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This Ohio State team, like any that relies on underclassmen, must first learn how to win on the road, which it did not do in a 77-76 loss at Vermont last Saturday. Even so, Miller says, "I believe we're capable of beating every team we play. Last year I didn't."
It is unfortunate that Ohio State's current success must be measured against the failure of Taylor to produce a Big Ten champion after 1971 or a winning record in any of his last three seasons. He was a superb teacher of basketball from the moment he took over at Ohio State in 1959. In 18 years there, he won the Big Ten seven times, the Mideast Region four times and the NCAA once—in 1960, when he was 35 years old. He produced four All-Americas, was Coach of the Year twice and served as president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. His integrity was universally admired by his colleagues.
But at the end, Taylor had lost his taste for battle. He was frustrated by his inability to get along with Weaver, particularly in matters relating to the hiring and firing of assistant coaches, and disillusioned by the infamous 1972 brawl that occurred in a Minnesota-Ohio State game. That incident, which resulted in two Minnesota players being suspended and two Buckeyes being injured, "left me scarred," Taylor says. "I wasn't the same after that. The world I knew just wasn't the same. There seemed to be more furor among people here over an opponent cheating in football than the fact that two of our basketball players had to be taken to the hospital."
Even if there had been no fight, Taylor's decline was probably inevitable. His last two assistants, Bob Burkholder and Ben Waterman, were poor recruiters, and Taylor's own methods were out of step with the times. According to one former Big Ten coach, Buckeye recruiting after 1970 was considered laughably inept by rivals. Largely because OSU is the state's main university and attracted some Ohio schoolboys on that basis alone, it enjoyed a measure of success into the early '70s. Still, Ohio State has not had a first-team all-conference selection since Allan Hornyak, who was recruited in 1969.
Recruiting has always been the least enjoyable duty for many coaches. As described by Ohio State's current athletic director, Hugh Hindman, "It is a brutal, full-time job. It is much more time-consuming than coaching. You have to get up earlier, stay at it later, get there first and get there last. If Fred had been flexible enough to stay with the times the way Woody Hayes has, there wouldn't have been a problem."
That there was a problem was made quite clear to Taylor by Weaver in the spring of 1975. "I indicated informally that there was concern among the athletic administration about the decline of the team." says Weaver, "and I related the importance of having a good recruiting year." Taylor says Weaver told him to "win or else." Weaver denies that there was any such ultimatum, although his memory when discussing Taylor can be very selective.
Recruiting was a particularly unpleasant chore for Taylor, whose unyielding personal standards were often stricter than the letter—and even the spirit—of the NCAA rule book. While other coaches scoured the nation for players and, if necessary, used minority programs and other special provisions to get them into school, Taylor stuck mainly to Ohio and did not look for any loopholes in admission requirements. That is why he did not join in the pursuit of such Ohio products as Scott May, Bo Lamar and Ed Ratleff, who became All-Americas elsewhere. Because of this, when Taylor did go after a qualified black athlete, opposing coaches would try to scare the prospect by saying that Taylor did not really want any blacks. Eventually that feeling became pervasive even in Columbus' black community, particularly after an OSU player, Wardell Jackson, advised other blacks to go elsewhere. As a result, as other Big Ten teams won championships with lineups featuring numerous black stars, Ohio State rarely had more than one black among its starters. And that one almost invariably fit the mold of OSU's white players—tractable instate kids who, unlike most youngsters, found Taylor's ultra-low-key, no-promises approach attractive.
Nonetheless, former black players like Nowell and Jim Cleamons are strong supporters of Taylor. "Those people who had doubts about Fred could only see the surface," says Nowell. "They didn't know the man."
Taylor's problem was not so much that he failed to recruit black players, but that he failed to land the best players of any description. Bill Hosket, a star of the late '60s and now a Columbus businessman, says, "I can't say enough for him as a man and as a coach, but I have to say his downfall was recruiting. Sure, Fred is highly principled, but so is Miller. The difference is that Miller is more aggressive. Fred didn't understand that there were people who wanted to help him. He said he didn't want to inconvenience anyone. Fred had been used to kids just waiting for the invitation to come to Ohio State. It was that way with me, but not the players of today. They think nothing of leaving the state. Just look at Kevin Grevey and Mike Phillips, who went to Kentucky, and Phil Hubbard and Steve Grote, who went to Michigan. Fred didn't stay in touch with changing ideas. When he retired, I was so caught up in the emotion of getting basketball back to where it was that for a while I thought I wanted the job myself."
As Taylor examines his recruiting style, he admits, "Maybe I wasn't too smart, but I was raised with the idea that your word was your bond. I really resented a kid who said he was coming and then went somewhere else. That happened with Nick Weatherspoon [ Illinois] and Larry Harris [ Pittsburgh]. Havlicek always told me I was too low-key, but when people say I can't recruit, I think about guys like Hosket and Cleamons. That's a slap at them." Indeed, Cleamons, who plays for the New York Knicks, says, "I wasn't going to Ohio State until I talked to Taylor and found out how much I liked him. He didn't wine and dine you and tell you what you wanted to hear. I got out of Ohio State just what Fred said I would get."