield, and ‘Buckeye, a Study of Coach Woody Hayes and the Ohio State Football Machine,’ by Robert Vare.

  Brondfield’s is a little more on the advocacy side, but he points out that to understand Woody you have to understand Columbus, Ohio, a place where, if you buy a piano at a certain music store, they throw in a free shotgun.

  Hayes’ success is no secret. He leaves no coal mine unturned in his search for players. He goes after great players like a playboy after chorus girls. Millionaires like John Galbreath and Jack Nicklaus help the program. You couldn’t throw a handful of birdseed in any direction in Ohio without hitting a crack football player. The state even raises them for export. Millionaires are not supposed to lure kids with new convertibles anymore, but there is no rule preventing them from hiring kids in the summer to count paper clips at $10 an hour or to guard the portrait of the company’s founder for $15.

  But Ohio State has always had great football players. It was good coaches that were in short supply. “You would think,” a sportswriter once complained, “that a state that could produce seven presidents could produce ONE football coach.” But in its long history, Ohio State produced only one coach before Woody Hayes who could be said to be successful. And Paul Brown didn’t stay around long enough to produce what is usually referred to in football as “an era.”

  Vare points out that football grosses $3.5 million at Ohio State, but coach Hayes makes only $29,000 a year. He used to hand out part of that to his players till they caught him at it. Three times he has turned down raises because he is stopping inflation that way. He once turned back a car because he didn’t wait to contribute to pollution. He has lived in the same modest house for 20 years and drives a pickup.

  There is less of an air of sanctimonious hypocrisy about Woody than some coaches. “Some coaches play on the emotions of the kid,” a longtime friend confides. “But Woody really believes it.” The most famous story about him is that he once pushed an out-of-gas car across the Ohio state line because he couldn’t bring himself to buy anything in Michigan.

  His attack is about as subtle as a brick through a plate-glass window. He regards the forward pass as subversive. He didn’t throw a pass until there were only 61 seconds to play in the Michigan game last year. Just as he suspected, it was intercepted.

  Still, his team, or rather teams, have averaged 47 points a game this season. On Nov. 23 his team meets Michigan in what may be the most thunderous collision since the Titanic. Woody intends to be the iceberg. Since the game is in Columbus, which becomes Convulsion, Ohio, for the day, Michigan can be expected to be down 14-0 by the kickoff. And no team can spot Woody Hayes’ 14 points and hope to escape alive, not even the Miami Dolphins — and maybe not even the Red Army.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

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