He charged, in 1956, that Forest Evashevski had allowed the stadium grass to grow long at Iowa in order to hamper the Ohio State running attack, and he threatened to get a lawnmower and cut it himself. At a Big Ten press conference in Chicago, he was first on the schedule to give a rundown of his team's prospects for the season ahead. When Hayes stopped speaking, all the other conference coaches, stood up and left. Hayes had covered each team in the Big Ten so thoroughly that there was no more to be said.
He beat Southern California 20-7 in the 1955 Rose Bowl game, then told the local press corps that at least four other Big Ten teams could have done as well. "He was probably right," another Big Ten coach agreed, "but he might have been more tactful." Tact is the last thing the state of California seems to arouse in Woody Hayes. Before the '58 Rose Bowl game, both Ohio State and Oregon warmed up in the end zones to save wear and tear on the rain-soaked field. When the bands were allowed to march on this same field just before kickoff, the residents of Pasadena thought that it had begun to thunder again. Hayes hasn't cared a great deal for bands since. Nor for Southern California's assessment of its climate. "They should have covered that field. They never admit it's going to rain out there," he said.
After the 17-0 loss to USC in '59 he was less than gentle with one West Coast reporter. "He slugged me," the newspaperman claimed. "I just barely brushed him," said Hayes. "Well," said one of the Ohio State assistants, "you might say that Woody showed him to the door."
Not even sportswriters infuriate Hayes quite so much, however, as an athlete who fails to play up to his maximum ability. At an Ohio State basketball game during the time of Frank Howard, the All-America behemoth who now plays right field, in a manner of speaking, for the Dodgers, Hayes was sitting with members of his football squad in the stands. He decided that Howard wasn't putting out. "He got madder and madder," one of the players remembers, "until finally he jumped up and ordered us all out of the arena. 'I'm not going to let you watch this,' he said. He took us outside and lectured us for an hour and a half on always trying to do our best."
Two years ago, as a spectator at a game in Cleveland between the Indians and Yankees, Hayes suffered through the one-handed artistry of Vic Power at first base until he could stand it no more. "You're showing off," Hayes yelled from his box near the Indian dugout. "Why don't you use both hands and help your team win?" Power, whose ears are as good as his hands, dropped over and invited Mr. Hayes to discuss the matter further after the game; Hayes, probably figuring that much of the 230 pounds he carries these days is relatively useless in hand-to-hand combat, went home instead. He didn't go back to watch the Indians again until they traded Power to Minnesota. "That guy makes me sick," he says. "What's he got two hands for?"
The man who can make Woody Hayes sickest of all is the archenemy, Jack Fullen, alumni secretary at Ohio State. Fullen once proposed that the school give up all pretense at amateurism, hire a professional team and control it under a bureau of football. Hayes feels that Fullen has been trying to get him fired for years; he can understand this well enough, since he would like to get Fullen fired and is currently engaged in a campaign to accomplish just that. What makes him furious is that in the process he thinks Fullen is sabotaging Ohio State football.
Through the years, Hayes has been in more scraps with opposing coaches, officials, reporters, university administrators, alumni and fans than he can count, if he bothers to count at all. He has not changed a whisker in all this time, but a strange thing has happened: the people around Woody Hayes are beginning to change. A former assistant, Rix Yard, once said, "Woody sticks to what he believes is right, even when it's wrong." In retrospect he has proved to be wrong so seldom (at least about football) that a slew of people who once opposed him are now on his side. He is suddenly in danger of becoming one of the most popular men in all Ohio, a fate that horrifies Hayes no end. "I'm not trying to win a popularity poll," he growls. "I'm trying to win football games. I don't like popular people. I like tough, honest people." Apparently others do, too.
Hayes grew up in Newcomerstown, Ohio, where his father was superintendent of schools, and he played tackle three seasons for Denison University in Granville. He received a master's degree from Ohio State and coached in high schools at Mingo Junction and New Philadelphia before going off to command a destroyer escort during World War II. As the head coach at Denison in 1946-48 he won 18 games in a row; at Miami University in 1950 he won eight of nine and beat Arizona State in the Salad Bowl. In 1951 he became head coach at Ohio State.
In the years preceding Hayes, some very good football coaches had fled this job like rabbits, unable to stand the ridicule, the abuse, the unremitting pressure to win every game. The last of these was Wes Fesler, a sensitive, kindly man who lost seven games in three years. When Fesler's wife began to shudder every time the telephone rang, he decided to retreat, too. The telephone was unlisted, but this hardly slowed down the Columbus fans.
"Not one big-time coach was interested in coming to Ohio State," says Hayes. "They approached Earl Blaik and Don Faurot, and a number of others. Blaik wouldn't even listen. So they hired me."