Just Like Woody: Why Ohio State Fans Love Urban Meyer

By Kyle Rowland on February 14, 2013 at 9:30a
Happy Birthday, Mr. Hayes

One hundred years ago today, the Ohio State football program’s significance rose considerably – it just didn’t know it yet. Fifty-three miles southeast of Columbus at a dusty crossroads called Clifton, Ohio, the third child of Wayne and Effie Hayes was born. 

That child, named Wayne after his father, would become known as Woody and more than a quarter-century after his death is still revered by Buckeye fans around the world.

To celebrate the centennial of Hayes’ birth, Ohio State has orchestrated a weeklong series of events commemorating the life and times of Woody and Anne Hayes, including the unveiling of a statue of the coach’s likeness in front of the palatial football facility that bears his name.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” son Steve said. “And rightly so, they aren’t just honoring my dad, they’re honoring my mother. She was always in the background. She wanted it that way, but she deserves the recognition.

“It’s just my parents. It’s not two celebrities. Believe me, she could stop him cold in his tracks, and she did when it was important enough. It was an education.”

Hayes last coached an Ohio State game in December 1978, but his principles remain an enduring symbol of the program: smash-mouth offense, physical defense and a passionate distaste for Michigan. But it wasn’t always that way in Columbus – not until Hayes arrived in 1951.

Make no mistake, football and defeating Michigan were serious business for Ohio State at the midpoint of the 20th century and contributed to Hayes’ predecessor, Wes Fesler, resigning. It reached a level unseen, though, when Hayes came to Ohio State from Miami (Ohio).

In 28 seasons at Ohio State, Hayes won 13 Big Ten championships, three national titles, four Rose Bowls and owned a 16-11-1 record against Michigan. That nearly three-decade stretch shot the program into the college football stratosphere, a place they've floated in ever since.

Bronze Woody Hayes can still destroy a yard marker.The statue watching over the complex that bears his name.

Earle Bruce, John Cooper and Jim Tressel have sat in the same seat as Hayes, each enjoying successful runs. Tressel’s 10-year reign is most similarly aligned with Hayes’ ledger: Big Ten titles, a national championship and dominance over Michigan.

Now, Urban Meyer is making a pitch to join that exclusive club. Not only did he go 12-0 in his first season at Ohio State, but Woody lives on in Meyer, not in looks but in philosophy.

Offense is almost always the first thing that comes to mind when Meyer’s name is brought up. Some people incorrectly think of ‘basketball on grass’ because Meyer runs a version of the spread offense. In truth, it’s based on power, just as Buckeye football has been defined for nearly its entire existence. Across the line on defense, the same hard-nosed mentality is preached and carried out. Seeping through is Meyer’s admiration for all things Woody.

“I went over to the ROTC building and met with him (when I was a graduate assistant at Ohio State),” Meyer said. “My wife, Shelley, is from Chillicothe. We were at a recruiting dinner at the Scarlet and Gray Golf Course, and we were sitting there. Coach Hayes was in a wheelchair and wasn’t doing very good.  She said, ‘Let’s go meet Coach Hayes.’ There were about 30 people in line. I said, ‘I’ll bring you over to his office some time (but he passed).

“I still regret that to this day. So does she, that she never had a chance to meet Coach Hayes. But to say I’m a fan (of Hayes') is not a strong enough word. To think I admired him, yes. It goes back real thick and real strong, the admiration I have for Coach Hayes and Coach Bruce.”

Nine years before Hayes was hired at Ohio State, coaching legend Paul Brown engineered the Buckeyes’ first national championship. But World War II soon called Brown into action – Hayes also served – and left Ohio State empty-handed. It searched in vain for nearly a decade for someone to restore that prominence.

In the meantime, the Big Ten – then the Western Conference – thumbed its nose at Ohio State. It seemed as if every team that wasn't Ohio State captured championships until athletic director Dick Larkins and university president Howard Bevis sought the services of Hayes.

It wasn't long until Woody had molded the conference to his liking. He brought the best players to Columbus, won at a dizzying rate and angered opponents while doing so.

“It goes back real thick and real strong, the admiration I have for Coach Hayes and Coach Bruce.”

Does that scenario sound familiar?

Meyer’s father, Bud, raised him on tough discipline. Hayes, a child of World War I and witness to the Depression, was brought up with a chip on his shoulder. When Meyer became a GA at Ohio State in the 1980s, Bruce taught his staff and players with the same level of regulation. It was straight from the Woody Hayes School of Coaching.

