Patton believed, or wished, he had been Alexander the Great at the head of armies rolling over enemies helpless against his genius and assembled might. What Patton had, in fact, was not satisfying. The mere leadership of a single force of an army, no matter the consequence of that leadership, left Patton unfulfilled. Woody Hayes knew how the general felt.
We don't have Woody to kick around anymore. It won't be the same. As Jimmy Carter finally was forced by embarrassing events to move against his friend and political ally, Andrew Young, so was Ohio State University forced, by one more irrational act, to fire a football coach who may have been as good at his job as any one ever.
Forget the numbers. Hayes' teams won a couple hundred games and a couple dozen championships and a handful of bowl games. His teams produced All-America players who became All-Pros. By one accounting. Hayes is the fourth-most successful college coach ever, up there with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Bear Bryant.
Hayes was important for more than numbers. The excellence of his work was inspirational. He had a monk's devotion to an idea, his idea being that beating Michigan was next to godliness. A yound coach in Louisville, just starting out in his first head coaching job, ran to night spots with his colleagues at a convention. He saw Hayes the next morning.
"You should've been in my room last night," Hayes said to Lee Corso.
"Why?" Corso said, wondering what sin the old man had been up to.
"Films," Hayes said passionately. "Thirteen hours of films."
Five years later, Corso moved into Hayes' league, the Big Ten, as coach at Indiana and the first thing Corso did was make out a battle plan for success. On a note pad, Corso scrawled the words, "I cannot outwork Bo and Woody, and I cannot outcoach Bo and Woody, so I must outrecruit them."
Of the league's 10 coaches that year, only Bo Schembechler of Michigan and Corso are still at their jobs six seasons later. If Hayes slipped from the summit -- and his teams' bowl-game failures suggested he had been beaten fractionally -- it was not that he had failed as a tactician and teacher, but as a recruiter. A lot of Ohioans wore Michigan blue.
Hayes yet was a model of organization, discipline and desire. At 65, he was still afire.
That was both his blessing and curse, for as that fire moved him to excellence, moved him to the singleminded pursuit of victory -- "Without winners there wouldn't even by any goddamned civilization," he once said -- so did that fire leave him vulnerable to rage in the face of perceived injustice; Patton slapped a soldier he judged to be a coward; a moment's indiscretion but the product of a lifetime's direction, the slap cost the general a command he coveted. The coach who would be Patton, who quoted the general constantly ("Wars may be fought with weapons but they are won by men"), Wayne Woodrow Hayes last December threw a roundhouse righthand punch at an opponent's linebacker who had intercepted a pass. A moment's rage ended a 40-year career.
How very sad it ended that way.
How sadly inevitable.
For as good as Woody Hayes was for college football, he was nearly as bad.
The punch to Charlie Bauman's throat was not the first Hayes had thrown at an opponent's player. He punched his own players, photographers, students, newspapermen; he railed at game officials, he went on berserk sprees in protest of decisions.
He turned a game into a war. He wished his coach's whistle was a general's radio."Now the double-team block," he told a biographer, "is the story of your First World War . . . All right now, take your Battle of the Midway. It was without a doubt the greatest battle we fought in World War II . . . And the way we did it was simple football strategy. Our Marines forced the Japs to overcommit their defense. We caught them with their planes down at the line of scrimmage."
At his game-war, Hayes was merciless.
Corso's first season at Indiana, coming up to the Ohio State game, the coach read in the paper that Hayes said, "Indiana beat me my first year at Ohio State and I vowed that would never happen again."
"So I said to Woody, 'Coach, I was 5 years old then, why take it out on me?'"
Ohio State 37, Indiana 7.
Three years later, Indiana led Ohio State, 7-0, in the first quarter at Bloominton. It was the first time Indiana had been ahead of Woody Hayes in Bloomington in 25 years.
Corso had a school photographer take his picture on the sideline with the scoreboard in the background.
The final score: Ohio State 47, Indiana 7.
"I have great admiration for Woody Hayes," Corso says today. "I don't condone what he did, but neither do I think it is fair for one incident to smear the many, many great things he has done in his lifetime. If it was premeditated, calculated, that's one thing. It wasn't, and it isn't fair to condemn a man for life because of one moment."
Hayes befriended the young coach at Indiana when Corso took the job that has been a coaches' graveyard. Corso has not forgotten that.
"I judge a man by the way he treats people who don't count," Corso said. "Woody Hayes was nice to a lot of people he couldn't ever use."
Hayes now works out of a small office at Ohio State's athletic building. He is writing a football book. At clinics, he lectures coaches. The Green Bay Packers recently asked him to watch them play and tell them what they're doing wrong. At the College Football Hall of Fame, just down the road from Columbus, Hayes recently received an award for "outstanding contribution to character building."
"With Woody gone," said Corso," a little bit has gone out of all of us."