When people talk about former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, some mention his grit and toughness like it’s a badge of honor. They romanticize things, as fans and media are wont to do. Hell, the biography of the man is titled The Fire to Win.
But there is no denying that the fire exploded from time to time. That’s part of why his career at Ohio State ended on a December night in 1978.
After five national championships and over 200 wins, Hayes was getting into the “lost his touch” territory older coaches often drift into. His style of offense was seen as behind the times, and the Buckeyes had three regular season losses for only the second time since 1966. They’d also lost three times in a row to Michigan. The 1978 Buckeyes were ranked 20th, and 7-3-1 heading into the Gator Bowl.
With just over two minutes left to play, Ohio State was driving, down 17-15, trying to take the lead. QB Art Schlichter probably never saw defensive lineman Charlie Bauman peel off his pass rush and drift into the passing lane. Bauman picked the ball off and headed toward the sideline, where he was tackled right at Hayes’ feet.
Maybe he said something to the Buckeyes. We’ll probably never know. We do know that Hayes said something to him.
Bauman returned his only career interception toward the Buckeyes' sideline, where he was tackled by Schlichter near the feet of Hayes. Clemson linebacker Bubba Brown, who was running right behind Bauman on the return, said he heard Hayes yell at Bauman, "You SOB, I just lost my job!"
Hayes grabbed him, loaded up, and socked him.
This was not the first time the 65-year-old Hayes had an outburst on the sideline.
In 1977, Hayes took a swipe at a cameraman during a loss to Michigan. He was ejected from the game.
In 1974, Hayes “back-handed” a fan after losing to Michigan State.
in January 1973, he was suspended for three games and fined $2,000 for shoving a camera into a photographer’s face at the Rose Bowl. He chucked his headset at a USC player during the game, which the Buckeyes lost, 42-17.
He’d been known to give a downs marker the what-for as well.
But the Gator Bowl outburst would be his last.
Keith Jackson was on the call for ABC.
“And we got a big fight going on. ... Aww, come on now quiet down folks. ... We’ve got a free-for-all going down on the field.”
Neither Jackson nor his broadcast partner, former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, saw the punch on the replay because of the camera angle.
The officials threw a flag on that play for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Clemson 15 yards. On the next play, Hayes gave the officials a piece of his mind, and they gave the Tigers another 15 yards.
Clemson would ice the clock and win the game. After the proceedings, Hayes lost it all.
At 2 a.m., Enarson and Hugh Hindman had met at the president’s hotel room in nearby Ponte Verde and agreed Hayes had to go immediately. At 8 a.m., Hugh Hindman went to Hayes’s room and gave him the opportunity to resign. Hayes knew his career was over. He just couldn’t bring himself to end it.
“That would make it too easy for you,” Hayes told Hindman. “You better go ahead and fire me.”
At 10 a.m., Hindman held a press conference at the Sheraton. He announced that “Coach Hayes has been relieved of his duties as football coach at Ohio State. I prefer not to go beyond that.”
Bauman said the two spoke months later, but Hayes didn’t apologize.
The two teams would meet again in 2014, when Clemson made it 2-0 by beating the Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl. They’ll play again in 2016’s Fiesta Bowl Playoff semifinal.