Cleve Rush is a balding redhead who played football for Woody Hayes at Miami of Ohio 30 years ago. Then he coached with Hayes at Ohio State before going to the pros. Now he sells cars in Spring-field. Ohio, and he made the hour's drive to 1711 Cardiff Ave, today to see if Woody wanted to talk.
A funereal rain fell. Hayes' home is in Upper Arlington, a fashionable suburb. A scarlet-and-gray van sat in the driveway alongside the white framed two-story house. Rush went to the back door and knocked, but Hayes was not home and so his old friend put a business card in the door.
Rush wasn't the first to come by. Three telegrams, three envelopes were left at the door. He wouldn't be the last, either, for car after car pulled down the quiet street toward Hayes' home, some stopping, some moving slowly past.
"I'm very saddened by it," Rush said of Hayes' firing two days ago. "He's a great man, just a great man -- at coaching, at life, everything. He did a lot for people that nobody ever will know about."
It is eerie here. It is as if Woody Hayes has died. A local television station did a half-hour special -- all in the past tense. In a sense, that is the proper mood, for Ohio State football has been Hayes' life for 28 years.
"Hell, no," Hayes said three years ago when someone asked if he intended to retire. "When I do. I'll die on the 50-yard line at Ohio Stadium in frent of the usual crowd of 87,000."
"If you do," his questioner said, "I sure hope the score's in your favor."
"If it isn't" Hayes said, "I won't."
The morning after the firing, Hayes backed his van against his office building. He loaded it with memorabilia and books from his office. Even at age 65, he worked 70- and 80-hour weeks in that office. It was his life and now it is over. The book titles told about the man: "Superstars"... "D-Day"... "You Win With People?".. "Great Military Attacks."
In today's gentle rain, the van sat at Hayes' home. It was empty. Neighbors didn't know, or weren't saying, where Hayes was. The man who fired him, Athletic Director Hugh Hindman, sent his wife to the door to shoo away a reporter. "He says he will make no further comments," she said.
Hindman had said the firing was the toughest decision he ever made. He was firing not only a legend but the man who coached him at Miami, later hired him as an assistant and then politicked for his promition to athletic director. Hayes would not resign, Hindman said, so he had no choice.
A source in the Big Ten said Hayes worked this season under probation by the conference with an added ultimatum from Ohio State: no more embarrassments. Both actions were prompted Nov. 19 1977, when Hayes slugged a television cameraman during the Michigan game.
Hayes' Big Ten probation expired exactly a year later, the source said, and so Hayes was six weeks into a clean slate when he threw a right cross at a Clemson player. The university's ultimatum was open-ended, however, and people close to Hayes say it bothered him.
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) came to Columbus to film a documentary on the Hayes phenomenon. His teams won three national championships and 13 Big Ten championships; he produced 58 All-Americas, and his players won four Heisman trophies. The BBC film was a fascinating study of a mercurial man.
Hayes' personality grew darker after the film was shown late in the season, according to Jimmy Crum, a local TV sportscaster and longtime friend of the coach.
"It showed Woody cussing and ranting." Crum said. "Ever since then, he acted like a bear with a sore rear end."
"Hayes had become a caricature of himself," said Max Brown, editor of a monthly magazine here. "He was deteriorating in front of everyone's eyes. What happened was inevitable."
Inevitability makes it no less sad. His players, almost to a man, spoke of him lovingly. "Next to my rather," said Jimmy Laughlin, "he's the guy I really admire most in this world." Learning life in football from Hayes was "something you really treasure," said Ron Barwig.
The end was sad, for it will be remembered vividly, the last of a series of angry explosions. Man-on-the-street street interviews in Columbus found little sympathy for the coach: "He emrassed people from Columbus"... "rather unethical"... "just broke under pressure"... "He's a grand old man, but he sure showed his butt."
"All the good things will be forgotten," wrote Si Burick, sports editor of the Dayton Daily News. "Like his recruiting skills, which charmed mothers of prospects; his ability to charm audiences; his knowledge of history and literature; his sense of humor; his innate sense of decency; his willingness to go out of his way in pursuit of meritorious causes; his intense loyalty."
No one knows what Hayes will do now.
"I don't think he'll coach again," said Paul Hornung a Columbus newspaperman who is a Hayes confidante. "I would guess he'll probably do something else."
Hornung didn't know what that something else might be.
"His whole life was the Ohio State football program," the sportswriter said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Woody Hayes, left, and Clemson Coach Danny Ford in a calm moment prior to Gutor Bowl game that saw the Hayes punching incident and his dismissal after 28 years as Ohio State Coach., Associated Press; Picture 2, Woody Hayes flings hat in one of many tantrums., United Press International