Hayes’ iron-fisted if ham-handed approach won him admiration from many of his peers. Said Bo Schembechler, a former Ohio State assistant and Woody’s equally hardboiled archrival at Michigan: “I love the man, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”
Archie Griffin, who won two of the four Heisman Trophies claimed by Hayes’ players, described his old coach perfectly: “Woody is a God-fearing man. It’s nice to know he’s afraid of somebody.”
As with President Nixon, time erased some of the stigma attached to Hayes’ name and career. In many ways, he was a good man. He made sure his players fulfilled their academic obligations. He often turned down raises so his assistant coaches could get them; during his final season, his Ohio State salary was a mere $43,000. He made numerous visits to comfort the sick in Ohio hospitals — and probably threatened to slug any reporter who wrote about it. Yet as with Knight at Indiana, his fearsome temper finally did him in.
In 1983, after being elected to the Football Hall of Fame, a mellower Hayes was brought out to dot the “i” as the university’s marching band spelled out “Ohio” during its halftime performance. The cantankerous old coach called it one of the greatest days of his life.
Three years later, in a supremely ironic moment, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the school that had fired him. In his acceptance speech, he stressed the value of education and the need for good works in the community as even former detractors cheered.
When he died at home the following year, following his second heart attack, a funny and perhaps insightful story made its way around the state. In it, a man goes to heaven and sees a fat, old guy in a baseball cap jumping up and down on the sideline at a football game.
“Who is that madman?” the newcomer asks St. Peter.
“That’s God — but he thinks he’s Woody Hayes.”
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