Category Archives: History

Saban still Ohio State’s worst secondary coach statistically

In case you were wondering, Nick Saban is still the worst secondary coach in Ohio State history – at least statistically.

The 2013 Buckeyes came close to setting a record for most passing yards allowed per game at 268.0 but fell short of the mark of 273.1 yielded in 1981.

Ohio State lines up to try to stop Purdue one last time

Saban was Ohio State secondary coach that season as well as in 1980, when the Buckeyes allowed a school-record 621 yards passing in a game to David Wilson of Illinois. The only other 500-yard passing game by an Ohio State opponent also happened under Saban’s watch in ’81 at Purdue via quarterback Scott Campbell.

Head coach Earle Bruce fired Saban (along with defensive coordinator Dennis Fryzel and line coach Steve Szabo) after the ’81 campaign, but the Kent State graduate recovered nicely, as you may have heard.

He got his revenge on Ohio State in 1998 when as head coach at Michigan State he led an upset of what for my money is the best Buckeye team of the past 25 years at least. Oh yeah, then he won a total of four national championships at LSU and Alabama. Saban also was head coach at Toledo and served four seasons as defensive coordinator of the Browns before becoming the big boss of the Spartans.

As for his time in Columbus, Saban told the American Football Coaches Association convention last month the most memorable victory of his career was the Buckeyes’ 14-9 upset of No. 7 Michigan in 1981. Saban’s secondary was key in that victory as safety Todd Bell’s late interception prevented the Wolverines from adding to a 9-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Art Schlichter then engineered the game-winning touchdown drive for the Buckeyes.

Cus Words: Will BCS History Repeat?

This week’s column is up at, and it discusses the possibility Ohio State could be the first and last team to be left on the outside looking in by the BCS.

That is despite the landscape and the thinking being much different in 2013 than it was in 1998, and the change could end up hurting the Buckeyes in the end.

Wouldn’t that be something? Cus Words: Will History Repeat?.

‘O’ has been optional for OSU to score against Penn State

By now you’re probably familiar with the pick-six tradition Ohio State has established with Penn State in the past decade, but that really only tells part of the story.

In the past 15 games against the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes have 14 non-offensive touchdowns. That includes nine interceptions returned for touchdowns, three fumble recoveries for touchdowns, a punt return and a blocked punt return.

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Ohio State offense on historic pace

With the Buckeyes having scored at least 30 points in each of their first six games for  only the second time in program history, I wrote about some of the parallels between this Ohio State team and the first one to accomplish such a feat.

Check it out at Ohio State offense on historic pace.

Buckeyes Want To Add Read, Speed in 2013

Ohio State’s first season in Urban Meyer’s spread offense was a big success by most measures, but the head coach and his offensive coordinator want much more in year two. We examine how they can improve and take a look at a past example of an OSU offense going from good to great in its second season with a new attack – Buckeyes Want To Add Read, Speed in 2013

Ohio State Football: Winter Practice?

Ohio State resumes practice today 101 days after beating Michigan to close out a perfect season, and the school’s official release notes this is the earliest start on record for Buckeye spring football.

It might not be the first time the men of the Scarlet and Gray hit the practice field with snow on the ground in Columbus, though.

Head coach Francis Schmidt decided to hold winter practice in February 1935 and informed the players via letter.

“We have several new ideas including plays, formations, shifts, etc. that we want to try out, and this looks like a fine time,” wrote Schmidt (via Brett Perkins’ 2009 book, “Frantic Francis“). “Two months is long enough to lay off from football anyway. I want to get all the preliminary stuff out of the way so that when spring practice rolls around, and we can get out we will be ready to start mapping out our attack. We will spend most of the time on lateral passing and forward passes, and we’ll spend a whole month on it.”

According to Perkins, this was an unusual move, but then Schmidt was far from a usual man (even for a football coach).

Francis Schmidt

There was hardly a time he wasn’t thinking about football, and he had a manaical devotion to developing his “razzle-dazzle” offense.

Schmidt was in his second year at Ohio State in 1935, and he had good reason to want to get a jump start on season preparation. The Buckeyes would play host to Notre Dame in November in what was then and remains one of the most heavily anticipated college football games in memory.

He was probably more concerned with the vaunted Fighting Irish than he was Michigan. After all, the Buckeyes had shut out the Wolverines 34-0 the previous year after Schmidt declared, “They put their pants on one leg at a time, same as we do.”

