Woody Hayes' Ohio State Commencement Speech Honored by NPR as One of Best Ever

By Jason Priestas on May 20, 2014 at 4:34p
24 Comments

Declaring this “a golden age of the commencement speech,” NPR assembled the 300 greatest commencement speeches, ever, into a searchable database.

With speeches going all the way back to 1774, the entire project is well worth your time. The commencement speeches of eight current and former presidents make appearances. As do speeches from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Bill Gates, Colin Powell, Fred Rogers, George C. Marshall, Kurt Vonnegut, Steve Jobs, and many others.

But only one speech from a football coach made the cut and that's the commencement address Wayne Woodrow Hayes delivered to Ohio State graduates on March 14, 1986. Seven years removed from a 28-year career that saw Hayes win national championships and coach Heisman Trophy winners, he opened with, “Today is the greatest day of my life.”

And he meant it. Archie Griffin later said Hayes had tears in his eyes when he told him that he had been asked to deliver the speech.

Hayes used what he saw as a precious opportunity to convey his messages of outworking others and paying forward whenever possible. It was vintage Woody.

Here's an excerpt:

I am so grateful and so appreciative to be here today, I just can't tell you how much.

I would like to start out with something that I use in almost every speech, and that is the idea of paying forward.

Paying forward - that is the thing that you folks with your great education from here can do for the rest of your lives. I was so happy the other day when I saw in the paper about Jim Lachey, who played here one year ago and comes back after one year of professional football to give a six-figure gift to the University. And what he said was, "I received a great education here and I got to play great football under Coach Bruce, and under a great football system here. I want to help some other youngster to do the same thing."

Take that attitude toward life, because so seldom can we pay back - those whom you owe - your parents and other people - will be gone. Emerson had something to say about that.

He said you can pay back only seldom. But you can always pay forward, and you must pay line for line, deed for deed, and cent for cent. He said beware of too much good accumulating in your palm or it will fast corrupt. That was Emerson's attitude and no one put it better than he did.

I might mention a couple of people. Jim Lachey is one who is already paying forward. Two weeks ago in Michigan, a former football player of ours passed away. He was in his 60s. He had been in the Marine Corps during World War II, on Okinawa - there were only 30 from his outfit that survived. That made a difference in him. He came back to coaching and he was a great coach. His name was Jack Castignola. He sent his son, Greg, here as one of our quarterbacks. Jack Castignota won nine championships - undefeated season, and all that - but he did something bigger: He coached 126 players who went on to college. One hundred and twenty-six players went on to college and that was his way of paying forward.

We had a great dean of agriculture here by the name of Roy Kottman, who retired a couple years ago. And on his retirement, he and I were having lunch one day in the Faculty Club, and I said, "Roy, how did you happen to go to Iowa State?" "Oh," he said, "I was working back during the Depression for $1.50 a day pumping gas and I couldn't save any money. But an old man in that community in Iowa came to me and said, 'Roy, if you'll go to Iowa State, I'll pay your tuition.' So I went to Iowa State and worked for my room and board, graduated, went into the service, came back, got my master's, my doctorate, went to West Virginia as dean of the agriculture college, and then I came to Ohio State." He was here 23 years, and in those 23 years, he virtually doubled food production in Ohio. On top of that, he graduated thousands of youngsters. On top of that, he helped to feed hungry mouths all over the world. All because that old man back in Iowa said, "Roy, if you'll go to Iowa State, I'll pay your tuition." That's paying forward.

You know, I might give you a little advice today - not too much, but a little bit. One thing you cannot afford ever to do is to feel sorry for yourself. You can't do it. You cannot feel sorry for yourself because that's what leads to drugs, what leads to alcohol, and those things that tear you apart.

In football, we always say, "That other team can't beat us. We have to make sure that we don't beat ourselves." And that is what a person has to do, too - make sure that they don't beat themselves. It takes an awful big man to beat you. So many times I've found people smarter than I was. I found them in football - bigger, they could run faster, could block harder, they were smarter people than I.

But you know what they couldn't do? They couldn't outwork me. They couldn't outwork me! And I ran into coaches that I coached against who had a much better background than I did, knew a lot more football than I did, but they couldn't work as long as I could. They couldn't stick in there as long as I could.

You can read the full speech at graduationwisdom.com.

24 Comments

Comments

216ToThe614's picture

This really was an amazing moment for the university. Almost like a final goodbye to a best friend who had to leave forever soon

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!
WB

+8 HS
BHT's picture

He was an amazing coach, but most importantly, an amazing person. I still wish I could have met him. There is only one word I can think of to describe him: amazing.

+2 HS
Hovenaut's picture

My uncle (RIP Pete) said to learn about the man and what he did off the field.

That speech is beautiful, and worthy of the recognition.

+2 HS
AndyVance's picture

And this is but one of many examples of why I get incredibly irate when people dismiss Coach Hayes or attempt to downplay his greatness by spouting off about his infamous temper or highly-publicized sideline exploits. The man was a giant who cared about nothing more than helping young people obtain an education.

