Although most of what is known publicly about the legendary Buckeye coach revolves around his running game and short fuse, Jeff Kaplan suggests in the documentary that “his life didn’t end when the Gator Bowl incident happened. In a lot of ways [Hayes’ life] had just begun. . .the reason he was able to do that. . .is because he was more than just football. . .and I would like to think that those years afterwards were probably some of the greatest of his life.”
Richard Nixon commented at his memorial that “the last nine years of Woody Hayes’ life were probably his best. He made scores of inspirational speeches all over the country. He gave all of the honorariums from those speeches to the Woody Hayes Cancer Fund at Ohio State University. He raised tens of thousands of dollars for crippled children in his annual birthday and Valentine’s Day phone-a-thons. He gave pre-game pep talks to his beloved Ohio State team, now coached by one of his “boys,” Earle Bruce. He basked in the warm glow of tributes that were showered upon him by those who played under him and others that had come to know him, love him, and respect him.”
Less than a month after his dismissal following his assault on Charlie Baumann, Hayes made his first public appearance at a Columbus Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Always a charismatic speaker, he immediately charmed the crowd. For the next few years, Hayes became a popular figure on the lecture circuit. In 1983, he received two significant honors: an induction into the College Football Hall of Fame and the dotting of the “I” on the famous Ohio script formation of the OSU marching band. He was also invited by President Jennings to speak at commencement, an honor that brought tears to his eyes, recalls Archie Griffin.
In 1986, the National Association of College and High School coaches capped his career by honoring him with the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award. “They honored him as an outstanding coach, but even more importantly, they honored him as a great humanitarian” said Nixon.
Throughout the early 1980s, Hayes’s health began to decline. Always a fighter, he weathered two strokes and another heart attack. But a lifetime of stress and unrelenting dedication were finally catching up with him. Upon his death, many remembered bittersweet memories of their coach. Despite Hayes’s temper tantrums and vigorous late-night viewings of football coverage, though, Hayes was much more than a coach. According to Jack Nicklaus, “he wasn’t preparing [his players] for football, he was preparing them for life.” Similarly, Kern remembers that “Woody was more than a football coach. He was a teacher. He was an educator. He was a friend.”
(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.)