After Bruce was unceremoniously fired by Ohio State, he was hired at Colorado State and made Meyer one of his assistants. From there, Meyer spent time at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz, another Hayes apprentice. To say Meyer was schooled on Hayes’ tactics would be a massive understatement.

From the moment he took control of the Buckeyes, Meyer has coached with the same gusto and flair as Hayes, Bruce and Holtz.

A new golden age of Ohio State football began with Meyer lamenting his team’s effort and commitment with tough love. During spring practice, Meyer referred to his offense as a “clown show.” Hayes frequently told his team if they practiced as hard as the band they’d win every game. Both Meyer and Hayes have been called arrogant, a label most successful people are tagged with, but each oozes confidence.

Villain might be the word the rest of the college football world attaches to Meyer and Hayes. But, as they say, behind every man is a great woman. In these cases, that statement rings true with an oversized bell.

Shelley Meyer is undoubtedly the leader of the Meyer clan. Her three children consume her, and she is often the parent heard screaming at sporting events, not her football coaching husband. She is an expert in her own field, holding a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing.

At home, Shelley holds sway over Urban and was the shining light during his year sabbatical. Family life got back on track, as did Urban’s health. He famously signed a contract written on pink paper, drafted by oldest daughter Nicki, before he was permitted to take the Ohio State job.

“The toughest contract I ever signed,” Meyer said.

Being married to a football coach doesn’t offer an ideal family life because of constant moving and stress. Shelley and Anne Hayes made it work, though. 

Soft-spoken, the polar opposite of her husband, Anne often stuck up for players when Woody became upset, much like Shelley with Urban’s teams at Florida. She was a tireless advocate for many charities and devoted her time, free of charge, for speaking engagements and rallying support for various causes.

“Other than those 60 minutes in Glendale, I've always followed the Buckeyes.”

“She was special as a mom, but she was special as a person, too,” Steve said. “She was a remarkable woman. She didn’t get the recognition she deserved, and she didn’t care. She was Dad’s secret weapon and my biggest booster.”

Quick with a joke, when a rumor about Anne and Woody getting divorced evolved, she quipped, “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes.”

At Florida, it was a picture of Woody Hayes that was positioned prominently on the wall in Meyer’s office. In the immense buildup to the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, Meyer all but professed his love for Ohio State, citing his childhood and time spent in Columbus as a GA.

“Other than those 60 minutes in Glendale, I've always followed the Buckeyes,” Meyer said.

Even Bruce was conflicted on whom to root for. A 41-14 trouncing put Buckeye Nation on notice. Meyer fans they were not, but they knew Tressel wouldn’t coach forever.

That day came sooner than anyone would expect and under circumstances that are still unfathomable to many. Working for ESPN, Meyer called Ohio State’s 2011 season opener versus Akron. He admitted months later that he had chills and tears running down his cheeks when the band took the field for its traditional ramp entrance.

“I used to sneak out (of the locker room) when I was a GA here at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “I knew it was 16:36 (on the game clock) when the band would come out. Coach Bruce would be doing his stuff. I would look at the clock, shoot down the stairs and just watch the band come out, play Across the Field and march across the field.

“(When I was here for the Akron game), I was wiping tears out of my eyes and all the memories came back.”

Everything old is new again. And it's great.


Comments Show All Comments

Hovenaut's picture

I think on his birthday, Woody is looking down with a real nice smile on us all....and we're forever smiling back.

Grant Edgell's picture

The more and more we hear from and about Coach Meyer, the greater it is to have him in Scarlet and Gray. The wins and potential for big things are one thing, but it's something completely different when you realize the dude running the football program you adore is actually "one of us."
I can't imagine the emotional tie between the fan base (or at least this fan) and the head coach of the program we love being quite as strong if Meyer was nothing more than a ultra successful coaching celeb making a stop in Columbus. it would still be great, buit wouldn't quite be the same.
His love for Woody is awesome to hear about, as is the important role of the wives and how they've led just the same as their coaching spouses.

Doc's picture

Well done Kyle.  Your addition to this wonderful site has been stupendous.  Thanks for writing in a clear and concise tone.  Now, I've got to go wipe my eyes and blow my nose, these damn winter allergies are acting up.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

gumtape's picture

Has anyone else noticed that the football team is undefeated since Kyle was hired?
I grew up in Upper Arlington, one of my best friends as a kid lived across the street from Woody. He had a regular two story white house in a quiet neighborhood. All of the legends are true. Unassuming, modest, but boy did he ever hate Michigan.
One of my other friends was Jim Park (son of Jack, longtime OSU historian). He would often come into our class and tell us stories about Woody Hayes. Gosh to be a kid again.

