Do you know who Gomer Jones was? If you’re an Ohio State football fan, you should. He wasn’t only an outstanding lineman for the Buckeyes in the 1930s, he also helped make the program what it was under legendary head coach Woody Hayes.
Jones was born Feb. 26, 1914, in Cleveland and was a star football player at South High School. At 5-8 and 210 pounds, Jones was built like a fire hydrant – and was just about as difficult to move out of the way.
He got to Ohio State in the fall of 1932 as a freshman and played varsity ball for the Buckeyes beginning the following season. Playing mostly center and linebacker, Jones helped the team to a 7-1 record in 1933 and second-place finish in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, the lone loss on the schedule was a 13-0 defeat at Michigan. Then as now, losses to the Wolverines were fatal to OSU head coaches and fifth-year coach Sam Willaman resigned under pressure at season’s end.
In his place, the university hired a brash innovator named Francis A. Schmidt whose razzle-dazzle approach to the game excited fans. With Jones now a junior and anchoring both the offensive line and linebacker corps on defense, the Buckeyes again finished 7-1 but scored a convincing 34-0 knockout of Michigan.
In his senior season of 1935, Jones was selected captain by his teammates and the Buckeyes won the conference championship for the first time in 15 years. The only blight was an 18-13 loss to Notre Dame in the so-called “Game of the Century,” but there were also plenty of highlights including another shutout of Michigan, this one a 38-0 verdict in Ann Arbor. It marked the first time the two archrivals had played one another in the final game of the regular season and began a tradition that holds to this day.
After the season, Jones earned first-team all-conference and first-team All-America honors at center. He also became one of the first Buckeyes selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game, an all-star contest for college seniors.
Following his graduation, Jones was drafted No. 15 overall by the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL but he decided there was more money in coaching football than playing it. He landed a job as an assistant on Schmidt’s staff, and then when Schmidt was let go by OSU after the 1940 season, Jones became an assistant at John Carroll University before moving to Oklahoma in 1947.
There, he became line coach under the legendary Bud Wilkinson and stayed in Norman throughout Wilkinson’s entire 17-year tenure. During that time, the Sooners posted a record of 145-29-4 and won 14 Big Eight titles and three national championships.
In the spring of 1952, Wilkinson had taken ill and Jones was in charge of putting the team through its spring practice drills. A young coach from the Midwest had asked to come and watch the Sooners take part in those drills and paid special attention to the way Jones coached his offensive linemen. Since the coach was from Jones’ alma mater, he decided to hold nothing back. He proceeded to show Woody Hayes the kind of philosophy and technique he used to produce All-American linemen.
“Gomer Jones, who had been an All-American at Ohio State, was extremely helpful to me along with the rest of the Oklahoma staff,” Hayes later wrote in “You Win With People,” the coach’s bestseller from 1973. “I came back to our spring practice and put in the Split T (formation) exactly the way it had been explained to me.
“Going out to Oklahoma in the spring of 1952 (was) where I really learned the basis of our running game which to this day is the hub of our offense.”
Hayes used the Split T formation to win national championships in 1954 and ’57, and a form of that running style – which later became known as “three yards and a cloud of dust” – can be traced back to what Jones taught the Ohio State coach in the spring of 1952.
When Wilkinson retired following the 1963 season, Jones was his hand-picked successor at Oklahoma. Jones lasted only two years as head coach, resigning after the 1965 season to concentrate on being athletic director at OU. It was a post in which he remained until his death in 1971 at the age of 57.
That same year, the university established the Gomer Jones Coronary Care Unit within Owen Stadium, an on-site facility for emergency coronary care. There is also a Gomer Jones Residence Hall, an on-campus dormitory that houses OU student-athletes. However, a $12.5 million construction project will create new housing on the campus and replace Jones House as well as a dorm named for Wilkinson.
Although most of his acclaim in later life came while he was at Oklahoma, when Jones was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1978, it was because of his playing career as a Buckeye.
And while many fans of the Scarlet and Gray have long forgotten Jones, they have no trouble remembering his legacy since he taught Woody Hayes how to run the football.
MVP AT ODDS WITH FORMER COACH
Evidently former Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall has some issues with his old coach.
Last year’s Big Ten player of the year who left school early for the NFL, rolled out this quote recently: “To tell you the truth, as long as Ron Zook is there it will be hard for me to support the University of Illinois football team.”
Some believe that sentiment was rooted in Mendenhall’s opinion that Zook ran his younger brother, Walter, out of Champaign-Urbana and was keeping him around only as long as Rashard was on the team. Walter has transferred from Illinois to Illinois State. He graduated from UI but has one year of eligibility remaining and will compete for the Division I-AA Redbirds’ starting tailback position.
But the older Mendenhall said things went deeper than that. He told The (Champaign) Daily Gazette that before his breakout season, “There was a point where we were at the stadium and I was ready to start walking out and my brother stopped me.”
Truth be told, Mendenhall was likely put off by Zook’s in-your-face style of coaching.
“I sat down and I was like, ‘If this is what football is, I don’t know if I want to do that anymore,’ ” Mendenhall said. “I’m not soft at all. I’m not scared of adversity. I don’t care if somebody’s yelling at me. That’s not what it was about at all. (But) I want to be happy in my life. I know I can walk away from this. I know I can finish school, get a job.”
