This post was a struggle. Not because of any specific moral or legal quandaries that left me contemplating man's place in the universe (that's next week), it was more because I couldn't decide whether or not to make this post about Batman or Harry Potter.
Since my uncanny resemblance to The Boy Who Lived has been pointed out to me more times than I can count, and because I made a tweet to this point I'll be attempting to make a while back that made possibly two people smirk in amusement, I decided to go with what I know, disappoint my dad, and drop Bruce Wayne in favor of children's fantasy. For you see, at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, there is a position that seems to be cursed. A position that no one had been able to hold for as long as they wanted, and a position that none left willingly. A position where, even if those in employ could achieve various degrees of success, eventually they would find themselves insane, dead, or on the run for being a werewolf and/or a big jerk.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor.
At a magical place in Ohio, there is a position at The Ohio State University. A position that, as at Hogwarts, is highly coveted but similarly cursed. A position where none of the last four men to hold the job have left on their own terms. A position where even if those in employ could achieve various degrees of success, they would eventually see it come crashing down around them, fired for being too hot headed, too mediocre, completely losing the team, or making one gigantic mistake.
Head Football Coach.
How did Jim Tressel become Severus Snape? Why is Earle Bruce Remus Lupin? Was Woody being controlled by the Imperius curse when he punched Charlie Bauman? And, most importantly, what makes this job so damn hard to leave gracefully?
Of course, it is somewhat difficult to stretch this comparison much further than a goofy photoshop job; in the Harry Potter series, there's a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor every year, whereas at Ohio State coaches have been able to hang on for much longer (28 seasons in Woody's case). And no, as far as I know centaurs didn't chase John Cooper out of Columbus and Woody wasn't sent to Riverside Hospital after one of his memory charms backfired on him.
But the main issue here is that it seems to me that something, either inherent in the job or cultural, has prevented these men from being able to have a handle on their own jobs toward the end; and the forces that have caused that seem to be just as powerful as any Hungarian Horntail.
The decision to fire Woody Hayes isn't a mystery. He punched an opposing player, during a game, on live television. Not a difficult decision for anyone to make, and it left a lot of people wondering how Woody could've gotten to that point. My personal opinion is that Woody was watching the game pass him by, and it infuriated him. That same drive and anger about losing that he used to drive himself was a double edged sword. Five bowl losses in seven years had to have eaten at him, and eventually the standards that he had set for Ohio State during his career were going to become harder and harder to attain unless Woody changed.
He wasn't about to change. So he snapped.
Earle Bruce is a different story. He was a Hayes disciple, and Ohio State fans expected similar results from him, which in retrospect was incredibly unfair. Bruce was also a model of consistency: six of his nine football teams went 9-3. He was 5-3 in bowl games. He went 5-4 against Michigan. All of which was not enough to sate the hunger for winning and excellence that his mentor had given OSU football fans. His players loved him, but he was out, borne to the Forbidden Forest on the backs of a thousand angry boosters.
This culture of high expectations continued with John Cooper, and on the field I think that for a time people were enamored with the potential that his teams showed. Constant losses in bowl games and against Michigan, repeated failures to reach the summit, and an eventual loss of the locker room slowly eroded whatever sense of possibility that people saw in Cooper's teams. His team fell apart, and he was out.
So what is it about Ohio State makes a difficult transition inevitable, and is the next coach doomed to the same fate as his predecessors? It's a question that I want to have positive answers for, but in truth I always thought that Jim Tressel, a man with a record of success and an apparent ability to handle the intense institutionalized pressure, would be the one to buck the trend. A year ago we were about three seasons from casting bronze statues and naming the field after him. Now, after one big mistake, he's gone.
Maybe this is just the inevitable outcome for almost all marquee college football jobs now. The insanely high expectations from boosters and fans coupled with the inherent corrupt nature of college football might mean that no one gets out of these positions unscathed in some way anymore. It's not a great commentary on the sport when your choices as a coach at the likes of Ohio State, USC, of Florida are either get run out on a rail or resign before they catch up to you.
Unfortunately, whoever the next coach is will have to face not just the standard tier one football school concerns of winning early and often, competing for championships, and high fan expectations, but also the intense glare of history and the cumulative effect of the failures of the men that came before him. He'll have to be more controlled than Woody, have a higher ceiling than Bruce, achieve more than Cooper, and be more forthright than Tressel, while winning as much as any of them ever did.
Let's hope whoever it is has one hell of a Patronus charm.