Some say Francis Schmidt was off his rocker. If true, he is in good company because Ohio State was crazy to wait this long to induct the eccentric football coach into its athletics hall of fame.
Schmidt was voted into the 2020 hall of fame class by the Varsity O board, which deserves credit for finally giving the man his due; 446 athletes, coaches and administrators over 43 years entered the OSU hall before him. Say what? Schmidt entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971!
Schmidt was no Paul Brown, who coached Ohio State to its first national championship in 1942 and was inducted into the school’s HOF in 1991. The native Kansan also was no Woody Hayes (class of 1978), who won three national titles, or Jim Tressel (2015), who won one.
It could be argued that Schmidt also does not rank with Earle Bruce (2004) and John Cooper (2013), considering those coaches served the university well beyond their coaching stints (Coop still does) ‒ Schmidt spent only seven seasons at Ohio State (1934-40) before leaving for Idaho, where he coached briefly before dying at age 58.
Unlike Wes Fesler (1977), Schmidt did not play for the Buckeyes before coaching them. Schmidt had a penchant for profanity and self-aggrandizement, compared to the classier 15-year coaching reign of J.W. Wilce (1977).
Schmidt also was not necessarily a Buckeye first and foremost. He initially made a name for himself as an offensive innovator in seven seasons at Arkansas, followed by five at Texas Christian, where he led the Horned Frogs to three top-10 finishes from 1929-33.
Taken together, a case can be made that Schmidt did not deserve to be an early entry into Ohio State’s hall of fame. But an even stronger case can be made that he should have been inducted before now. But better late than never.
Who was Francis Schmidt? The knee-jerk reaction is to call him a quack of a coach. He was unorthodox in his approach, owned a quirky personality and lacked self-awareness, all of which explains why Ohio State athletic director Lynn St. John hired him to replace Sam Willaman in 1934.
Home attendance in 1933 had dipped to its lowest since Ohio Stadium was opened in 1922, and St. John needed something, or someone, out of the ordinary to spark interest (and safeguard his own job in the process).
Enter Schmidt, who definitely was different. The former World War I drill sergeant brought a military mindset to the Buckeyes, both with salty language that caught players, fans and even coaches off guard, and “battlefield” strategies that included an offensive playbook that was 10 times thicker than anything being used.
Schmidt was anything but conservative, which went against the standard style of offense during that era, when teams often punted on second down inside their 20-yard line. He scribbled plays in colored pencils that diagrammed double laterals and shovel passes.
The innovation worked, at least for a while. Ohio State scored 267 points in 1934, second most in school history to that point behind the 292 in 1917. The Buckeyes were especially dynamic against Michigan, outscoring the Wolverines 114-0 from 1934-37 as Schmidt became the first OSU coach to begin 4-0 against TTUN.
He famously said of UM players, “Those fellows put their pants on one leg at a time, the same as everyone else,” which led to the tradition of awarding gold pants to players and coaches after wins against the Wolverines.
Schmidt’s downfall was his over-the-top personality, which could be stomached only in small doses. And when his razzle-dazzle offenses eventually fizzled ― OSU finished 4-4 in 1940, including a third straight loss to Michigan ― his act wore thin.
After running up scores ― an insult to opponents that earned him the nickname “Shut the Gates of Mercy” Schmidt ― the full-throttle coach ran out of gas in Columbus. Facing pressure from fans and the OSU administration, he departed quietly. It was about the only thing he did that did not make noise.
Former Ohio State end Cy Souders, who played one season for Schmidt in 1939, recalled his future coach dodging street cars on Neil Avenue while driving his Cadillac to the Hotel Fort Hayes for lunch during a recruiting trip.
Thankfully, there will be no more dodging Schmidt. He is in this hall of fame, where he belongs.