The Road To Columbus
Woodrow “Woody” Hayes was born on Valentine’s Day in 1913 in the sleepy little village of Clifton, Ohio, near Springfield, about 55 miles from The Ohio State University campus. He grew up in Newcomerstown, in northeast Ohio. His father, Wayne Benton Hayes served as the school superintendent at Newcomerstown from 1920 until his death in 1939. His mother, Effie Hayes, was a strong woman who, according to Woody, “when she believed in something all hell couldn’t change her mind.”
Hayes was one of three children, and in later years, he expressed feeling overshadowed by his siblings. His sister, Mary Hayes, became a leading lady on Broadway opposite George Jessel, and of his brother, Ike, Woody once said of him, “he was the most colorful character I ever met.”
Woody and his brother often got into trouble. Reflecting on what it was like to grow up in a town where his dad was superintendent, Hayes commented that it was difficult for him: “My grades were not exceptional. I’m afraid I was too darn ornery—always getting in fights.” Woody and Ike both excelled in sports, starring in football, baseball, and basketball, and Woody captained the team his senior season.
While a self-educated man himself, Wayne Hayes was a firm believer in education, a trait he passed on. Woody graduated from Denison University in 1935 with a major in history (a top-grade history student) and English and a minor in physical education. He continued graduate work in physical education and gained his Master’s degree in educational administration from OSU in 1948.
Woody moved to Mingo Junction, Ohio in 1935 to take on his first coaching job at the local high school. He then moved to New Philadelphia High School as an assistant to John Brickels in 1937 and two years later took over as head coach, remaining three seasons. Woody’s temperamental personality was apparent even then. Brickels remembered him as “smart, quick and a perfectionist. I’d let him know what I wanted done and he’d do it, pronto. He lacked patience. I tried to tell him that when he corrected a kid he shouldn’t make an enemy of the boy, but Woody had a hard time controlling himself and he drove the kids too hard. He kept improving, though, and when I left I recommended him for our top job.”
In 1936, he met Anne Gross. “When I started going out with Woody, we dated for six years, but never kept steady company. In fact, we never were engaged. Woody proposed over the phone one day in 1942, after he was in the Navy. He had some leave time due. I accepted, he came home and we were married.” The Hayes had one son, Stephen Benton.
After the war, in 1946 Woody returned to Denison University as the head grid coach. The school had discontinued the sport during the war, and unfortunately, had a difficult time coming back from such a long season of inactivity. Woody and The Big Red lost the first eight games he coached. The team won the final game of 1946, and the following two seasons they went undefeated, winning nine games in1947 and eight in 1948.
He drove his first squad at Denison so hard that school authorities warned him to ease up on the team or face the consequences. As a result, said Woody, the “1946 season was a nightmare. We won only two games. I guess they thought I was being too tough on the boys then. They darn near threw me out.” The next two years, The Big Red went undefeated.
Miami of Ohio came courting in 1949, and Woody moved to Oxford, Ohio, home of the Redskins. Woody won five games and lost four in his first season. The famed Hayes’ temper was on the loose even in Oxford. The Miami Athletic Director related to Sports Illustrated that “One day, we had a misunderstanding about an assistant coach’s assignment. The mayor and a couple of booster club leaders were in my office, but that didn’t stop Woody from picking up an intramural sports trophy and smashing it to pieces on the floor. I knew he’d feel differently soon, and he did. The next morning he came back and said he wanted to pay for the trophy.”
Having set his sights on the Buckeyes as early as the Denison years, Woody finally obtained his goal of coaching for Ohio State in 1951: “I wanted this job badly. It’s the greatest coaching opportunity in the country.” With his coaching position came a full professor’s status and a starting salary of $12,500.
(Information about and specific comments made by Woody Hayes and others were drawn from the following sources: Woody Hayes: The Man & His Dynasty, edited by Mike Bynum; I Remember Woody: Recollections of The Man They Called Coach Hayes, by Steve Greenberg and Dale Ratermann; and Woody Hayes and the 100-Yard War by Jerry Brondfield.)