Woody Wasn’t OSU’s First Choice

After the 1950 Michigan game, the contest which has come to be known as the “Snow Bowl,” Ohio State officials and fans couldn’t wait to get rid of head coach Wes Fesler. Unfortunately, their first choice as a replacement decided against taking the job.

When Fesler was hired by OSU as Paul Bixler’s replacement following the 1946, the Buckeye Nation could not have been happier. Fesler was returning to Columbus as a conquering hero. He was a three-time All-American end for the Buckeyes from 1928-30, becoming only the second man in program history after Chic Harley to achieve that feat.

During his playing days, Ohio State never finished higher than fourth in the Western Conference standings, but Fesler enjoyed two victories over archrival Michigan in his three seasons. That included a 7-0 win in 1929 at Ann Arbor, only the third time in 14 trips up north that the Buckeyes had come back victorious.

When Fesler graduated from Ohio State in the summer of 1931, he spurned several offers to professionally in the fledgling National Football League, deciding instead to begin a coaching career. He began as an assistant on Sam Willaman’s staff at OSU and spent two seasons with his alma mater before accepting an offer from Harvard to become backfield coach for the football team as well as head coach of the men’s basketball team. (Fesler had also been an All-America guard in basketball while at Ohio State.)

He stayed at Harvard for eight seasons until getting the urge to try his hand at being a head coach in football. Fesler returned to Ohio to become head coach at Ohio Wesleyan in 1941 but the school interrupted its athletic program the following year because of World War II and Fesler was out of a job.

By 1945, he had landed the positions of assistant football coach and head basketball coach at Princeton, then moved to Pittsburgh a year later to take over the Panthers’ football team. One season later, after going just 3-5-1 at Pitt, Fesler returned to his alma mater and became the 18th head coach at Ohio State.

During his first two years, university officials and fans wondered if bringing back the old football star as coach was a mistake. Fesler’s teams combined to go just 8-9-1 in his first two seasons and never finished higher than fourth in the conference standings. Worse yet, they had lost back-to-back games to Michigan – 21-0 at Ann Arbor in 1947 and 13-3 in Ohio Stadium the following year.

It didn’t matter that the Wolverines entered both of those games ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation. The Buckeyes wanted results and they wanted them quickly.

Fesler managed to stem the tide of criticism in 1949 when his team went 7-1-2, tied for the conference title and notched a 17-14 win over California in the 1950 Rose Bowl, the program’s first-ever win in Pasadena. But keeping a lid on the enthusiasm was a 7-7 at Michigan, a game that prevented the Buckeyes from capturing the outright Big Ten title.

When the 1950 team finished with a 6-3 record, topped off by the bizarre 9-3 loss to Michigan in the Snow Bowl, Fesler’s fate was sealed. He resigned after the season to take the head coaching job at conference rival Minnesota.

Fesler knew that his resignation came one step ahead of a pink slip from the university, which already had picked out his successor. OSU athletic director Richard Larkins had already focused his attention on luring Don Faurot away from Missouri. Ten years earlier, when Larkins was working under longtime AD Lynn St. John, Faurot was a finalist for the job when it went to a young Ohio high school football coach by the name of Paul Brown.

Faurot was a native Missourian who had played his college football in Columbia in the mid-1920s. He had returned to the Tigers as head coach in 1935 and had compiled a fine 78-44-8 record in eight seasons that included a couple of Big Eight championships. During that time, he devised a new kind of offensive formation that allowed for multiple options out of the same alignment. It was the Split T formation and Faurot is credited for its invention.

Despite all he had accomplished, Faurot was 48 and beginning to wonder what the world was like outside Missouri. He was intrigued at the possibilities of coaching at Ohio State, especially since the Buckeyes had the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Vic Janowicz returning for his senior season.

If he was ever going to make a career move, now was the time.

In Columbus, Larkins coordinated a six-man search committee that selected seven finalists for Fesler’s vacated spot but the interview process was supposed to be a mere formality. Faurot met with the selection committee on a Saturday in early February 1951 and was immediately offered the job. He accepted and went home to Missouri to clean out his office.

Less than 48 hours later, as Larkins was preparing to call a news conference to announce the hiring of Faurot at the new head coach, his office telephone rang. It was Faurot, telling Larkins that he had changed his mind. He was staying at Missouri.

The AD went back to the selection committee and asked for a second choice. The name that was suggested was Woody Hayes, then the head coach at Miami (Ohio). Hayes was offered the job, he accepted immediately and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ironically, all three principals in the story eventually made it into the College Football Hall of Fame. Fesler made it first, inducted as a player in 1954 along with an illustrious class that included Michigan running back Tom Harmon, Jay Berwanger of Chicago, the first Heisman Trophy winner, and the trophy’s namesake, longtime coach John Heisman.

Faurot was inducted in 1961 and Hayes was enshrined in 1983.

Faurot continued to coach at Missouri until 1956 when he became the school’s athletic director. During his career, he worked with such assistant coaches as Bud Wilkinson and hired the likes of Frank Broyles and Dan Devine while he was AD.

