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The bitter feeling between Hayes and his players reached such an impasse that they locked him out of the dressing room before the Illinois game, then went out and played the favored Illini to a 0-0 tie. Another tie, four victories and three losses marked that first season of dissension. Quarterback Tony Curcillo, a standout single-winger, having been awkwardly switched to Hayes's T formation, said: "He had me so fouled up I didn't know what he wanted. If I passed, he jerked me out and said run. If I ran, out I came and he said pass. You couldn't call the right play," Halfback Doug Goodsell added: "I'd rather be playing jayvee ball. How would you like it, with 82,000 fans screaming at you while you were on the field and the Bull [Hayes] ranting and raving at you when you came off it?"
After archrival Michigan clipped the Bucks 7-0, "Goodby Woody" banners were flying over Columbus, and several members of the wolf pack were talking about raising $25,000 to buy up Hayes's contract. One wolf kept calling the Hayes home at 4 a.m. every day. Mrs. Hayes would answer the phone. "I just called up to say goodby," he'd say. "We're not going anywhere," she'd reply. "Oh, yes, you are," the wolf would persist.
The next season didn't start off much better. In the dressing room between the halves of one game, a halfback reportedly took a sock at Hayes, missed him and crashed his fist into his own locker. Maybe it was then that Hayes began to see the light. At any rate, he calmed down. Wins over Illinois and Michigan at the end of the season saved his job, giving him a record of six wins and three losses.
But in '53 the clock was set back, even though OSU's overall record was the same. The team suffered from fumbleitis, a malady that drives Hayes out of his mind ("It's just plain carelessness," he insists. "It's antisocial"). One practice episode nearly proved disastrous. Freshman Fullback Don Vicic had been making steady gains through the varsity line. As he ripped off a large one, a vicious tackle made him drop the ball.
In front of Larkins and several businessmen who happened to be watching, Hayes blew his top. "Get out of there, Vicic," he stormed. "We don't stand for fumbling on our team. Get out and stay out until you learn how to hold the ball." Vicic tried to stammer a reply but Hayes raged on and finally, reddening, the kid tore off his helmet and tossed it in Hayes's direction as he headed for the sidelines. Later Hayes saw him stretched on the ground and renewed the attack. "Get up, Vicic," he yelled. "Who told you to lie down?" Vicic was ready to quit OSU that night, but Assistant Coach Ernie Godfrey, who tries to maintain a homey, family atmosphere not unlike that of his famous radio and TV namesake, intervened. Vicic had dinner at Hayes's home, where things were patched up. Today Vicic is OSU's best fullback.
At the end of '53, in losing to Michigan 20-0, OSU played miserably and it looked as if Hayes was through. But Larkins and others rallied to Hayes's defense. Larkins won't admit it, but he started Woody on the road back by talking to him like a Dutch uncle about temper tantrums and sideline gymnastics (Hayes still punts and passes in pantomime), and by arranging for Lyal Clark, one of the finest defensive line coaches in the country, to return to OSU (he had been there from 1947 to 1950 but had gone to Minnesota with Wes Fesler, Woody's predecessor).
For the first time in his life, Hayes began delegating authority, not only to Clark but also to others on his staff. With his customary candor, Hayes is the first to admit his faults. "I never worked under a big-time coach, so I naturally grew accustomed to doing everything myself," he says. "It's taken me a long time to learn, and I've still got a long way to go. But I'm getting there."
As an offensive specialist in a rushing game—he uses 14 basic ground plays—Hayes's delegation of authority to defensive experts is especially important. The difference in technique was apparent to the naked eye in '54, as it has been this season when, except for Cassady, who is one of Hayes's strongest admirers, OSU lacks not only depth but concomitant talent. Cassady, an All-America star in anyone's book, calls Hayes "the best coach in the world," but there are few others on the squad who would yet rate him on a par with Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma or Ivy Williamson of Wisconsin as a player's pal.
Hayes is still criticized for working his men too hard—the 6-0 loss to Stanford, in the second game of this season, was attributed to overwork—and the self-styled quarterbacks in town figure he conducts far too many meetings and tends to leave his game at the blackboard. "He underestimates the intelligence of the boys," says one. "His intensity doesn't allow him to get a good grasp of the problem."