I spent part of a day last week compiling numbers on Ohio State’s 10 coaches since the school joined the Big Ten in 1913. What I’m going to do with those numbers I am not yet sure, but it didn’t take long to find a few things worth sharing.
Thanks in part to coaching nearly twice as long as anyone else, Woody Hayes predictably leads the way in most categories I studied. That includes wins (205), national championships (five), Big Ten championships (14), first-team All-Americans (59), first-team All-Big Ten selections (131), Silver Football winners (four) NFL draft picks (162) and College Football Hall of Famers (12).
Some of those numbers – I’m thinking particularly of the draft picks (although the draft had many more rounds back in Hayes’ day) and the All-Big Ten players – are simply staggering.
Hayes also amassed one other number that surprised me a bit: With eight Rose Bowls, an Orange and a Sugar, he still finished ahead of Jim Tressel in terms of total BCS or equivalent bowls. Of course, coaching for 28 seasons helped give him plenty of time to rack up major bowl appearances, but don’t forget Big Ten teams were not allowed to appear in the Rose Bowl in back-to-back bowls or go to any other bowl for the first two decades Hayes stalked the Columbus sidelines. The 1955 Buckeyes were undefeated in Big Ten play but had to stay home because of a Rose Bowl appearance the year before, and the ’69 team that was stunned by Michigan would surely have gone to another nice bowl regardless were it allowed (though they would not have gone to the Rose Bowl even if they hadn’t suffered the most devastating loss in school history to the Wolverines). Don’t forget the fate of the 1961 team, either. Hayes’ second undefeated team stayed home for the holidays because of a vote by the school’s faculty to decline a Rose Bowl invitation.
Tressel leads the way in average Big Ten finish (1.7) and is tops in winning percentage (82.8) if you remove Carroll Widdoes, who went 16-2 but only coached two years after taking over when Paul Brown left to join the military effort during World War II.
Hayes won twice as many Big Ten titles as Tressel (14 to 7), but Tressel has three more than mentor Earle Bruce, who comes in third. The other two coaches to win multiple Big Ten titles at Ohio State are John Wilce, whose tenure coincided with the Buckeyes’ joining the conference in 1913, and John Cooper. Both won three.
One of the surprising figures I found was Tressel’s 66 draft picks in 10 years besting Cooper’s 61 in 13 seasons. Although both are regarded as excellent recruiters, Cooper hung his hat on being able to acquire NFL-caliber talent a bit more overtly than did Tressel. While Cooper had a couple of teams that seemed to underachieve based on raw ability, Tressel was often regarded as getting a little more out of his players than was expected on national signing day.
Of course, their draft numbers are linked by the overlap of the careers of many of their players. To that end, I found it interesting that 26 of the players drafted after Tressel became coach were Cooper signees. On the other hand, only 11 of Cooper’s draftees began their Ohio State careers during Earle Bruce’s career. (That covers all of the draftees in ’89-91 plus Scottie Graham, who redshirted in 1987.)
There’s more than meets the eye, of course, as each coach faced different challenges in different eras, but I thought it would be fun to check out what the numbers look like anyway because you can bet the farm the discussions about which coach is the best in Ohio State history have just begun.
- With 59 All-Big Ten selections, Tressel edged Bruce (55) and Cooper (53) for second most.
- Brown only coached Ohio State for three years, but he and Hayes are tied for most Pro Football Hall of Famers to play under their tutelage. Brown coached Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli and Bill “Deke” Willis, while Hayes mentored Jim Parker, Paul Warfield and Dick LeBeau.
- Luke Fickell is the fourth Ohio State graduate to become head coach at the school, and he will hope to be more like Earle Bruce (1979-87) than Sam Willaman (1929-33). Willaman is the only person to coach Ohio State for more than a year and fail to win at least one Big Ten title. Bruce was unceremoniously fired before the Michigan game in 1987, but he won 75 percent of his games and four Big Ten titles in eight years. His average Big Ten finish of 2.33 is better than that of Hayes (2.46).
- Fickell is advised to exceed the output of the other former Buckeye to lead the scarlet and gray, too. That would be Wes Fesler, who led his alma mater to a Big Ten championship and its first Rose Bowl victory after the ’49 season but resigned under pressure less than 12 months later. During Ohio State’s time in the Big Ten, Fesler has the worst winning percentage (57) of any OSU coach to hold the job for more than one year, but his departure after a stinging loss to Michigan in the “Snow Bowl” in 1950 cleared the way for the beginning of the Hayes era.