Over the past month or so I have written articles about all three of the legendary former coaches to lead the Scarlet and Gray on the gridiron. I touched on a great many things from Earle Bruce’s rise from high school to college; to coach Cooper finally understanding what it means to be a Buckeye; and about coach Tressel and his wife Ellen’s lifetime of charity.
What I didn’t cover very much of was the perception of their best and worst moments. I have invited some of my good friends to tell their side of the story. I have asked our own Mali, the newly formed Buckeye Empire’s own Chris Holloway and Grant Edgell, as well as the man who let me cut my writing teeth on the Buckeyes in Maurice Womak from Our Buckeye Hub.
I have asked each of them to describe to us what their perception of these moments are and have purposely left out coach Tressel’s worst moment. I didn’t feel like this was something needing covered or rehashed and to my comrads credit? Not a single one pointed out to me that I left it off the round table list. Let’s get started with Mr. Nine and Three.
What is your perception of Earle Bruce’s best moment as a head coach?
Mali- To be honest, Coach Bruce’s continuation of Coach Hayes’ traditions and attitudes have always been what stood out to me about his tenure. There’s a reason he’s invited back yearly during “The Game” week… and in spite of his struggles in the match up, he of all people understands the importance of what it means to represent the state of Ohio.
Chris Holloway – This is easy. Earle knew that this time at Ohio State was over. He had one last chance for glory, and he inspired his team to win. In Ann Arbor no less. When you think about it, and then consider that from that game, until Jim Tressel did it in his first year, the Buckeyes failed to beat the Wolverines in the Big House, that says something.
WVaBuckeye – it’s a long moment in Buckeye lore. I remember him replacing Coach Hayes and the time and energy he put into putting all of the fans and players at ease by reminding them who taught him how to coach. He was, is, and always will be the ultimate Woody disciple. He has carried the torch for Coach Hayes for all this time and it continues to have an effect on current coaches.
His worst moment?
Mali- Got to be the consistent win/loss record. You knew you weren’t going to get an undefeated season from Earle, even though that’s what you hoped for and what the team was built for. ’Solid, but not spectacular’ might be the legacy that his teams are always going to be shackled with.
Chris Holloway- The three game losing streak that cost him his job.
WVaBuckeye – this a combined thing for me. I’ve always called him Mr. Nine and Three in a most affectionate way. I love Coach Bruce and he’s one of the reasons I’m a Buckeye to begin with. His record was his undoing but the worst moment was a couple days after the TTUN game and he realized he wasn’t the head coach at THE Ohio State University. I remember worrying about him back then and what he was going through.
What is your perception of John Cooper’s best moment?
Mali- Comes in tandem with his worst (see below), but the Rose Bowl victory over a media darling Arizona State team would certainly rank up there. He was hired after beating Michigan in a bowl game in order to a) beat Michigan and b) win bowl games. In 1997 he was able to do at least one of these…
Chris Holloway- The 1997 Rose Bowl is something I will remember for the rest of my life. If John Cooper did nothing else, he coached one hell of a game that day
Grant Edgell - that would undoubtedly have to be the ’97 Rose Bowl (’96 season) win against Arizona State. It had been 23 years since the Buckeyes won The Grand Daddy of Them All so to go out and claim that victory was probably the biggest feather in Coop’s hat during his time in Columbus. It was bitter sweet after suffering their only loss a few weeks earlier against Michigan, but a Rose Bowl W is a Rose Bowl W. Hard to complain!
Maurice Womak - It has to be his Rose Bowl win against Arizona State in 1997. I was a freshman at OSU that year and it definitely made me feel great after the loss to TTUN. All year the 2 QB approach with Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine had paid dividends for the Bucks but Cooper had the insight to stick with Germaine during the Rose Bowl and it turned out great.
His worst moment?
Mali- The fact that Cooper teams could not ever meet the expectations of his talent level would be the biggest thing that most people would point to as a flaw- in 1996 and 1998, many thought the Buckeyes should have been playing for the national title, but stumbles against TTUN and MSU, respectively, were what kept great teams from being legendary. Again, hired to beat Michigan and win bowl games; unable to do either consistently (2-10-1 in The Game, 3-8 in Bowls) .
To be honest, though, the thing that I thought was his worst “moment” was an ongoing issue with his players. Fair or not, the perception of Cooper’s teams were that they didn’t have academics as their highest value and were not the best citizens in the world. Many great players with all world talent, but more than a few who were definitely interested in Ohio State as a launching pad rather than as their “alma mater”.