Ohio State would blank the Wolverines again the following season – the 38-0 score remains the largest margin of victory ever for the Buckeyes in the series – but things did not go so well against the Fighting Irish, who scored two late touchdowns to stun the Buckeyes 18-13 in Ohio Stadium.

Memories of Woody Hayes

In my years at Buckeye Sports Bulletin, I have had the privilege to talk to many of Woody Hayes’ former players for various stories, and those interviews yielded all kinds of nuggets about the man.

A statue of Woody Hayes stands outside the Ohio State football facility

On what would be the 100th birthday of Ohio State’s greatest football coach, I thought I would share a few of the best.

Tom Matte played quarterback at Ohio State from 1958-60 before becoming a star halfback in the NFL. As a Baltimore Colt, Matte used to play host to Hayes when the coach would be on the East Coast for recruiting trips, and he made no bones about his feelings for Hayes now more than 50 years later.

“I loved the guy. I hated him when I played for him because he was tough. He was tough on me, and I was a little bit crazy at the times, so he straightened the hell out of me.

“When I got away from him, he made sure I graduated. He called me three times during the season and told me I had to go back and make up six hours to graduate. I had gotten hurt my rookie year – someone jammed my neck and I crushed a couple of vertebrae – and I went back and not only did I graduate winter quarter but spring quarter he said, ‘You know you might not be able to play. What do you want to do?’ He got me into law school. I had to take some prelaw classes for spring quarter and if I wanted to come back for the following quarter he said he would make sure I had a scholarship to go to law school. That’s the kind of the guy he was.”

“He was tough to love sometimes, but when you got away from him you learned to appreciate that what he was doing was trying to help you grow up is all.”

Rex Kern, an All-American quarterback who led the Buckeyes to a consensus national championship in 1968, two Rose Bowls and a share of three Big Ten titles, laughed when I asked him what it was like to be the quarterback at Ohio State.

“It was a little more difficult to deal with Woody than it was to be the star quarterback.”

“Woody was a very unique special person to deal with. Many people saw probably a different side of Woody than what we as quarterbacks saw. We got to see the benefits of the good and the bad. The quarterbacks spent lots of time with Woody. You had to know your game plan.

“Woody had the tremendous scope of keeping us focused. Being the quarterback at Ohio State put you in the spotlight – maybe a neon light – but I was more concerned about the Michigan State Spartans or Minnesota Golden Gophers than anything off the field, and Woody always had us focused in on those particular games and those particular people. I think it’s a matter of being focused on the task at hand and that was winning football games.”

The late Bill Mrukowski was also a quarterback along with defensive back for Hayes. Suiting up for the Scarlet and Gray in the late 50s and early 60s, he like many had his ups and downs with the coach but came away with positive feelings.

“I really enjoyed playing for Woody. We had our disagreements my junior year and my senior year because I didn’t play quarterback. I was playing defensive half. I’ll never forget my senior year he didn’t take me to Iowa. I didn’t go. I stayed home, and in the first quarter he yelled out Mrukowski get in there, and I was at home. Someone said, ‘Coach, you left him at home.’ They got beat pretty bad that game.

I got back to college that night and he called me on the phone and said I want you to know you’re my quarterback for the rest of the year and I expect you to be over here within the hour. I want to go over some stuff.

“He was up and down that way, but he got me into the East-West Shrine Game and the Hula Bowl (all-star games) after my senior year. He had his way of paying back. I didn’t play enough that year at quarterback to really be honored with that, but he got me in it anyway.”

“There was a lot of good stuff and very, very little bad stuff. He treated you rough. He treated the team rough, and if he liked you, you played. If he didn’t like you, you might not play. That’s just the way he was.”

Bill Conley walked on as a lineman at Ohio State in 1968 and was later an assistant coach at his alma mater. The current head coach of Ohio Dominican recalled, “One thing that I really got from him was work ethic. I remember he always said I may not be the smartest coach in the world but I can outwork anybody.”

Bruce Jankowski was a wide receiver for the Buckeyes in the late ‘60s and said his old coach is often a topic of discussion when there are reunions. “The funniest thing in life is when we got back and start telling Woody stories. If they could put it on tape, they could sell it by the millions. He was a great man, but there are some funny stories.”

Having played basketball for Hubie Brown in high school and Hank Stram in the NFL, he felt blessed to have been exposed to such great minds.

“I had a good home life, but Woody had such a huge impact on me in life as far as doing the right things, being there, being on time, living the right way, doing what you say you’re going to do. I was just very lucky on that one.”

