The 2017 season commemorates the 70th anniversary of Wes Fesler’s first season as Ohio State’s head coach in 1947. That season he became the fifth coach to hold this position over the last eight seasons, and Ohio State was rightfully earning its reputation as the “graveyard of coaches.” He is one of only five of the school’s head coaches who also graduated from Ohio State; the other four are Sam Willaman (1929-1933), Earle Bruce (1979-1987), Luke Fickell (2011), and Urban Meyer (2012-Present).
Fesler grew up in Youngstown and is warmly remembered as one of the Buckeyes’ all-time finest players as a three-time All-American end in 1928-29- 30. He captained the squad his senior season, and was selected OSU’s most-valuable- player by his teammates. Fesler was occasionally positioned at fullback, where he was more than adequate as a runner, passer, and punter.
Fesler also excelled with the Ohio State basketball and baseball programs and won a total of nine varsity letters in three sports. An excellent student, he was selected a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society. In 1977 he became a charter member of Ohio State’s Varsity O Hall of Fame.
After graduation, he served two years as an assistant football coach at OSU, played professional baseball one season in the St. Louis Cardinal organization, then spent a total of 12 years coaching both football and basketball at Harvard, Connecticut Wesleyan, and Princeton. He become head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh in 1946, staying just one season before returning to Columbus to accept the top position at his alma mater in 1947.
Fesler guided Ohio State four years before resigning after the 1950 season. His first team went 2-6- 1, but his last three squads posted a combined record of 19-7-2. Fesler’s 1949 team shared the Big Ten title with Michigan, then finished the season with a 17-14 victory over the University of California to become the first Ohio State team to win the Rose Bowl. End Jimmy Hague booted a 17-yard field goal with just 1:55 remaining to break a 14-14 tie – it was the first Rose Bowl to be decided by a kick.
Fesler’s 1950 team was his best, as it moved gradually throughout the season from 11th place to the number-one ranking in the weekly Associated Press poll. Ohio State defeated Iowa 83-21 in the season’s sixth game with one of the most impressive offensive performances in Big Ten history. Junior tailback Vic Janowicz became the second Ohio State player to capture the coveted Heisman Trophy.
The 1950 Buckeyes, however, finished the season with unexpected losses at Illinois (14-7) and at home to Michigan in the never-to- be-forgotten “snow bowl.” Playing in blizzard conditions, the Wolverines won 9-3 without registering a single first down. With the conditions all but halting the rushing attacks, the two teams punted a total of 45 punts for 1,408 yards.
Fesler resigned just 14 days after the Michigan game, indicating he did not enjoy all the pressure of big-time college coaching (although he soon accepted the same position at Minnesota and stayed there three years from 1951-1953). His first game as OSU’s head coach had been a 13-7 home victory over Missouri on September 27, 1947. Missouri was coached by the talented and well-respected Don Faurot.
Interestingly, after Fesler’s resignation Faurot accepted Ohio State’s offer to become the Buckeyes’ new head coach. But three days later Faurot informed OSU Athletic Director Dick Larkins that he had “changed his mind” and would be staying at Missouri. A disappointed and somewhat embarrassed Larkins re-grouped his search committee to make a “second choice.” They selected a 38-year old candidate named Woody Hayes, who at the time was relatively unknown in the major college circles. Hayes would compile an impressive 28-year Ohio State record of 205-61- 10, and forever put to rest the school’s reputation as “the graveyard of coaches.”