Do you know how Harry Strobel was? You should – at least you should if you consider yourself an Ohio State football fan – since Strobel very nearly became head coach of the Buckeyes in the early 1950s.
Strobel was a native of Massillon, Ohio, and earned six varsity letters – three in football, two in baseball and one in basketball – at Miami University before his graduation in 1932.
He first made a name for himself in high school coaching, leading Bellevue to the Class AA state basketball championship in 1945, and then two years later piloting Barberton to the 1947 state football title. One of Strobel’s star players on that Barberton team was a lineman named Glenn Schembechler.
In 1949, Strobel moved to the college ranks and joined Wes Fesler’s staff at Ohio State as freshman coach. At the same time, Strobel also served as an assistant for basketball coach Floyd Stahl.
Following the 1950 season, and after a third consecutive loss to Michigan, Fesler resigned amid mounting pressure from local businessmen, donors and alumni. Several prominent candidates were mentioned for the opening, most notably longtime Missouri head man Don Faurot. He accepted the job in Columbus on a Friday and went home to clean out his office. Less than 48 hours later, however, Faurot changed his mind and remained at Missouri.
With spring football only a few weeks away, Ohio State officials quickly reorganized and settled on a field of seven candidates – one professional coach, four coaches from the college ranks and two Ohio high school coaches.
The pro coach was Paul Brown, who had previously coached the Buckeyes from 1941-43 and produced the school’s first national championship in 1942. Brown had already flirted with returning to Ohio State following World War II but instead took a job as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The coach had led the Browns to championships in each of his first five seasons in Cleveland – four in the All-America Football Conference and the 1950 crown in the NFL.
Brown was the hands-down favorite of Ohio State fans and students to replace Fesler. Approximately 1,500 fans cheered his arrival in Columbus for a meeting with the search committee in late January, a meeting during which Brown reportedly told OSU athletic director Richard Larkins that he was “anxious to leave professional football.”
Larkins was not swayed, however. The AD later revealed that a number of influential Columbus businessmen did not want Brown to return. They felt he had reneged on a deal to return to Ohio State after the war, and that he signed with Cleveland without notifying the university.
Nevertheless, newspaper reports continued to trumpet Brown as the front-runner for the vacancy. Also receiving formal interviews were Cincinnati head coach Sid Gillman, Warren Gaer of Drake, Woody Hayes of Miami and Strobel as well as high school coaches Chuck Mather of Massillon and Jim McDonald of Springfield.
In early February, the field had reportedly been pared to three: Brown, Mather and Hayes with Strobel remaining as a possible dark horse candidate. Brown was the choice of the fans and Mather was backed by the Ohio High School Coaches Association. Meanwhile, Strobel was the original choice of the athletic department, but Hayes had supplanted him after a stellar interview.
An announcement was to be made around Feb. 14 – Hayes’ 38th birthday – but all seven members of the Ohio State Board of Trustees had to agree on the new coach and the university couldn’t seem to get the entire panel together at the same time. In the mean time, the six-man search committee and 12-member athletic board had settled on Hayes.
The official decision was postponed for another week as speculation ran rampant. What if Hayes was rejected by the trustees? Would the athletic board then throw its support behind Strobel, or would some back-room maneuvering pave the way for Brown to return to Columbus after all?
The OSU Board of Trustees finally got together to end the speculation on Sunday, Feb. 18. Thanks to an impassioned speech from Sen. John W. Bricker, the board formally hired Hayes as the university’s 19th head football coach. Hayes received a one-year, $12,500 contract in accordance with university policy, but received a five-year “gentleman’s agreement” from university president Howard L. Bevis.
Before its Sunday meeting, the board reportedly remained split between Hayes and Brown. That was until Bricker made a 10-minute speech to his fellow trustees opposing Brown and boosting Hayes.
Despite the days and weeks of wrangling before being offered the job, Hayes didn’t seem the least bit dismayed by the decision.
“I have wanted this job very much,” he told reporters. “It’s the greatest coaching opportunity in the country.”