“He really took an interest in my parents. He talked to me, sure, but he took a very strong interest in my parents and my high school football coach.”

“It made me feel good that he showed such an interest in my family. It was different than a lot of others. He spoke about an education. He said, ‘Sure, you’re going to play football, and we’re going to work you hard, and we’re going to make sure you get an education.’ He always instilled that to us. Things like that stood out to me.”

“He was a caring person. He used to always tell us go talk to elderly people. They’re lonely. They don’t have a lot of family typically, so say something. Say hello to them. Ask them how they’re doing. I do that today still.”

“It’s a shame they remember what happened on TV. He was not healthy. He shouldn’t have been coaching at that point, but people who know him, who have really had an opportunity to know him and have been around him love the man. They really do.”

Paul Warfield turned into a Hall of Fame wide receiver in the NFL, but he was a halfback for most of his career at Ohio State. He recalled Hayes focusing on more than just football.

“The great thing about playing for Woody Hayes for me was, No. 1, he never allowed us to forget the reason we were going to school there, to gain what he called a quality education. That was his commitment to all of our parents that he would make sure we got the best we could out of Ohio State University.

He would support us however we needed it, but by the same token he never let us forget that we were there to get an education. He always was concerned with how we were doing in classes

He saw himself as a coach and a teacher but also a teacher and developer of young men at a very important time in our lives. He understood perhaps better than any of us…. that the real job was preparing us for the life once we got out of the university,  preferably if we were going to stay in the state of Ohio and be productive in society as a whole.

“Sometimes all of us didn’t understand it because he was so demanding, but we knew that he was in our corner. And as a result many of my former teammates who once thought he was too tough sent their sons to play for him.”

Regarding Big Ten Expansion…

Adding Maryland and Rutgers is a good play for the Big Ten in terms of keeping up with the Joneses. I do believe it’s inevitable there would be more expansion with everyone getting bigger, and I understand the potential value of those two programs with those two markets. I still don’t like it in general.

I think expansion leaves fans worse off in the long run with regionalism and familiarity suffering in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. I’m pro capitalism, but at some point enough is enough. That’s especially true if you look at the ways a lot of these programs choose to spend their money.

Maryland has been intriguing to me ever since they came up; Rutgers not so much. I don’t believe Jim Delany is really going to get the benefits he expects from the Scarlet Knights, but it probably doesn’t matter at this point. Maryland I can see being competitive in a variety of sports and actually bringing the TV market that they want. I suppose there’s a good chance both programs can bring some talent into the conference, but I think it remains to be seen how much conference affiliation means in recruiting overall. Plus Big Ten schools already recruit both areas regularly, as some do Virginia, Georgia and especially Florida.

I’m also willing to believe that this is the beginning of a more powerful play, maybe even one that still brings Notre Dame around. I’ve heard the chatter about Texas, but I have a hard time believing it. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

What got me fired up on Twitter earlier this week was a report that might turn out to have been premature about the Big Ten divisions. Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virgina and others have their own appeal as well.

I think in general Jim Delany and the conference presidents have done things they needed to do to keep the Big Ten competitive. However, I think they’ve made several missteps along the way that have lessened the overall positives.

The number one issue is the divisions, which were botched from the beginning, so I’ve looked at the further expansion of the way as a good chance for them to undo that gigantic blunder.

While the league and its members overall will be stronger financially based on the moves that have been made, I think Ohio State and Michigan have gotten the smallest benefit of all. Maybe that’s one of the symptoms of being on the top, but I think that the damage has been greater than it needs to be based on some decisions that have been made within the context of the overall expansion.

The best thing this conference had going for it for a very long time was Ohio State’s football rivalry with Michigan, and I think it was already asking a lot to push it down the line in terms of prestige by adding a conference championship game. They really added insult to injury by splitting the teams up and creating the possibility of a rematch, something that changes a fundamental dynamic of the rivalry that exists throughout amateur football: you play your rival once a year for all the bragging rights and whatever conference spoils come with it. In basketball (and the NFL), teams play twice (once at each home venue) so it remains symmetrical. One at your place, one at mine. That’s fun and still easy to digest, but it doesn’t offer the finality of the once-a-year-and-done cycle in college and high school football. Maybe there is a rubber match in the postseason, but that has as much a chance to dilute the product as it does decide who’s boss for the year.

