Woody Hayes looks out at John Cooper, and Woody isn't smiling. But John Cooper is.
The new Ohio State football coach is grinning with wonder, staring at a mounted photograph of the god, the Buckeye king, the rip-snorting, player-belting, Socrates-quoting, Michigan-whacking emperor-for-all-time of Ohio State football. Woody.
"You know what the big question is?" says Cooper. "What kind of hat am I going to wear? Woody had that cap with the O on it; Earle [Bruce] had one with OHIO STATE on it, and later he wore a fedora. Everybody wants to know. What kind of hat am I going to wear?"
The new coach stands in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, not far from Woody Hayes Drive on the Ohio State campus in Columbus, gazing at the portrait of Hayes that hangs prominently near the Wall of Champions, pondering the visage of a man whose spirit permeates this campus like swamp gas. Cooper, lean and likable, with a sturdy jaw, country twang and an 82-40-2 record in 11 years as head coach at Tulsa and Arizona State, is awestruck.
"I never thought about it," he says. "You know what I mean? What kind of hat?"
College football coaches come and go, but they don't come that often to Ohio State. In the previous 36 years, exactly two have passed through Columbus, Hayes and Bruce. Hayes, the gridiron atavist who once said, "That's what I don't like about young coaches—they try to foul you up with new ideas," won 205 games in his 28 years at Ohio State. Hayes could have coached the Buckeyes until he died. But he slugged a Clemson player along the sidelines in the 1978 Gator Bowl, and the school had no choice but to remove him. He was replaced by Bruce, a bland but diligent devotee of Woody's conservative field strategy who had winning programs at Tampa and Iowa State. In his nine years at Ohio State, Bruce won 81 games, the best record in the Big Ten during that time. And then he was fired.
Ohio State is tough, baby. Buckeye fans don't just want to know what kind of hat the coach is going to wear; they want to know what kind of leadership and pizzazz he's going to provide while he piles up the W's. Because the wins are a given. Ask anybody in the state. What the Ohio State football coach must be is a demigod on and off the field, not just a winner but a man of mythic proportions, his shield flashing in the sun, a hero. Like Woody.
"We are looking for dynamic, charismatic leadership," said Howard Gauthier, former chairman of the Ohio State University Athletic Council, shortly after school president Edward H. Jennings axed Bruce last November. "More important than the record on the field is the way the individual represents the university."
Which, of course, is one-half hooey. Robert Redford wouldn't last the season at State if he didn't win big. But, as we know, anybody can win at State. Just bring in the studs from Canton, Lima and Massillon. Nobody ever gave Bruce credit for winning. Even after averaging nine wins per season he was shamelessly whacked by the Ohio State administration with one game to go in the 1987 season and a year left on his contract because, basically, he was dull. It was a tactless move by a school that professes to be searching for class.
"Bruce never understood nor appreciated the changes," harrumphed provost and vice-president for academic affairs Myles Brand after the execution, referring to the academic and image upgrading the school is attempting under president Jennings. But Bruce did understand football, and he won his last game, when he was already a lame duck, upsetting hated Michigan 23-20. The school then gave Bruce $471,000 in cash to shuffle quietly off into the sunset.