Jack looks back | Many opponents directed by former Ohio State assistants

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes Head Coach Luke Fickell leads the team into the stadium before the 1st quarter of their NCAA College football game against the Akron Zips at Ohio Stadium, September 3, 2011. (Dispatch photo by Brooke LaValley)

Ohio State will face in-state rival Cincinnati at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium. The Bearcats are directed by head coach Luke Fickell, who both played for and coached the Buckeyes prior to assuming the top job at Cincinnati in 2017.

Fickell will become one of only three former Buckeyes players to later serve Ohio State as both a head coach and assistant coach, and also coach an opponent against the Buckeyes at one stage of their career. From 1993 through 1996, Fickell established a school record 50 consecutive starts at nose guard. He twice was an OSU assistant and defensive co-coordinator, and was head coach in 2011. Fickell led Cincinnati to a record of 11-2 in 2018 and was selected the American Athletic Conference’s coach of the year.

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The other two are Sam Willaman, who played end, halfback and fullback from 1911 to 1913, and Wes Fesler, a three-time All-America end from 1928 to 1930. Willaman was an Ohio State assistant from 1926 to 1928 and head coach from 1929 to 1933. He took the coaching reins at Western Reserve in 1934, when his team lost 76-0 to Ohio State at old League Park in Cleveland.

Fesler played his last two seasons with Willaman as his head coach, then became one of Willaman’s assistants in 1931-1932. As head coach at Pittsburgh in 1946, Fesler’s Panthers lost at Ohio State 20-13. He was head coach of the Buckeyes from 1947 to 1950 and directed OSU to a 17-14 victory over California in the Rose Bowl of Jan. 2, 1950.

Throughout the years, no fewer than 21 Ohio State assistants have at one time faced the Buckeyes as the opponent’s head coach. Chris Ash became head coach at Rutgers in 2016 after two seasons as OSU’s defensive co-coordinator. The Buckeyes currently face Rutgers each season and will play Nov. 16 at Piscataway, New Jersey.

Likely the best remembered is Bo Schembechler, an assistant to Woody Hayes from 1958 through 1962. Schembechler directed the Michigan Wolverines 21 years from 1969 to 1989, while earning an 11-9-1 record against the Buckeyes. Schembechler’s first 10 years at Michigan were Hayes’ last ten at Ohio State. The 10 games between the two, known as the 10-Year War, were some of the most memorable and significant ever played. Schembechler accomplished a slender edge over his old tutor at 5-4-1.

Ohio State’s 31-24 double-overtime Fiesta Bowl victory over top-ranked Miami is one of the school’s all-time finest. Ohio State captured the 2002 national title with a record of 14-0. Hurricanes head coach Larry Coker was OSU’s defensive backfield coach under John Cooper during the 1993-94 seasons. Cooper gave Coker his first opportunity to work at the college level in 1979, when he hired Coker as offensive backfield coach at Tulsa.

Ohio State will host Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 5. The Spartans are led by former Buckeyes defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio. As head coach at Cincinnati from 2004 to 2006, Dantonio lost twice to the Buckeyes. Since taking charge of the MSU program in 2007, his teams are 3-7 against OSU.

Coach Lou Holtz, defensive backfield assistant for Ohio State’s 1968 national champions, directed three schools against the Buckeyes. OSU twice defeated Holtz’s Minnesota teams in 1984-85 and recorded victories over his Notre Dame squads in 1995-96. Holtz’s South Carolina Gamecocks posted consecutive victories over the Buckeyes in the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

Other Ohio State assistants and graduate assistants who have faced the Buckeyes as the opposing team’s head coach include Tim Beckman at Toledo and Illinois, Gary Blackney at Bowling Green, Jim Colletto and Darrell Hazel at Purdue, Minnesota’s Glen Mason and P.J. Fleck, Bill Mallory at Colorado and Indiana, Dave McClain at Wisconsin, Florida’s Urban Meyer, Akron’s Lee Owens, Nick Saban at Michigan State and Alabama, and Lovie Smith and Ron Zook at Illinois.

Ohio State is 14-2 all-time against Cincinnati. The first 11 games were played between 1893 and 1931. After a 67-yard break, the series resumed in 1999 with a 34-20 Ohio State win in Columbus. The two most recently met in 2014, when the Buckeyes triumphed 50-28 at home in route to that season’s national title.