High and tight boo boo

beserkr29's picture

The thing I most appreciate about all the Woody stories and quotes is his undeniable zeal for winning.  He imparted that to Bo, but It never, ever left Coach Hayes' mind.  Even his downfall was the product of an overwhelming hatred for losing.  I can never condone punching a player, but I truly wish his competitiveness would seep into society a bit more.  I truly get frustrated at having to contain my innate competitiveness and desire to win at even the tiniest of games.  It fries the hell out of me to lose, but showing that is always met with "what is that guy's problem?".  It's the same thing I see and love in Coach Meyer.  Winning should never go out of style.  It's why I voted for the civilization quote from Woody's classics in today's poll.  Excellence should be the rule, not the exception.  Coach Hayes knew that, Urban knows that, and dammit, I love that Ohio State fans get to enjoy the product of that.  Go Bucks. 

walshy's picture

Great article, really highlights some of the more important qualities of Meyer and Woody that you dont get to see on the field.

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization."

causeicouldntgo43's picture

I met Woody in person. He was genuine and he had that certain something about him, something that made the room he was in seem small, and his presence large. Woody was to coaches what John Wayne was to actors. That presence is still felt everytime I step into the Shoe. Happy 100 coach. 

cinserious's picture

Urban has really evolved modern college football and is evlolving Ohio State now, while keeping the traditional values of Hayes and Bruce. He truely knows what it means to be a Buckeye.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

nvbuckeye's picture

For a freshman at tOSU and studying for your first final exams and then meeting Coach Hayes in the hallway, it was a time I will never forget.  He came out of the elevator delivering Christmas gifts to his players living in the dorm.  Yet, he took 2 minutes to stop and ask me how I was doing, what exams I had and which one I dreaded the most.  Not one mention of football or sports or who I was.  He was concerned about my studies, then wished me luck and took off down the hall.
That is why I have always been a Buckeye (even before my days of campus) and will always bleed Scarlet & Gray.  Coach Hayes was the epitome of what a leader should be, even with his faults.  It is appropriate that we celebrate his birthday today and remember him fondly.  Happy Birthday, Coach.  Buckeye Nation is safe, solid and strong, just like you wanted.

KE's picture

A great story, NV. It's really something how a few minutes of a person's time can leave a life-long mark on another life.

Smanpoint10's picture

i read a biography on hayes once and it had a story about one of his players that wanted to go pro.  The problem was, it was after his junior year. He told Hayes and hayes got pissed because he wasn't staying to get his education

MAVBuck's picture

What an amazing write up. This is what makes buckeye nation like no other. Everything comes full circle. We dont have to "search" for the right guy. The right guy always has a way of finding us.
Happy Birthday Woody. Thanks for not only what you did for OSU but for football and this great state.

buckeyepastor's picture

Urban's challenging of the current roster from day one of his arrival was classic "Woody."   In a time of athletes being coddled and being given sometimes way to many liberties and perks, Meyer seems in every way so far to be a "throwback" to the days of discipline and commitment and hard work.   The more I hear and see of Meyer, the more I get the sense that the roster troubles and arrests at Florida were really in spite of his leadership, and not because of it.  
Tressel and Cooper have many wonderful attributes, and both did great things for this school.  But neither of them would ever have challenged and pushed and been brutally honest with a QB and an offense as Meyer was with this one, and we can see what it got him.   One year in and the mental toughness, apart from Xs and Os and personnel and game-plan philosophy, is on a level we haven't had since at least Bruce, possibly since Woody.    

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

kmp10's picture

Not to nitpick as I enjoyed your article, but...
"In 28 seasons at Ohio State, Hayes won 13 Big Ten championships, three national titles"
Actually, Hayes won five national titles: 54, 57, 61, 68 and 70. While two of the titles were not "consensus" championships (1961 & 70), they were national titles nonetheless. Why are these omitted? The trophies are in the WHAC. It's as if they don't exist to some people. I don't get it...