That’s when Walter intervened.
“My brother was the one who kept me there,” Mendenhall said. “He got me refocused. He let me realize it was bigger than me. It wasn’t all about me. It was about my family. It’s about kids I hadn’t even met yet who I would impact by (quitting). I love the game of football, but so much other stuff taints it.”
When he got wind of what Mendenhall said, Zook seemed to take the high ground. “You hate to see players who are disgruntled,” he said. “We were obviously fair with Rashard and we tried to make him the best player he could possibly be. To me, he was a pretty good player and it paid off that he’s going to have an opportunity to be a heckuva pro football player as well.”
Mendenhall went from being just another running back in the Big Ten to the league’s most valuable player last year under Zook’s tutelage. After gaining 858 yards during his first two years with the Illini combined, Mendenhall ran for 1,681 yards and 17 TDs last season. He parlayed his big season into a first-round draft pick, going with the No. 23 overall pick to Pittsburgh.
Nevertheless, he seems to hold a grudge about something.
“When you find things that were said, you can kind of read between the lines and see that everything wasn’t as it appeared to be,” Mendenhall said. “
Today marks the 26th birthday of former Ohio State receiver Michael Jenkins. Born Michael Gerard Jenkins on June 18, 1982, in Tampa, Fla., he was a three-sport star (football, basketball and track) at Leto High School in his hometown before joining the Buckeyes in 2000. Jenkins became a starter during his sophomore season and wound up his career following the 2003 season as the Buckeyes’ all-time leader in receiving yardage.
Of course, there is one catch in Jenkins’ OSU career that stands out above all the rest. If you’d like to relive it, click on this link: Holy Buckeye!
Atlanta selected Jenkins with the second of its two first-round picks in the 2004 NFL draft (28th overall) and he has become one of the mainstays of the Falcons’ passing game. His four-year NFL career stats so far: 135 receptions, 1,595 yards, 14 TDs.
Sharing birthdays today with Jenkins are such luminaries as U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller; baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock; Pulitzer Prize-winning film reviewer Roger Ebert; Polish president Lech Kaczyński and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who is Polish prime minister; actress Isabella Rossellini (Ingrid Bergman’s daughter); future NFL Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith; San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates; country singer Blake Shelton; and the one and only Sir Paul McCartney.
SIX YEARS AGO TODAY
Famed baseball announcer Jack Buck died six years ago today at the age of 77. Buck was synonymous with the St. Louis Cardinals for most of the final 45 years of his life, joining the team as a broadcaster in 1954 and teaming with such legends as Harry Carey and Milo Hamilton.
Most people don’t know this, but Buck was actually dropped by the Cardinals in 1959 and he did televised games for ABC in 1960. The following year, he was rehired in St. Louis and continued there until his retirement in 2000.
Buck was born Aug. 21, 1924, in Holyoke, Mass., and grew up a diehard Red Sox fan. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and eventually landed in Columbus after the war. Buck attended Ohio State, majoring in radio speech with a minor in Spanish, and got his first radio job at WCOL.
He paid for college by working in an all-night gas station and honed his broadcasting skills by calling play-by-play for Ohio State basketball games. After graduation from OSU, he spent 1954 as the voice of the Rochester Red Wings baseball team of the International League and moved on to St. Louis from there.
In the late 1980s, I had a chance encounter with Buck at Chicago’s Midway Airport. I told him about my career and my connection to Ohio State and he couldn’t have been nicer. He shook hands with me and as he left said, “Good luck to you, young fella.”
He was elected to the writers and broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987 and got the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
Buck died June 18, 2002, from a combination of illnesses including lung cancer. The flags at St. Louis City Hall and the St. Louis County Government Center were lowered to half-staff, the local television news anchors all wore black suits for the next several days, and a public visitation was held in Busch Stadium.
** Covering the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park can be fun because they can remove the glass panels from the press box and make it an open-air facility. While sitting in the box last Friday night during the Reds’ 3-1 win over Boston, reporters could plainly hear the crack of the bat against the baseball. Unfortunately, we heard those cracks more than once as we counted at least a half-dozen bats being broken. Most observers blame the suddenly fragile pieces of lumber to the lumber itself – a weak strain of maple bats that big-leaguers have been using recently in place of the tried-and-true ash bats from Louisville. Those same observers say that one of these days, those maple bats – wood that seems to shatter into several pieces – are going to hurt someone.
** Last week on the Notre Dame campus, head football coach Charlie Weis welcomed several new recruits he hopes will help turn around his program. Among the new check-ins was a walk-on quarterback with a famous name: Nate Montana. He is the son of former Notre Dame QB Joe Montana, who of course went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.
** Broke my own rule last night when I turned in to the NBA Finals at 10:20 p.m. ET. The game was just going to halftime with Boston leading by 23 and since I wanted to see a rout, I kept watching. Congrats to the Celtics, who won their 17th championship but first since 1986. I know that all Boston fans are getting insufferable but what a pleasure it was to watch Kobe struggle mightily throughout the series. MVP? Yeah, right.
** Great headline from sardonic website The Onion.com: “Struggling Arena Football League To Hold Game Outdoors.”
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