Searching For A Quarterback

Most Ohio State football fans believe legendary coach Woody Hayes was an astute evaluator of talent. You don’t win 205 games (238 overall) and a handful of national championships without knowing a good prospect when you see him.

Still, Hayes was always the first to admit that he didn’t bat 1.000 when it came to plugging the right players in the right positions. Sometimes, he tried to jam the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

Take the end of the 1960 season, for example.

The Buckeyes had a good, solid campaign in 1960, going 7-2 and finishing in third place in the Big Ten. The co-captains that year were offensive tackle Jim Tyrer, who went on to a lengthy pro career mostly with the Kansas City Chiefs, and halfback Jim Herbstreit, the father of former OSU quarterback and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

Other stars on the team included fullback Bob Ferguson, left tackle Bob Vogel, quarterback Tom Matte and middle guard by the name of Gary Moeller.

Ohio State won its first three games that season by a combined score of 78-7 – shutouts of SMU and USC started things off, and that was followed by a 34-7 shellacking of No. 2-ranked Illinois. In the game against the Illini, halfback Bill Wentz took the opening kickoff of the second half 102 yards for a touchdown.

The following week, the Buckeyes went to Purdue and came home with a 24-21 loss. Hayes always took sole blame for that defeat, saying that he made the mistake of working his team as hard that week as he did the week before for the Illinois contest. As a result, he took a tired team to West Lafayette.

That loss was followed by three more wins in succession, but any chance of a conference title and trip to the Rose Bowl went away with a 35-12 loss at Iowa in week eight. The Buckeyes returned to Ohio Stadium the following week to finish the season with a 7-0 win over Michigan.

Any victory over the Wolverines was reason for celebration, but Hayes allowed himself only a few minutes to enjoy himself. Almost immediately after the final gun sounded, he had a nagging thought: “Who is my quarterback going to be next year?”

Matte was a two-year starter but was graduating, and the Buckeyes had no clear-cut favorite to step into his role of running the offense. Knowing that he couldn’t work out any new players after the season had officially ended, Hayes made a quick decision. While the other players were showering and celebrating their victory over Michigan, the coach summoned two freshmen to his office and told them to get dressed. They were going out on the field for a mini-workout.

As the gathering darkness surrounded the Horseshoe – empty now with the exception of clean-up crews – Hayes took his two freshmen to the field. Each had starred for the Ohio State freshman team that fall, and the coach knew each player would find his way into the lineup as sophomores in 1961.

He just wanted to see if either one of them could play quarterback. Calling some improvised plays, Hayes put the players through some quick drills designed to gauge their footwork, balance and arm strength. Unfortunately, neither player passed the test.

The old coach gave a shrug, muttered to himself and told the pair to hit the showers. Afterward, he took them to the Faculty Club for dinner and a chance to get to know them a little better. Even though neither of those players were ever play quarterback for Hayes, they each became excellent players for the Buckeyes and went on to have illustrious NFL careers.

Their names: Matt Snell and Paul Warfield.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former Ohio State basketball player Je’Kel Foster. Born July 22, 1983, in Natchez, Miss., Foster was star for his hometown high school team before playing one year at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, and one year at Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. At Chipola in 2004, Foster was the Florida JUCO player of the year after averaging 17 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds. He played for the Buckeyes in 2005 and ’06, serving as team co-captain for the 2006 squad that won the school’s first outright Big Ten championship in 14 years. Foster finished his two-year career as a Buckeye with averages of 10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Foster is currently playing pro basketball in Europe. Last season, he played for a team in Paris and this year was on the roster for the team in Oldenburg, Germany.

Others sharing birthdays today: former U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Bob Dole; U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas); fashion designer Oscar De la Renta; funkmaster George Clinton; Secretariat jockey Ron Turcotte; Seventies heartthrob Bobby Sherman; Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”); eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken; The Eagles drummer and lead singer Don Henley; film actors Willem Dafoe, Danny Glover and John Leguizamo; former Saturday Night Live member David Spade; former Heisman Trophy winner and Oakland Raiders receiver Tim Brown; St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson; singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright; Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon; and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

AND FINALLY

** For a school with as much tradition as the University of Texas has, you might have thought the Longhorns had a whole host of retired jersey numbers. Not true. When UT-Austin officially retires the jerseys of Bobby Layne, Tommy Nobis and Vince Young, they will be only the third, fourth and fifth players to receive that honor. The first two were Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.

** Britt Mitchell, a 6-9, 300-pound offensive line prospect from Roscoe, Texas, has decided not to attend Oklahoma after signing a letter of intent with the Sooners. OU head coach Bob Stoops is OK with the decision, however, since Mitchell is putting off going to college, instead enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.

** Does the name Mike Souchak ring any bells for your oldtimers? Souchak was a standout receiver at Duke from 1948-50, and was inducted into that school’s athletic hall of fame in 1976. He also had a successful pro golf career, winning 15 times on the PGA Tours in the 1950s and ’60s and playing on the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup teams in 1959 and ’61. Souchak later went into the golf cart business and ran Golf Car Systems until his death July 10 due to complications from a heart attack. He was 81.

** It’s been a rough last couple of months for Marshall. In the early morning hours of July 5, former linebacker and running back Donte Newsome was shot and killed outside a Huntington night club. A few hours later, it was reported that longtime team physician Dr. Jose Ricard had died of heart failure at the age of 81. Ricard had been team physician for the Thundering Herd since 1981. That news came on the heels of the June 15 death of former MU linebacker Johnathan Goddard, who was killed in a motorcycle accident.

** The Atlantic Coast Conference has become the first in college football to stop hiding behind government technicalities when it comes to talking about injured players. Beginning this fall, the ACC will release twice-weekly reports from its coaches to announced levels of injury – from “out” to “probable.” The reports will not address specific injuries, but it will be a step in the right direction as coaches begin to make a full disclosure of what players are shelved and why. And as Virginia head coach Al Groh says, “That means I don’t have to answer those stupid questions (about who’s hurt) during the week.”

** I will be in transit to Chicago tomorrow, heading for the annual Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon. Therefore, no blog entry on Wednesday. Look for plenty from Chicago, however, including a grilling of Big Ten Network officials on where they stand with regard to an agreement with Time Warner.

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