Dougger's picture

the more things change the more they stay the same

I like football

dlb72osu's picture

The article was wonderful, however the responses to the article strike a more heart-felt and emotional level to the reader. Thank you all. My memories of those OSU teams of the late 60's and 70's are only complete with the images of Woody glaring from the sidelines.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

- Invictus

Oben_Where's picture

I'm sure you've all heard some iteration of this joke, but Imma go ahead and post it anyway.
Bo Schembechler dies and goes to Heaven. God welcomes him and shows him around. He leads him to a row of houses and they stop in front of a clean, well-manicured brick house with a Michigan flag in the yard and Maize and Blue trim.
Bo looks around a bit, heads up to the front porch, and says, "Wow, thank you. This is great!"
Then he notices another house, at the end of the street. It's a huge, white marble palace trimmed in Scarlet, with a giant Block O painted on the front door. There's a grove of buckeye trees, a huge bell tower, and a full compliment of angels spelling out script "Ohio" on the front lawn.
Bo says, "Not to sound ungrateful, because my house is great, but I've got to ask - why did Woody get such a huge house?"
God replies, "That's not Woody's house, that's my house."
Go Bucks

Grant Edgell's picture

Alright, I'll admit (don't throw tomatoes) - hadn't heard that one. That's great.

buckeyedude's picture

I never heard it either. +1.



Breakawayspeed's picture

Great joke, thanks.
Going to work it in to a public speaking engagement, Monday. 

RBuck's picture

I've heard hundreds of Woody and Bo jokes over the years, but hadn't heard that one.

Long live the southend.

Buckeye Beast's picture

Hello new facebook status. We must share this with the world..

Even Squirrels hate Michigan

BrewstersMillions's picture

As Ohio State Football fans, we can all attribute a lot of the hatred and venom spewed at our fine institution because of Woody's loud, brash, sometimes arrogant antics. Generally, people like and dislike teams because of what their friends and\or family liked or disliked. I know plenty of people my age (30) who's parents grew up despising Woody Hayes and everything Ohio State stood for.
Ohio State football is either loved or detested. No middle ground. No one "nothing"'s Ohio State. The same reasons fans love Woody\OSU are probably the same reasons for hatred.
Urban Meyer instills the exact same emotions. The big stadium, the loud, obnoxious fans, the insistence on putting the "THE" in front of Ohio State-all of it is done in an effort to show the world just how arrogant we are.
Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.

ARMYBUCK's picture

Thank you Kyle.  This article just hit the spot.  Nice work!

45has2's picture

There can't be another coach like Woody. When he threw a player under the bus, he really threw a player under the bus. And don't think Woodrow was the only one that got physical with his players. Watch The Junction Boys for a little insight into Bear Bryant's tactics. I also had a coach in Jr. High that had ridden the bench for two years under Lombardi in Green Bay and he would regale us with stories of Vince literally jumping on players in practice and riding them while delivering a fusillade of head slaps. And their respective players would walk through fire for them.
Today's world is too pc for any physicality. Talk only, and UFM's degree in psychology serves him well. He is a master motivator and just as mentally tough as the three coaches mentioned above. We're lucky to have him and hopefully he stays until he has molded and/or inspired his replacement.
For some vintage Woody along with some great fros and porn staches check out this full Woody Hayes Show episode recorded after a comeback win over the weasels in AA.
Ok, that link only takes you to the website. Click videos then sports and choose Woody Hayes Show: 1975 Michigan

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

703Buckeye's picture

I wasn't born until after Woody passed but I almost feel like I knew the man. I'll use this moment to share my favorite Woody picture...

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

73buckeye's picture

I saw Woody Hayes several times and heard a couple of his speeches while I was in school but never had the chance to meet him. However, my girlfriend (also an OSU grad) told me a story about a chance she had to meet and talk with with him. In the early eighties, she was a single mom and one day took her son to McDonalds on High Street. The place was packed, but she saw Coach Hayes sitting alone in a booth. She was apprehensive, but approached him anyway and asked if she and her son could sit with him. She said he was very gracious and invited them to sit down. He asked questions about her and her job (she was a nurse in the kids cancer ward at Childrens Hospital at the time). She said he seemed as excited to talk with her as she was with him. They spent more than an hour talking about all kinds of things, not just about football and OSU.
When they were finished, Woody gave her is phone number and asked her to call him anytime she had a patient in the hospital that needed cheering up. She took the number and did just that. On several occasions she called and he came, and  several times showed up on his own to see the kids. She said he one of the most kind and gentle people with sick kids she has ever met.
 Woody used to say Archie was a great football player and an even better person. Well Woody, you were a great Coach and an even better person.
Happy 100. We miss you.


acBuckeye's picture

Dang 73..... What a great story. I just had to wipe away a few tears after reading that. What an amazing man.