And as the agricultural cheering section of the site, hooray for the Dean Kottman reference! Kottman was a legend of his time, and Ohio State has been blessed since with another great ag dean, Bobby Moser, who much in the same way spent nearly three decades paying it forward. We are incredibly fortunate in this state to have our university and the people it brings together.

+5 HS
hodge's picture

Unfortunately, Woody's antics on the football field defined him as a coach -- and to most people outside of this great state, that's all he was.  I don't think it's anything other than ignorance, as people generally tend to care less about who our coaches and athletes are and more about how well they perform on the field.

BuckeyeNationforLife's picture

He was possibly the smartest coach in college football history (minus Charlie Bauman). I don't see how anyone could look down on somebody like him. One of the greatest work ethics I have ever seen, and he was an absolute war general when it came to coaching. I remember that when an interviewer was visiting his house and saw all of his books about war and history, he asked where all the football stuff was. Woody replied saying that he already knows football, but he doesn't know about what's in those books yet.

+1 HS
bedheadjc's picture

My favorite thing about Woody, aside from all the other great things he did on and off the field, was his conduct regarding anti-war protestors on OSU's campus during the 60's. Here was a man who was a staunch conservative, a military history fanatic, definitely a "square" (I mean that lovingly) who at the height of tensions between the protest movement and the University, was almost the only person that argued that maybe society should stop and listen to what the young people had to say, right or wrong, we should respect them enough to listen to their opinions, and through that we might bring the two sides together if not in understanding at least in peace. When it would be so easy to respond with anger and vitriol he responded with an open mind and heart.

From Wikipedia: "Then-team quarterback Rex Kern said, "Woody was out there on the Oval with the protesters, and he'd grab a bullhorn and tell the students to express their beliefs but not be destructive. He believed in Nixon, and he believed in the Establishment, but he wasn't afraid to talk to the students. He wanted to stay close to the action."[4] Hayes was considered one of the few authority figures that students then had respect for."

+8 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

That's a wonderful story, one I had never heard before. Thanks for posting this.....

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+2 HS
AndyVance's picture

Read as many Woody biographies as you can. One of my favorite, more recent editions (and one that recounts this story pretty well, as I recall), is War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest. It's a helluva book, and a good look at Woody and his longtime friend and former Buckeye assistant.

+2 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Thanks, Andy! While I have no doubt that it's an excellent book, I can't stand Mike Rosenberg.

Do you have a recommendation for a book written by someone that doesn't make me nauseous?

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

AndyVance's picture

Agreed that Rosenberg is worthy of all the negative descriptors we could think up... But as it turns out, this is really an excellent read. Get it from the library if you don't want to contribute to Rosenberg's coffers :)

I actually just bought a treasure trove of Hayes books from yesteryear via my local Half-Price Books. The Columbus-area stores generally have a special section with Ohio State books, so I gobble them up when I see one I don't already have. I haven't read them all yet, but I'm working on it.

+1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Thank you, sir, that's a great tip. I have a Half Price Books just 5 mins from my house.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+1 HS
TLB's picture

Best ever.

Thanks Jason.

+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Words of wisdom by a great man!

faux_maestro's picture

Just curious, how many other football coaches quote Emerson?

Inní mér syngur vitleysingur

+1 HS
AndyVance's picture

None. But Coach Hayes loved Emerson, and was known for quoting him frequently. If you read any Hayes' biographies, it comes up quite frequently. Coach Hayes was a true renaissance man - his knowledge of history, and particularly military history, was incredible; he was by all accounts extremely well read, and conversant on pretty much any issue of the day.

+3 HS
hodge's picture

I rather enjoyed the story about how when Nixon visited OSU for his reelection campaign, he and Woody (who were friends) spent some time together.  Nixon was a big OSU fan and loved Woody, and relished the opportunity to talk football with the coach.

Afterward, he'd say something like this:

"I wanted to talk football, Woody wanted to talk foreign policy.  And you know Woody, so we talked policy."

+4 HS
AndyVance's picture

That's one of my favorite stories - the Nixon quote. When you look at the world leaders Woody counted as friends, it's pretty apparent that he was more than "just" a football coach.

+1 HS
faux_maestro's picture

And that was my point. Woody was about so much more than football. 

Inní mér syngur vitleysingur

+1 HS
AndyVance's picture

And a great point it was.

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

How amazing is that speech, able to make it personal on so many levels... he could have said anything and we would have loved the speech, but he somehow made the speech accessible and personal for anyone who was listening, and rightfully so chosen by NPR for its greatness.

+2 HS
clint5507's picture

They don't make 'em like that any more.  I can only imagine how incredible it would have been to have been in the stands that day.

osubuckeye4life's picture

I'm not surprised they chose this speech. 

Coach Hayes may not have had the most NC's or wins in college football history.

However, even with the Charlie Bauman incident you would be hard pressed to find a better overall person than Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes.

RIP