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At first they laid odds in downtown Columbus on how long this new guy would last. Then they began to find out things about Woody Hayes. Criticism had about as much effect on his hide as a spitball against a charging rhinoceros. For a man who was virtually a recluse, he was the most compelling speaker since Daniel Webster reclaimed a soul from the devil. "If this guy can coach as well as he can talk," said one dazed alumnus after a speech, "we're going to have a hell of a football team." Woody Hayes, they soon discovered, could coach.
"I get along fine with the fans," Hayes says. "They want to win, and I can understand that. So do I. That's the idea of this game. The only idea. Anyway, I'm just a little bit meaner than they are." His telephone number has always been in the Columbus directory.
The sincerity that flows out of Hayes like beer from a barrel and the absolute honesty of the man have made him one of the most spectacular recruiters in college football. Ohio State is the only Big Ten school in Ohio and sits smack in the middle of what Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty calls "the most fertile talent area in the Big Ten." This area Hayes covers like a midwestern blizzard, charming parents, preaching the advantages of Ohio State, looking for what he calls "the quality boys." He is the first to admit that a great deal of his coaching success reflects the type of boy that he gets.
"We concentrate on character," he says with the slight lisp that sometimes startles you, coming as it does from such a tough man. "We talk to their parents, their teachers, their principals, coaches, ministers, priests. If a kid doesn't have character, you don't have a chance."
Jim Parker, the all-league guard of the Baltimore Colts, went to Ohio State after being interviewed, as he says, "by about 25 major colleges and I don't know how many minor ones. I was promised the moon by some. Woody didn't promise me the moon. He told me, 'You don't get anything on a silver platter here,' and I didn't. But I sent my brother AI to Ohio State after I left so he could be coached by Woody, and I want my son to learn football under him, too."
Most of Ohio State's recruiting competition comes from the service academies and the Ivy League, but Hayes gets more than 50% of the good Ohio boys, the ones that he really wants, the exceptionally gifted athletes. Of the 132 boys on his three Rose Bowl squads—Woody considers last season a Rose Bowl year, too, since the team was invited although not permitted to go—128 were from Ohio. " Ohio boys have more loyalty to the school and the state," he says. "It seems to work out well."
He believes that good students make good football players, but he is worried about the future of the Negro in the conference. "If we're not careful," he says, "these rules we have now are going to eliminate about 80% of the Negro boys. No one questions their intelligence; it's their educational background that slows them down. Just because Ohio high schools are integrated doesn't mean that all are academically equal. Some schools are in areas made up almost entirely of Negro families. Those schools just aren't as good, and the boys don't have the preparation.
"Outside of that, the only problem I ever had with Negro football players at Ohio State was in 1959. We lost five ball games that year because we didn't have enough of them. They're great athletes and they're great kids. If those southern schools had a few of them at halfback I don't think the defensive records would look quite so good down there. I hope we never legislate Negro football players out of the Big Ten."
Football has been Hayes's life, and since he is not a religious man it may be the closest thing to a God that he has. But running a close second is the deep feeling that he has for education, a feeling that was planted early in life by his father, who never went to high school but earned a college degree and became an educator. Hayes, in fact, considers himself first of all a teacher. "What do you think a coach is?" he asks. "Why, we teach a boy more in two months than some professors do in three years."