When Hayes moved to Columbus and formed his new staff, he promoted Strobel from freshman coach to a varsity position overseeing interior offensive linemen.
Other members of Hayes’ first OSU staff reads like a who’s who of coaching. The new coach retained former Buckeye fullback Gene Fekete and longtime kicking coach Ernie Godfrey as well as Strobel and former Ohio State All-America lineman Esco Sarkkinen from Fesler’s staff, and hired Upper Arlington High School coach Doyt Perry while bringing offensive line coach Bill Arnsparger with him from Miami. Perry, of course, went on to a College Football Hall of Fame career as head coach at Bowling Green while Arnsparger enjoyed a long career as a college and NFL assistant, most notably as Don Shula’s defensive coordinator in Miami.
Strobel remained in charge of guards and centers for Hayes until poor health caused by diabetes forced his retirement following the 1967 season. His 17 years with Hayes ranked him second only to Sarkkinen for longest tenure with the legendary head coach. Sarkkinen, who began his Ohio State coaching career in 1946 under Paul Bixler, served Hayes for 27 seasons from 1951-77.
During his time with the Buckeyes, Strobel coached such All-Americans as Mike Takacs, Jim Reichenbach, Aurealius Thomas, Doug Van Horn and Ray Pryor. He was also in charge of the development of Jim Parker, who was Ohio State’s first Outland Trophy winner, taking home the trophy in 1956.
After his retirement, Strobel became assistant director of intramurals at Ohio State. He remained in that position until his death of a heart attack on Nov. 28, 1971. He was 63.
In his book “You Win With People!” published two years after Strobel’s death, Hayes praised his longtime assistant, characterizing him as a much-needed calming influence whenever things got tense.
“Harry has been considered seriously for the head coaching position in 1951, and it was a rather awkward situation for both of us,” Hayes wrote. “(But) Harry became an extremely efficient guard and center coach. Most important, he understood me better than any coach on our staff. When I’d be uptight about something, he’d come up and put his hand on my arm and say, ‘C’mon, Coach, now it really isn’t that important, is it?’ and we’d go on from there. He could quiet me down and understand my moods and tensions better than anyone else.
“When he passed away in 1971, his widow, Marge, honored me by inviting me to give the eulogy to my friend. Bo Schembechler, who had played for Harry at Barberton High School, and Jim Parker were among many from Ohio State who came to pay their respects.”
Two years later, when Parker was to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame following an illustrious career with the Baltimore Colts, he asked Hayes to formally introduce him during induction ceremonies in Canton.
Hayes accepted, but told Parker, “Jim, I know I’m second choice. If Coach Harry were alive, I know you’d want him to do the honors.”
Parker laughed for a few seconds before nodding his head. “You’re right, Coach,” the former Buckeye said. “If it wasn’t for Harry Strobel, nobody would have ever heard of Jim Parker.”
BIG TEN EXPANSION?
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany addressed a number of topics during his annual “State of the Conference” talk with media members at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. One topic leftover from last year (and the year before, and the year before that) was expansion of the conference to 12 teams.
Whenever the subject has been broached in the past, conference coaches have given it lukewarm attention. That is, until this year when Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster told reporters, “I look forward to the day when we add a team, split the divisions and play for a championship on national TV on a Saturday night in December.”
It is unclear whether Brewster voiced a consensus among most Big Ten coaches since many of them, including OSU head coach Jim Tressel, seem to remain skeptical of just how expansion would benefit the conference.
“I’m certainly not opposed to it,” Tressel said, “but it would have to add value to the conference. When I coached at Ohio State in the mid-1980s, we had 10 teams and when I returned in 2001, the number was 11. The conference had added Penn State and that added value to the conference and I think it also added value to Penn State. If we can find a way to do that again, I would certainly be in favor of it.”
Delany said that he has heard the coaches discuss the idea of expansion but doesn’t see it on his immediate horizon.
“A positive would have to be associated with expansion if you felt expansion on its own merits was the right thing to do,” the commissioner said. “But I wouldn’t think you would expand unless you had a whole other series of reasons to do so. I understand we’re out of the mainstream (after the end of the regular season) for a week to 10 days, and I don’t think that’s good. But I don’t think it by itself is the reason why you would go forward (with expansion.)”
