Every so often I read something that stops me cold. One such occasion occurred a week ago last Sunday when I was reading the Arizona Republic’s account of Arizona State U.’s football victory over UCLA the previous day. The paper noted, matter-of-factly, that the win earned ASU head coach Todd Graham $330,000 in bonuses-- $100,000 because it was his team’s ninth of the season and $230,000 more because it clinched a spot in the PAC-12 title game. If ASU wins that game the $230,000 bonus would double to $460,000, or 20% of his $2.3 million annual salary, the paper reported.
I had to read that twice before it sunk in. A guy making $2.3M per gets a $330,000 bonus for doing what he was hired to do? And in a state that has cut education funding during the term of its present, severely conservative governor?
I can summarize my first thought thusly: teeeesh.
My second thought was of Woody Hayes. Somewhere in my memory file was the fact that the most he ever earned in a season during his 28 years as head football coach at Ohio State U. was $43,000, and even though that tenure ended 30-plus years ago—in 1978—it isn’t exactly ancient history. Moreover, while Graham’s rep and credentials are modest, Hayes was a giant in his field, with multiple national titles to his credit and mythic status on his home campus.
Woody was offered raises but turned them down on ground that his pay was OK for a college faculty member. When he got bonuses for signal victories he’d divide them among his staff. If you’d have told him that in 2013 big-time college football coaches would become lordly CEOs routinely being paid in the $2 million-$5 million annual range, he’d have said you were nuts.
It’s interesting even to me that I’m citing Hayes favorably here, because I didn’t like him much when he coached. That was partly because his teams usually beat mine (Illinois), but also because I never cared for the way he compared football to war, a much more serious enterprise. Further, he was the sort of man who demanded discipline from his troops (oops, players) but couldn’t exercise it himself, aiming his frequent sideline tantrums at photographers, game officials and inanimate objects such as first-down markers. He got the gate at OSU when he finally went too far in that department, punching an opposing player who’d strayed into the Buckeye bench area during a game.
My negative impression of Woody had its origin with my first encounter with him. I was in the press box during the OSU-Illinois game in 1958, making myself useful in various ways, when Bert Bertine, my boss at the Champaign-Urbana Courier, dispatched me to shag a few post-game Buckeye quotes for his story. With a few minutes remaining I went down to the field, and when the Ohio State players streamed into their locker room at the gun, I streamed with them, as I’d done before with other teams after other games. Notebook and pencil in hand, I was talking to a player when I was confronted by Woody, red-faced angry even in victory.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
“Er, I’m press,” gulped the 20-year-old me.
“Well get the hell out of here until I let you guys in,” the great man barked.
Woody was reputed to be a man of parts, however, and years later, as a grown-up columnist (sort of), I thought it might be worthwhile to check in on the old lion in his winter of retirement. I visited him the Friday before the 1984 Ohio State-Michigan game. We spent more than an hour talking in his office in the ROTC Building on the Columbus campus; a longtime student of military history, he was given a faculty appointment in the department after he was bounced as a coach. Then we had lunch in the university’s faculty club, where he seemed to know most of the other diners.
After that we walked over to the football stadium, where he gave a talk at the Senior Tackle, an OSU ritual in which graduating-senior players take a last, ceremonial whack at a tackling dummy. About 2,000 people showed up to watch in very cold weather, and they gave him ovations coming and going.
At age 71 Woody’s fire still burned, albeit a bit lower than when he was coaching. In his office he told me he was up for the Michigan game as much as in days of yore. “Us versus Michigan! Best doggone rivalry there is!” he said. “Competition is what makes you go, you know? You beat nobody, what have you got? You beat somebody and you’ve done something. Yessir!”
He mused that teaching history to ROTC cadets meant that his life had come full circle from his younger days. The son of a school superintendent in small-town Ohio, he’d grown up thinking of becoming a classroom teacher before football sidetracked him. As far as he was concerned, coaching was more teaching than anything else. “I spent more time with my players in a week than most professors do with their students in a year,” he noted.
He went on: “Football teaches things you don’t learn elsewhere. A player learns to get up after he’s been knocked down. He learns to run the play that’s called, whether he’s carrying the ball or not. And he learns that nothing in life comes easy.”
He left his desk to get a book from a case on a wall. It was a volume that contained the Irwin Shaw short story, “The 80-Yard Run.” Said he: “Some people think it’s a sad story because that run he made in school was the best thing that fella ever did, but I look at it differently. If he hadn’t made the run he’d have had damned little to look back on with pride.”
That afternoon he expanded on that theme in his talk at the Senior Tackle. “This morning I got a call from Fred Bruney,” he told the players. “He said ‘Coach, remember what I did 32 years ago today?’ I said I sure did. He intercepted three passes that helped us beat Michigan. He’ll smile about that on his deathbed. You do the same thing and you’ll have something to smile about, too”