Jack Park: Woody Hayes' final season was 40 years ago

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch

The 2018 football season marks the 40th anniversary of Woody Hayes’ final campaign as head coach at Ohio State. His last game was a 17-15 Gator Bowl loss to Clemson on Friday evening, December 29, 1978. The 1978 team finished with a record of 7-4-1.

With the resignation of Coach Wes Fesler following the 1950 season, Ohio State began a search for an individual who would become the school’s sixth head football coach within the 12-year period of 1940 through 1951. Ohio State had well earned its dubious distinction as “the graveyard of coaches,” but that reputation would soon change dramatically.  

Hayes came to Ohio State in 1951 after two years as head coach at Miami, Ohio (1949-1950, 14-5), preceded by three seasons at Denison University (1946-1948, 19-6), his alma mater. One of his star players at Miami had been tackle Bo Schembechler, who would later play prominent roles both as an OSU assistant coach (1958-1962) and as an opposing coach at Michigan (1969-1978) during Hayes’ days at Ohio State.  

Hayes’ first game was a 7-0 victory over Southern Methodist University on Saturday, September 29, 1951. The Ohio Stadium crowd of 80,735 that afternoon was, at the time, the largest opening-day crowd in Ohio Stadium history.  

His new T-formation offense sputtered most of the day, and the afternoon’s only touchdown resulted from a pass; something Hayes avoided very strongly in the ensuing years. Quarterback Tony Curcillo passed 21 yards to end Bob Joslin for a third-period touchdown, and halfback Vic Janowicz kicked the extra point. Janowicz had been the previous year’s Heisman Trophy winner as a junior.

Hayes’ first three seasons were just “so-so” at 4-3-2, 6-3 and 6-3, and there was some question if he would be able to maintain his head coaching position. That all changed in 1954 when his fourth OSU team captured a split national title with a record of 10-0. His 1957 (9-1) and 1961 (8-0-1) squads also won split national titles, but the Ohio State Faculty Council voted against playing in the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1961 season.

The Rose Bowl denial severely hindered Ohio State’s ability to recruit, and it would be seven years before the Buckeyes would obtain their next Big Ten title in 1968. That year Hayes turned 55, and his period of greatest success was just beginning. Over the next 10 seasons, his Ohio State teams would capture nine Big Ten titles or co-titles and one national title. 

This period was marked by two distinctly successful stretches – 1968-1970 with a record of 27-2 and 1972-1975 when the record was 40-5-1. The 1968 season was known as the year of the “super sophomores” when as many as 16 sophomores started at least one game. The period of 1972-1975 became recognized as the “Archie Griffin years” as Archie became college football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner.  

Hayes’ 28-season record at OSU was an excellent 205-61-10. His 33-year lifetime record was 238-72-10. Hayes’ teams captured 13 Big Ten championships, and 56 of his OSU players were named first-team All-American. He had a great passion for military history, and he took great pride in teaching classes at Ohio State as an associate professor during the off-seasons. 

After football, Hayes continued to be a very strong goodwill ambassador for his university. On March 12, 1987, he passed away at age 74, and his positive influence will continue for many generations.

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