SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month

John Cooper's seat didn't get any hotter after 1992 tie with Michigan

Ray Stein
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State senior quarterback Kirk Herbstreit (4) had a career day passing against Michigan in 1992 but it still wasn't enough to bag a win against the Wolverines.

Nov. 21, 1992 

Each week, Gameday+ takes a look at an Ohio State game played on this date: 

Buckeye history:We look back at what made Ohio State a national power

Ohio State 13, Michigan 13 

Setup 

In the early 1990s, it seemed that every stray dog in central Ohio was nipping at John Cooper’s heels, and they were all big Rottweilers with nasty dispositions. Such was Coop’s popularity level at the time, an Ohio State football coach who couldn’t win big games placing somewhere between ambulance-chasing attorney and used-car salesman on the scale. In his fifth season, Cooper’s teams were 0-4 against Michigan and 0-3 in bowls, and in 1992 saw their Big Ten championship chances shrink with close losses to Wisconsin and Illinois to open the conference season. As another Michigan week approached, Cooper’s job was rumored to be on the line. He had been awarded a contract extension the morning of the 1991 Michigan game, and the Buckeyes celebrated by getting waxed 31-3 in Ann Arbor. A year later, the Wolverines entered the regular-season finale having already clinched a fifth straight Big Ten title, as well as a Rose Bowl berth, and coach Gary Moeller was talking nonsense about Michigan State being their chief rival. By the time Michigan arrived in Columbus there were reports that Cooper would need to win one of his final two games — against Michigan or in the Florida Citrus Bowl — to retain his job. 

Ohio State stars

OSU quarterback Kirk Herbstreit had a career day by completing 28 of 46 passes for 271 yards, but the fifth-year senior could not keep the tears from flowing postgame because his college career had ended without a win against Michigan. Brian Stablein had 12 catches for 111 yards before an injury. For the Wolverines, tailback Ty Wheatley ran for 100 yards on 19 attempts. 

Turning point 

Michigan had taken a 13-3 late in the third quarter before Herbstreit led the Buckeyes to two fourth-quarter scores, a field goal with 12:33 remaining and a 5-yard scoring pass to Greg Beatty on fourth down at the 4:24 mark to tie the score. The Buckeyes got one more possession, but a sack and two completions left them with a fourth-and-4 near midfield; Cooper opted to punt. (“You want to gamble but you want to gamble with my chips.”) Joel Kessel’s booming punt hit Michigan return man Derrick Alexander in the face mask and bounced away, but Wolverines linebacker Shawn Collins jumped on the loose ball.

A tie against Michigan in 1992 relieved some of the pressure on embattled Ohio State coach John Cooper.

Impact on the Buckeyes

The Buckeyes didn’t win one of their last two games — Georgia's Bulldogs took a bite in the Citrus — but nor had Cooper’s team lost both, and the distinction was important. He survived to coach another day, and the talent began arriving in Columbus, if not consistent victories against Michigan and in bowl games. But Coop did just enough in both areas to sniff national titles and stick around for another eight seasons. 

Quotable 

“A tie is one of our greatest wins ever. You don’t have to read between the lines to figure out this guy is doing a hell of a job.” – Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, showing his cards regarding Cooper’s job status 

rstein@dispatch.com