Buckeye Bookshelf: Woody Hayes, The Man and His Dynasty

AndyVance's picture
April 8, 2014 at 4:00p
The "Old Man" himself.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Eleven Warriors is its community - a group of well-read, well-reasoned, generally well-spoken fans of college sports in general, and the Buckeyes in specific. In keeping with the tradition of all things knowledge and Ohio State, I figured a regular Buckeye book review might be a welcome feature here. So, here goes.

I've read several books on legendary Ohio State head football coach Wayne Woodrow "Woody" Hayes, a field general on the football field known for his punishing rushing game, passion for military history, and fiery distaste for losing. What I hadn't read, up until a few weeks ago, was what the newspapers of Hayes' day had to say about the man and his team.

Alabama-based journalist Mike Bynum edited a fairly exhaustive collection of such writings in his book Woody Hayes: The Man and His Dynasty (Gridiron Football, October 1991). Split into two sections, one chronological and the other focused on great games of the Hayes era, the book is a compendium of articles from news outlets as diverse as The Columbus DispatchSports IllustratedThe New York Times, and Esquire magazine.

Beginning with Hayes' somewhat surprising hiring as the Buckeyes' skipper in 1951, Bynum includes articles from each phase of Woody's storied and often stormy career in Columbus. Dispatches from the Dispatch's own Paul Hornung, himself a Hayes chronicler and confidant of the coach, are included alongside the infamous Sports Illustrated article that exposed Woody's propensity for helping players financially if they needed a few bucks, a practice that ultimately led to a year's probation for the young coach.

While there are many, many great titles about Woody Hayes, Bynum's is one of the few that have nothing to do with the author's analysis, point of view or access to the insiders themselves. Reading 30 years' worth of news articles on a given subject is something few of us have cause or occasion to do, and I'll admit that the latter half of the book, recapping the big games of the era, was more tedious than I would have expected.

That said, the first half of the book, the chronological play-by-play of Woody's career, should probably be required reading for diehard Buckeye fans, as it provides a snapshot of the ups and downs of the vaunted coach's years in Columbus, absent the coloring of nostalgia or our own more modern perspective on the man and the game - it's a look at things as they were then, rather than as we see them now.

Along the same lines, it's a fascinating look at how reporting and sportswriting have changed over the past 60 years, and indeed how the game of college football, the team we love and the conference in which it plays has changed dramatically. For the younger reader, it will serve as a reminder as to why fans of a certain age have the same disdain for the University of Southern California as they do for That Team Up North, and why even today there are fans of a certain age (academics who were graduate students at Ohio State during the 1960s, for example) are still conflicted about the man, or who still feel he was "an embarrassment" to a proud university (I could write an entire blog post on a conversation I had via Facebook on that very subject, with a history professor in Kansas).

Woody Hayes: The Man and His Dynasty is not the best book you'll ever read about Woody Hayes or the Ohio State football program. But it is unique, and it is worth the time you'll take to read it; Coach Hayes was a man who revered the study of history, so make "The Old Man" proud and read a little of his.

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