In 1972, five years after retiring from the athletic department, Missouri remained its football field Faurot Field. He remained a fixture in Columbia until his death in October 1995 (during homecoming week) at the age of 93.


A trio of Buckeyes celebrate birthdays today: former linebacker Mike McCray, ex-athletic director Jim Jones and current defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

Michael McCray was born June 23, 1965, in Dayton and had an excellent prep career at two different high schools. As a freshman and sophomore, he attended Roth and started on the team that won the 1982 state championship in basketball. He later transferred to Dunbar, where he was a prep All-American in basketball and track. McCray is probably best remembered for recovering a fumble in the 1987 Michigan game, a turnover that began Ohio State’s comeback from a 13-0 deficit. McCray’s recovery led to a 61-yard touchdown pass from Tom Tupa to Everett Ross and touched off the Buckeyes’ eventual 23-20 win in Earle Bruce’s final game as head coach.

James L. Jones was born June 23, 1936, and was a high school math teacher and coach for the first part of his professional career until Woody Hayes hired him to be his “brain” coach — a precursor of today’s academic counselor. After four years on Hayes’ staff, Jones joined the university’s athletic department, serving as assistant director from 1970-77 and associate director for 11 years until being named Ohio State’s sixth director of athletics in 1988. He retired in 1994 and still lives in Columbus.

James Heacock was born June 23, 1948, in Alliance, Ohio, and is the longest tenured assistant coach at Ohio State, joining John Cooper’s staff in 1996 as defensive line coach. He retained that title when Jim Tressel was hired in 2001 and became the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator in 2005, winning the Frank Broyles Award last season as the nation’s top college assistant. Heacock has also been an assistant coach at Muskingum College, his alma mater, as well as Washington and Bowling Green, and served eight seasons as head coach at Illinois State from 1988-95. Heacock’s younger brother, Jon, took over the head coaching duties at Youngstown State when Tressel left for OSU.

Others celebrating birthdays include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; nighttime and daytime soap actor Ted Shackelford (“Knot’s Landing, “The Young and the Restless”); heavy metal band Danzig founder Glenn Danzig; Grammy winner and American Idol judge Randy Jackson; Academy Award-winning actress Frances McDormand (“Fargo”); Scottish golfer Colin Montgomery; singer Jason Mraz; and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

Also, happy belated birthdays to a couple of ex-Buckeyes. On Saturday, former defensive back Rob Kelly turned 34 while former linebacker Greg Bellisari celebrated his 33rd.


Much has been made about the historic ramifications of Sen. Barack Obama and how he will be the first African-American to be nominated by a major party for President of the United States. Obama, however, will not be the first African-American nominated for that office.

That distinction belongs to Frederick Douglass, who was formally nominated for President by the Republican Party on June 23, 1888. Douglass was named on the fourth ballot of the nominating process, which eventually selected Benjamin Harrison. And in another quirk of history that sounds strangely familiar to recent events, Harrison won the presidency despite garnering fewer popular votes than opponent Grover Cleveland.

Sixteen years earlier, Douglass also became the first African-American nominated for vice president. He was drafted onto the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872 to run with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President. (Women would not be allowed to vote in the U.S. for another 48 years.) Douglass was nominated without his knowledge and he neither campaigned for the ticket nor acknowledged the nomination.


** Here’s another reason (and they’re beginning to pile up) why I’m thinking about changing my NFL allegiance from Cincinnati to Cleveland. The Browns are contemplating a trade with San Diego for receiver Eric Parker, an excellent receiver and punt return guy who missed the entire 2007 season after toe surgery. It is a classic case of the Browns trying to upgrade with a still-productive player at a reduced price. How have the Bengals improved this offseason? Well, they signed receiver Doug Gabriel in early April only to cut him six weeks later. And they gobbled up free agent linebacker Brandon Johnson, who has a grand total of four tackles in nine career games over two seasons. See what I mean?

** Best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to veteran announcer Pat Summerall. The 78-year-old former NFL kicker and lineman as well as longtime CBS football and golf announcer underwent emergency surgery Thursday in Dallas to stop internal bleeding caused by a reaction to medicine he was taking. Doctors say although it was touch-and-go for awhile, Summerall is improving and should make a full recovery. Summerall is no stranger to the surgeon’s scalpel. He underwent a liver transplant four years ago and had a hip replaced in January.

** There doesn’t seem to be much urgency in the NFL right now to sign first-round picks. Only three of the 31 players taken in the April draft have contracts – No. 1 Jake Long with Miami, No. 3 Matt Ryan with Atlanta and No. 4 Darren McFadden with Oakland. Those three have inked deals worth an estimated $189.5 million.

** Under the heading of mixing business with pleasure, Anheuser-Busch is contemplating a merger with Grupo Modelo – makers of Corona – to avoid a $46 billion takeover bid from Belgian brewer InBev. It is the maker of such beers as Beck’s, Labatt and Stella Artois. If InBev somehow gains control of A-B, which accounts for nearly half of annual U.S. beer sales, it will have cornered about a quarter of the beer market for the entire world.

** Finally, in tribute to the late George Carlin, I leave you with one of his best witticisms: “Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.”