Delany also discussed the subject of an expanded conference schedule. Each team currently plays an eight-game conference season, annually missing two league rivals. This season, for example, Northwestern plays neither Ohio State nor Michigan. Some coaches have floated the possibility of a ninth conference game, but the commissioner warned them of being careful of what they wished for.
“The issue that it revolves around is the five-four mix – the five home games, four away,” Delany said. “For some institutions like Iowa with Iowa State and then Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue with Notre Dame and a couple of other cases where you have a long-standing home and away rivalry, those would have to be sequenced.
“In football, because of scheduling and the impact of a home gate, and some of the home gates in our conference are worth $3 million or $4 million, it has a dramatic effect. By losing a home gate and going from eight to nine (conference) games, you actually lose four home games in an eight-year period. That’s $12 million in revenue if you’re averaging $3 million a game. If you’re averaging $5 million, that’s $20 million of revenue.
“It has a profound effect on budgeting, and you’re going to have to figure out exactly how you’re going to manage that.”
Among those celebrating birthdays this 4th day of August are several world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, who is 48. Others blowing out candles today: longtime White House reporter Helen Thomas is 89; Iraqi religious leader Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani is 79; Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is 68; former New York Mets outfielder Cleon Jones is 67; actor/comedian Richard Belzer (Det. John Munch on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) is 65; Pro Football Hall of Fame running back John Riggins is 60; former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is 54; actor/musician Billy Bob Thornton is 54; distance runner Mary Decker Slaney is 51; actress Kym Karath (little Gretl Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”) is 51; Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is 49; seven-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens is 47; Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is 44; four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is 38; and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch is 31.
AND FINALLY …
Here are some leftover quotes from last week’s Big Ten Media Days:
** Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald on expanding the conference schedule to nine or 10 games: “I’m a traditionalist. I like where things are. The Big Ten is already hard enough as it is.”
** Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on teams with .500 seasons earning bowl bids: “I’m starting to think in my own mind – and I haven’t concluded one way or another – that while a 6-6 record and going to a bowl game is a good thing for some programs at some times, it’s really not a welcome development at all because they went in a year when they didn’t have a winning season. For every good news story for somebody that hasn’t been to a bowl in a while, there are also 6-6 bowl teams which I think maybe aren’t good for that school and good for the system. It’s something that we’re going to continue to discuss.”
** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez on the pressure to improve upon last year’s 3-9 record: “There’s no more pressure now than there was a year ago. There’s pressure all the time. But that’s OK. When the pressure to perform well ends, it’ll be time for me to start looking for something else to do.”
** Rodriguez on his first taste of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry: “It was fun. It’ll be a lot more fun when we’re playing better.”
** New Purdue head coach Danny Hope when asked his favorite joke about the Purdue-Indiana rivalry: “I’m not foolish enough to say that today.”
** Fitzgerald when asked if quarterback Mike Kafka will have a chance this season to break his quarterback rushing record of 217 yards: “Well, we have 12 games and hopefully a 13th, so those are his odds.”
** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel on having his team selected as a preseason favorite to win another Big Ten championship: “Being the favorite is an honor, of course, but it’s also a pretty good reminder of what’s expected.”
** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch, talking about a campus outreach program that had him speaking at several IU fraternities and sororities: “The sororities were a lot better than the fraternities. At the sororities, they paid attention and listened. The fraternity guys wouldn’t even look up from eating.”
** OSU tight end Jake Ballard when asked about quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s offseason improvement: “He’s improving by leaps and bounds. He’s getting better all the time.”
** Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman on conference teams playing weeknight contests: “We like having a Thursday night game to open the season. I think it gives the Big Ten an interesting position to kick off uniquely from others, and we can really get behind that kind of a launch. We’re really not looking forward to airing Thursday night games on a regular basis. Kicking off the football season, though, on a Thursday is something that I think has some merit going forward.”