We tend to be admittedly OSU-Michigan centric here (for obvious reasons), but it should be noted they split up a significant historic rivalry for just about every team in the conference, too, with their totally misguided attempt to set the divisions (with their pretentious and embarrassing names) by competitive balance. Programs are inevitably going to rise and fall through the course of time, and I’m not convinced they split the teams in the most balanced way, anyway. Yes, they locked in many rivalries yearly with permanent crossover games, but that screws up the competitive balance, too, and wouldn’t be necessary in as many cases as it is with the current set up if they just split the league geographically.

Why the leaders of the two most powerful programs in the Big Ten don’t recognize this and push for it is beyond me.

In closing I’ll say the Big Ten divisions and the Ohio State Pro Combat uniform experience are similar to me in that they aren’t necessarily terrible ideas but their execution has made them more disruptive than they needed to be to the good things the conference and the Buckeyes already had going for them.

I don’t have an issue with alternate uniforms, especially properly executed throwbacks, but Ohio State has accepted them from their Nike overlords in the worst possible way in time every year but one.

Like concluding the regular season and deciding conference and sometimes national title fates, part of the Ohio State-Michigan mystique is seeing the winged helmets against the silver ones covered in a Buckeye leaves. Both schools have changed their looks throughout the long and storied existence of their football programs, but they’ve largely remained the same since the era that defines it most began. The Buckeyes moved to their current look – including the beginning of the Buckeye leaf helmet sticker tradition – in the late 1960s, and the Ten Year War soon launched with legendary head coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler stalking opposite sidelines and making national headlines.

Just like the Big Ten can expand without altering as many traditions as it has, Ohio State can play ball with Nike and offer one little caveat. There are 12 games (or more) every season, and I see nothing unreasonable about insisting one is off the table when alternate uniforms are discussed. Just like divisions.

Change Is Inevitable: Ohio State’s Offenses Through the Years

Of course you know by now the major topic of Ohio State football this offseason has been the installation of Urban Meyer’s spread offense. As a football strategy junky, I have found it fascinating to talk to the new coaches about their plans and the players about how they have absorbed everything. You can find example of that in our archives and in past issues of Buckeye Sports Bulletin (see here).

But before we go any farther, I thought it would be fun to take a look back this summer.

Although Ohio State has been known as the home of three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offenses for more than half a century, there have been plenty of evolutions over the years, some that will probably surprise you.

For the next issue of Buckeye Sports Bulletin, I examine some of these moves. Here’s a preview:


Woody Hayes took over for Wes Fesler, a former Buckeye who was a star end at Ohio State in the late 1920s. Fesler is one of eight three-time All-Americans to wear the Scarlet and Gray, but he fell out of favor in Columbus when his Buckeyes lost to Michigan in the “Snow Bowl” in 1950.

Fesler’s offense featured a mix of single wing and the T depending on the situation, but Hayes was strictly a practitioner of the T.

The switch proved to be a painful one as the Buckeyes offensive output slipped from 31.8 points per game to a meager 12.1. Their 109 points in nine games were the fewest for the team since Fesler’s first OSU squad managed only 60 in 1947.

The move had a notable negative effect on Vic Janowicz, who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1950. Featured often out of the single wing, Janowicz led the Big Ten in total offense (703 yards) and scoring (48 points) in conference play in ’50 but became just a cog in Hayes’ machine as a senior. He led the team in rushing (376 yards) but quarterback Tony Curcillo took over the passing lead. Janowicz touched the ball 138 times in ’51, 60 fewer than the year before.


Hayes eventually got that T formation humming, of course. It helped produce national championships in 1954, ’57 and ’61, but his program hit a snag in the early ’60s after a decision by the university faculty council denied the Buckeyes a trip to the 1962 Rose Bowl.

That hurt recruiting in the short term, but Hayes rallied to bring in what would prove to be one of the best classes of all time for 1967. Its members were ineligible to play as freshmen, but they began to build their legend during practices that fall when they would give the varsity a run for its money.

When the youngsters were ready to take over in ’68, Hayes gave them a new weapon courtesy newly hired assistant coach George Chaump, who suggested he supplement his venerable T attack with the I formation being made famous by USC.

The move turned out to be a good one: The Buckeyes doubled their scoring output (from 16.1 to 32.3 points per game), went undefeated and won the national championship.

Rex Kern, a sophomore who took over at quarterback in ’68, told me in a past interview that did more to take advantage of the talent Hayes had accumulated.

