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A coach who molded one of the greatest programs in college football history in his image. A father figure whose tough love earned him the devotion of hundreds of young men. A historian who was an associate professor at Ohio State. A fierce competitor whose temper eventually did him in.
Woody Hayes was all of this and more. While he became a caricature to those outside Ohio, particularly after his firing for punching a player on an opposing team, those close to him knew he was much more complex. And to all Buckeye fans, he was, and is, Ohio State football.
Born Wayne Woodrow Hayes in Clifton, Ohio, on Valentine’s Day in 1913, he grew up in Ohio, played football at Denison University and went back there to coach after a stint in the Navy in World War II. After instant success at Denison and then Miami of Ohio, Hayes was off to Columbus.
Amid heavy criticism, in part for his use of the T-formation, Hayes produced a mediocre 4-3-2 record in his first season. But the Buckeyes improved to 6-3 in 1952, including a big win over Michigan. Woody was on his way. Hayes captured his first mythical national title in 1954, and would go on to lay claim to four more. His record over his 28-year career was 205-61-10, including 13 Big Ten titles and eight Rose Bowls.
Hayes died in 1987, and former President Richard Nixon, who was a close friend, delivered the eulogy at his funeral. There will never be another like him.