Chris Holloway- Every Saturday that comprised the “10” of the 2-10 record against TTUN. Grant Edgell – Oh wow, which one to pick! The ’95 game was brutal, with the Buckeyes entering as the #2 team in the country only to be run over by Timi Biakabutuka (313 yards) but I’ll go with the ’97 Game when the #4 Buckeyes (10-1) ventured up to Ann Arbor to try and keep the #1 Wolverines (11-0) away from a National Championship. Charles Woodson, a damn Ohio native, dominated the afternoon and Michigan got their split national title a few weeks later. Coop obviously had plenty of disappointment when it came to TSUN but that national championship still burns my ass.
Maurice Womak - Michigan! Although that’s not necessarily a “moment,” Cooper will ALWAYS be remembered for what he didn’t do: beat Michigan. It’s funny because during the Cooper years, I used to reluctantly watch the Michigan game because our record against them was horrific during Coop’s tenure. My little brother, who was/is a Michigan fan, (he’s adopted JJK) never let me live it down. Despite the great teams that we had during Cooper’s time his record against TTUN will always taint his career.
What is your perception of Jim Tressel’s best moment?
Mali- I’m a believer that we will never know what these were, because his impact off the field is still being felt. On the field, though, the first victory over TTUN, on the road, as an underdog, will always stand out to me as a signature moment in the Tressel legacy. That, and beating a Miami team that was “the greatest team ever” according to a certain four letter network… amazing times.
Chris Holloway- The day he decided to offer the last scholarship of the year to an unproven QB out of Cleveland.
Grant Edgell - The 2002 National Championship game would probably be the easy answer here, but I’m going to go with the 2011 Sugar Bowl after his final season in Columbus. That night, in the midst of everything that had gone on and was continuing through the media, took an awful lot of the turmoil out of the minds of the fan base for three glorious hours. To get that SEC monkey off our back, mostly in dominant fashion, made for a fantastic night.
Maurice Womak - For me it’s got to be the 4th down and 1 play against Purdue during the 2002 National Championship season. This sticks out to me, not only because it was a great, gutsy call, but because it went against the “conservative” tag that people associate with Tressel. I’ve been watching Tressel since he was the head coach at Youngstown State and that call was by far his best moment. Especially when you look back and consider that the National title could have been lost on that one play. And finally, other than the fact all three were fired as the head coach at THE Ohio State University.
What would you say all three had the most in common?
Mali- Hmmmm… Earle and Tress were most alike, so comparisons are easy there; sons of Ohio, understanding the significance of the University’s legacy and traditions, etc. Add Cooper in, though, and it’s harder to pin something down as a thread that ties all of them together.
Chris Holloway- Deep love for the University as a whole.
Grant Edgell - Coop and Tress won a TON of football games. Their records versus TSUN were obviously polar opposites, with Tress dominating the series and Coop getting dominated, but they won a combined 216 games for a 9.4 wins-per-year average…..over a TWENTY-THREE year span! The Coop years were more frustrating than anyting, fielding great team after great team only to fall short nearly every November in The Game, but one thing is for certain when looking at the Coop and Tress Eras back-to-back: nearly every single year we had legit hopes of winning a National Championship for the better portion of the season.
Maurice Womak - Recruiting. Both Cooper and Tressel were outstanding recruiters. You can’t deny the talent that Cooper had on his teams during the nineties. In some ways, its why people were so upset at his inability to beat Michigan. Tressel also was a tremendous recruiter. Year-in and year-out, he would bring in top 10 classes. It’s during his tenure that I think Buckeye fans got spoiled. Great recruiting classes were the norm and bowl wins and titles were expected EVERY year.
What separated them from each other in their careers atop the Scarlet and Gray?
Mali- Earle had the heart but not the on-field successes (although, he was the winningest Big 10 coach over his tenure when he was fired). Cooper had the records, but struggled to be a “true Buckeye” and had difficulties in the games that mattered. Jim Tressel put all of those things together for ten amazing years.
Chris Holloway- Each one had their own unique way of approaching the football behemoth that is Ohio State. They didn’t all win titles, but they all came close and they gave it the very best that they had every single Saturday. That’s about all we can expect .
Grant Edgell - The disparity in success against TSUN is the biggest factpr separating the two, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that my memories of the two are separated by one simple category – National Championships. Tress went and got one in 2002 (with Coop’s players!) and that was something Coach Cooper could never quite get done in spite f putting himself in great position to do so time and again.
A big thank you to everyone for participating. Look for another round table coming soon!