No two names sum up the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry more than “Woody” and “Bo.” Their 10-Year War from 1969-1978 was the most hotly-contested period in one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports.
Most Buckeye and Wolverine fans know that Bo Schembechler played for Woody Hayes while the latter was the head coach at Miami University, and later served six seasons under Hayes at Ohio State, one as a graduate assistant and five more as an assistant coach.
Far less known than the Woody/Bo relationship is that Hayes had his own mentor from the other side of the rivalry.
Wayne Woodrow Hayes matriculated to Denison University in Granville, Ohio in the fall of 1931 after graduating from Newcomerstown High School.
Hayes played tackle for the football team, and his first autumn at Denison was also the inaugural year for new Big Red football coach George Rich. It marked Rich’s first varsity head coaching experience, but he did have a fairly impressive resume. He had previously earned all-conference honors and served as team captain at the University of Michigan.
Rich played halfback, fullback and quarterback during his three seasons on the Wolverine team. His sophomore season of 1926 was Fielding Yost’s last as Michigan head coach. UM went 7-1, beat Ohio State 17-16 and shared the Western Conference title.
After that year, Elton Wieman took over the program from Yost and the 1927 Wolverines started the year 4-0, including a 21-0 win over OSU. However, they slumped at the end of the year and finished 6-2.
Rich was named team captain for his senior season of 1928. He started four games at quarterback, including the October 20 showdown in Ohio Stadium. Michigan managed just one first down that day as Ohio State won, 19-7, snapping a six-year losing streak in the rivalry. Michigan finished the year 3-4-1.
After his playing career was over, Rich served as Michigan’s freshman team coach, while also earning his law degree from UM. In February 1931, he headed south to Ohio to take the head coaching job at Denison.
In addition to his coaching duties, Rich also taught a commercial law class at DU. Many Buckeye fans may recall that Hayes later earned the title of associate professor at Ohio State and taught classes during the offseason.
Hayes did not play with the varsity as a freshman during the fall of 1931, due to the rules in place at the time, and the Denison team struggled to a 0-5-2 record. During that year, he joined the Sigma Chi fraternity. Denison’s 1932 Adytum yearbook wryly notes of the house, “First fraternity on the campus in 1868, Sigma Chi is still first according to co-ed opinion.”
The next year, Hayes earned immediate playing time. In its recap of the Big Red’s season opening loss to Western Reserve, the school newspaper, the Denisonian noted “Playing in his first college game, Woody Hayes, a sophomore, turned in one of the most brilliant performances of the day at guard and center.”
However, the season would prove a frustrating one both individually and for the team. Hayes was largely relegated to a reserve role in a 2-5-0 campaign. Following the year, the following spring’s Adytum said, “his drive and ability to tackle made him a constant threat” and went on to predict, “he will be in line for a regular position at tackle next season.”
Hayes’ junior season started with high hopes. The Denisonian proclaimed “Fate of Denison Squad Rests Largely Upon These Veteran Line Performers” and highlighted Hayes as one of the potential keys to a successful year. It would turn out to be yet another disappointment. The campaign opened with a 13-0 loss to Findlay.
The second game, a 27-0 blowout loss to Case, proved one of the low points of Hayes’ career. He was called for two 15-yard roughing penalties on one drive, handing Case their third touchdown of the game.
The team finished 2-6-1, leaving Rich with a career mark of just 4-16-3 through his first three seasons.
Hayes, meanwhile, was apparently making quite a name for himself off the field. The 1934 Adytum notes,
“Wayne,” “Baby,” “Punch Drunk,” and “Hero” are only a few of the titles Newcomerstown’s only gift to Denison has earned for himself. If you haven’t read about Woody in the newspapers, well, you just aren’t well read.
Hayes would show up in the papers again the following fall for his senior season, but this time the news was almost all good.
Playing many of its home games under a newly-installed lighting system at Deeds Field, the team exploded out of the gates. The Big Red started the year 4-0, including its first win over Wittenberg in 15 years, a 56-0 drubbing.
The biggest game of the year was the showdown with Case on Denison’s homecoming weekend. The teams battled to a 12-12 tie on a stormy day. The Associated Press called the weather “a sleet and rain storm” and said “A heavy wind made punting and passing almost impossible, only five tosses being tried in the game.”
Denison finished the year 6-1-1, including an unbeaten mark in league play.
Following that season, both Hayes and Rich would leave Denison. Rich resigned in January 1935 to open a law practice in Cleveland. The Newark Advocate reported that the resignation, “came as a surprise to University officials and Licking County sport followers.” Rich never coached college football again.
Hayes graduated and took a position as an assistant coach for the Mingo Junction High School football team. He spent six years coaching high school ball before enlisting in the Navy in 1941. He served with distinction in World War II, and was then hired at his alma mater, starting his own college football coaching career at Denison in 1946.
[George Rich/Woody Hayes Photos Courtesy: The Denisonian]