Decorating my desk at work, among other Ohio State memorabilia, is a plush Woody Hayes bean doll, with his black block O hat, Ohio State tie, and glasses – the traditional Woody look. One day, a co-worker came up and saw him, and asked, "Isn't that the guy who punched the player?" The story sounded vaguely familiar, but to be honest, I didn’t know much about Woody, other than he was kind of a symbol of Ohio State football and that he hated Michigan. Since then, I have seen a lot of the Ohio StatDecorating my desk at work, among other Ohio State memorabilia, is a plush Woody Hayes bean doll, with his black block O hat, Ohio State tie, and glasses – the traditional Woody look. One day, a co-worker came up and saw him, and asked, "Isn't that the guy who punched the player?" The story sounded vaguely familiar, but to be honest, I didn’t know much about Woody, other than he was kind of a symbol of Ohio State football and that he hated Michigan. Since then, I have seen a lot of the Ohio State documentaries and heard a lot of the stories that have built up the Woody legend over the years – the trip from Michigan where he wouldn’t let his assistant buy gas because he didn’t want one penny of his money going to that state "up north," or his throwing the line marker in anger about a bad call in a Michigan game, or, of course, punching the Clemson player after he made a game-sealing interception. When I read that "Woody Hayes and the 100-Yard War" was considered to be the best account of Ohio State football, I decided to pick it up and see if I could learn more about the Ohio State legend so that he was less of a caricature and more of a three-dimensional human being.
"Woody Hayes and the 100-Yard War" was written in 1974, and unfortunately the book has become very dated. While much of the Woody legend probably came from this book, making the book a valuable historical resource, at this point, if you are an Ohio State fan, you have probably heard a lot of these stories over and over again. Also, 1974 comes while Woody Hayes is still the Ohio State head football coach, before the infamous punch, and the author Jerry Brondfield is an unabashed Ohio State fan, so the book is really not a critical or objective study of Woody Hayes, focusing more on his positive qualities – his genuine concern for his players, his focus on academics, and his integrity –than analyzing the negative and troubling aspects of his personality.
Still, "Woody Hayes and the 100-Yard War" includes some interest nuggets, especially in the comparisons it invites between Woody Hayes and the current Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel. For example, Brondfield talks about Coach Hayes’ reading habits, how he would scan newspapers and magazines and clip various items on a wide variety of subjects and paste them in huge notebooks which he kept in his office. Last year, Coach Tressel published his "Winners Manual," a notebook he has accumulated over the last twenty years which includes a collection of quotes he has read or been given. Both Coach Hayes and Coach Tressel both seem similar in the fact they are more like educators than football coaches. They don’t just focus on the Xs and Os of football, but instead use football as a tool to teach life lessons to their players and build them into men of character.
According to Brondfield, Coach Hayes would boast about recruiting only "quality kids," saying that the better the person, the better the potential as a player. In his "Winners Manual," Coach Tressel talks about this same topic. While he shies away from using the word "character," believing that is subjective, he uses the word "conscience." To him, it is important whether a player is aware of what’s right and whether it bothers him if he does something wrong. A key saying at Ohio State is that "you win with people," and this is a philosophy that both Coach Hayes and Tressel seem to embrace and has served us well over the years.
I have heard Coach Tressel a few times talk about his dad, Lee Tressel, who was a longtime coach at a small Ohio college, and how, while his father was on his deathbed, Coach Hayes drove to Cleveland and sat with him during the last week of his life. Clearly, that made an impact on Coach Tressel – how Woody Hayes cared about people – and Coach Tressel is doing a great job of following in Woody’s footsteps. Before reading "Woody Hayes and the 100-Yard War," Woody was mostly a caricature to me, a symbol of Ohio State football but nothing else. While the book may have repeated some stories I have heard a million times, it still succeeded in making Woody into more of a person – his passion for football, his compassion for others, his love for The Ohio State University, but also his uncontrollable temper and violent outbursts. He was neither the guy who punched the Clemson player or the guy stalking his players around campus making sure they were going to class, but a combination of the two, a fascinating and compelling figure. Reading this book, dated as it is, I feel like I gained insight not only into Woody Hayes but also the history of Ohio State football, which owes so much to him.