Woody’s way, or the highway

Looking back on Ohio State history as the new season starts

By Marc Katz

Laugh Out Loud.

Isn’t that the way we say it these days? It’s LOL on your cell phone.

I got into one of these laughing gigs recently reading about how Ohio State’s Urban Meyer isn’t afraid to hire strong coaches to help him with his football team, and he doesn’t want somebody else’s philosophy ruining his, “Ohio State way” plans.

The best coaches are like that. They hire the best people and don’t worry about anybody usurping their authority. And they usually have a specific way of doing things.

Woody Hayes did.

You saw that coming, didn’t you?

It’s football season, you know. The Buckeyes have already played a game.

Hayes had a long list of future head coaches on his staff in the 1960s, including Bo Schembechler, Lou Holtz, Earle Bruce, Lou McCullough, George Chaump, Rudy Hubbard and Dave McClain. Some became athletics directors. Hugh Hindman was on Hayes’ staff, and in 1978 at the Gator Bowl, had to tell the guy he idolized that he was fired.

One of those coaches who was at the end of his career when he joined Hayes was Glenn “Tiger” Ellison, who already had put in a long and successful run at Middletown High School (124-46-9 from 1945-62), where he developed the run-and-shoot offense.

Even though run-and-shoot wasn’t something Hayes wanted to do, he wanted Ellison on his staff. The two had played together at Denison in the 1930s.

When Ohio State was getting ready to play Auburn in the 1990 (’89 season) Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa, I visited with Ellison, who lived in a retirement community about a half-hour away.

We call today’s version of the run-and-shoot the West Coast Offense in homage to Bill Walsh, when he was with the Bengals as an assistant, later to become head coach of the 49ers. There were plenty of other west coast coaches who employed a multiple-receivers out format, including Sid Gillman with Los Angeles/San Diego in the late 1950s. It was Gillman who lost out to Hayes for the OSU job when Hayes was named in 1951.

Beating them all to a more futuristic way of playing offense was Ellison, whose team was uncharacteristically losing during a late 1950s season. He said he was heading home from school one day when he saw a bunch of kids on a playground.

“They were playing six-man football,” Ellison told me. “They had this limber-hipped quarterback and the center would snap the ball back to him and four receivers would break down the field. And you know where they’d go? They’d go where there ain’t nobody.”

Ellison’s team was 0-4-1 at the time, including a season-opening 0-0 tie with Dayton Dunbar.

“I was always a grunt-and-grind coach,” Ellison says. “Three yards and a cloud of horse manure. Woody and I went to Denison together. We grew up on that.”

After he installed the run-and-shoot, the Middies won their last five games even though line coach Stan Lewis (who later became the school’s athletics director) called the formation, “The Lonesome Polecat,” because, “It stinks.”

Well, it didn’t stink, and here I was, with Ellison, 30 years later, enjoying the smell.

Even Hayes was enthralled with the run-and-shoot a little, although it wasn’t the reason he hired Ellison.

“When I went with Woody in 1963, at our first staff meeting we got at this long table, all the assistant coaches sitting and Woody standing,” Ellison says. “He told me, ‘Tiger, get up there and talk about that run-and-shoot thing.’”

For the next hour, Ellison stood at the chalkboard and diagrammed plays. When he finished, he turned at looked at the assistant coaches.

“The other eight coaches are shaking their heads (yes),” Ellison says. “And Woody’s over there with his arms folded, shaking his head (no).

“He let me be the quarterback coach, but no run-and-shoot.”

Ohio State suffered through some non-Rose Bowl years after the school voted not to accept a bid following the 1961 season.

The program revived with the recruiting of Rex Kern and a group of sensational freshmen in 1967. Under the rules of the time, they were eligible to play in 1968, as sophomores.

In 1967, Purdue beat OSU 41-6.

“After that game,” Ellison says, “Woody came in the locker room and slammed his fist right into a locker. He says, ‘We’ve got to make a change.’

“I say, ‘That’s right. We’ve got to run-and shoot.’”

This is the way Ellison remembered it.

“Rex Kern was the best run-and-shoot quarterback I ever had,” Ellison says. “Woody was willing to listen and we put in six run-and-shoot plays. He wouldn’t take the whole package.”

Even with the limited package, Ohio State beat then No. 1 Purdue 13-0 that season in Ohio Stadium.

Ellison also says the Buckeyes used some run-and-shoot against USC in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes won that game, over the O.J. Simpson-led Trojans, 27-16.

There was some funny by-play that came out of pre-game media conferences to that game, but I’ll save it for later.

Ellison retired after that game, to Woody’s dismay, but the Buckeyes kept winning, Ellison, run-and-shoot, or not.

Go ahead. Laugh Out Loud.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.


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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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