“The I formation gave you the opportunity to get around the corner much quicker,” he said. “The old-timers will remember the old button-shoe (his term for the Fullhouse T) offense was from tackle to tackle. The I formation was really from tackle to sideline, so it really just expanded the field and gave us more attack points. We could put our skill people against our opponents’ skill people versus us putting our interior line against the interior defense. We were good at either one, but this just gave us a better opportunity. Then when we got into short yardage, we went back to our pure button-shoe offense and attacked from tackle to tackle.”

(Aside: I found this fascinating in light of today’s move from the I formation to the spread. Similar principles at work. We’ll discuss that more in the future…)

Kern threw for 972 yards and ran for 534 more in ’68 while fullback Jim Otis rumbled for 985 yards and halfbacks Leo Hayden, John Brockington and Dave Brungard 732 more.


The end of the Hayes era gave way to the leadership of one of his former assistants, Earle Bruce. The men shared many common traits when it came to coaching football, but Bruce recognized he needed to open things up some to take advantage of another sophomore quarterback who like Kern wore No. 10.

This time it was Art Schlichter, one of the most ballyhooed recruits in Ohio history and a freshman starter in ’78.

While the basic offense remained the same, Schlichter was allowed to show off his famous right arm a bit more often.

After complete 87 of 175 passes for 1,250 yards in ’78, Schlichter went 105 for 200 for 1,816 yards as a sophomore.

Schlichter told me in an 2009 interview the offense became more complex under Bruce, but there was one thing that stayed the same: All of the passing was out of play action, regardless of down and distance.

“That was a result of our protection,” said Schlichter, who likened the offensive progression to moving from the Ice Age to the Stone Age. “Coach Bruce liked the turn-back protection. He thought it protected the quarterback as much as anything, so we used that protection to play-action pass. Third-and-long we were throwing out of a play-action set, which I had hoped that we would have gotten away from that, but we never really did.”

Schlichter, who has run into repeated serious legal problems since the conclusion of his college career and is awaiting a return to prison at this time, ended up with just about every Ohio State passing record before he was finished. His single-season record of 2,551 has since been broken three times, but his career marks of 7,547 yards, 951 pass attempts and 46 interceptions remain school records.


This might be hard to believe today, but an actual headline in the April 1988 issue of Buckeye Sports Bulletin declared, “OSU Offense To Drop-Back This Season.”

That’s right: new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto’s plan to install a drop-back passing game for new head coach John Cooper was big news less than 25 years ago.

Buckeye Sports Bulletin covered Ohio State’s new offense in 1988

“All we’re trying to do is give the offense a few more weapons to try and play the game with,” Colletto said then. “The drop-back will open up the game and make it more difficult for defenses to gang up on us. We’re trying to become a proficient drop-back passing team.

“And we will pass on first down. That is something we keep careful track of.”

Although everyone left spring practice saying the right things that year, early results were not too promising.

The passing game actually lost some proficiency (from a 54.1 percent completion rate to 51.8) from 1987 to ’88 and the offense managed only five more total points (229). The Buckeyes stumbled from 6-4-1 in Bruce’s last campaign to 4-6-1 in ’88 under Cooper, but the offense was hardly to blame for that.

Cooper commented openly about his surprise at the lack of talent he found on the roster, and he was forced to break in a new quarterback that season in sophomore Greg Frey (who spoke glowingly of the new attack as one similar to what he had run at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati under the guidance of a young intern named Urban Meyer).

For more on how these changes were implemented and how they panned out, be sure to check out the next print edition of BSB scheduled for publication in the first week of July. We also examine the move from Cooper’s version of the pro-style offense to Jim Tressel’s.

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1st-year Ohio State football coach not satisfied with talent on hand

No, not Urban Meyer.

I’m talking about John Cooper, circa 1988:

“I’ve been a little disappointed in what I’ve seen talent-wise. I know we’ve lost a lot of great players. I’m not crying the blues and I’m not trying to downplay the players we’ve got here, but I would have thought coming in here that Ohio State would have had stronger linemen. I think we’ve got some good backs and the offensive line will be good, but we need to be stronger.”


“As I’ve said before, Earle Bruce did a great job of coaching here. I’m telling you, Earle can flat coach, unless the talent here is a hell of a lot better than in the past than it is right now.”

That’s a bit more extreme than Meyer has been since he took over this past year, but I guess some things never change.

For what it’s worth, there were eight players drafted in the spring of ’88 off of Bruce’s last Ohio State team. Ten were picked in the following three drafts. Six players were drafted in 2001 after Cooper’s last season… and 27 in the three drafts after that (2002-04).