The saga of Ohio State football
'Buckeye Madness' explores the ups and downs of the storied program.
By B.J. ARNOLD
"Buckeye Madness" by Joe Menzer; Simon & amp; Schuster ($24).
For anyone who even remotely considers himself or herself a part of Buckeye Nation, Joe Menzer's "Buckeye Madness" is an entertaining and enlightening look at the storied Ohio State program, from the legendary Woody Hayes to current coach Jim Tressel.
Menzer, an Ohio native who covers the Carolina Panthers for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at members of the Ohio State University program -- on and off the field -- as related to him by former players and coaches, several of whom hailed from the Mahoning Valley, including Mike Trgovac, Ted Bell and Korey Stringer.
It is also a story of Ohio State's often narrow-minded, yet extremely loyal fan base "that followed the team with a passion that clouded their sense of logic." The book touches on everything from what the annual contest with "that team from up north" means to the entire OSU community -- coaches, players and fans -- to the influence that athletic boosters and alumni have on who's hired and who's fired.
The passion of Ohio
The book begins Jan. 3, 2003, with Tressel firing up his underdog Buckeyes just minutes before taking the field in the national championship game against the University of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, a game fans will never forget.
However, that is not where the story begins.
Anecdotal memories of the charismatic yet hard-nosed and often volatile Hayes, who began his coaching career in 1936 at New Philadelphia High School and lost his job at Ohio State in 1978 after the infamous punch of an opposing player, draw the reader into the idiosyncratic world of Woody and what is Ohio State football.
Hayes' hatred for the whole state of Michigan was never a secret, but it was definitely inflamed by the loss of two star recruits. Hayes was convinced that Michigan State had cheated to lure Cardinal Mooney star Ted Bell away from Columbus to East Lansing in 1973. And in 1977, Austintown Fitch standout Mike Trgovac opted to play for the Michigan Wolverines -- an event Hayes never forgot.
"Buckeye Madness" spotlights a meeting between Trgovac and Hayes nearly a decade later, when Trgovac stuck out his hand and said, "Woody, I don't know if you remember me. I'm Mike Trgovac. I ended up going to ..." To which an ailing Hayes injected, "I remember you! You're Mike Trgovac. Your dad's name is Ed. Your mom's name is Jackie and, you SOB, you went to Michigan!"
"Buckeye Madness" conveys how the coaching transition from Hayes to Earle Bruce to John Cooper was anything but uneventful for the coaches or fans, and manages to pull the reader into the insatiable appetite for winning.
Bruce, dubbed "Nine-and-Three Earle," won 81 games in nine seasons at OSU, including 5-of-9 against Michigan, and was all but run out of town, not so much for what he did, but for what he didn't do.
Enter Cooper, whose Rose Bowl victory over Michigan while coaching at Arizona State had Ohio State fans welcoming the Tennessee native to Columbus with open arms. After all, Cooper beat Michigan AND won the Rose Bowl. Initially he was a dream come true for OSU fans. And although only the legendary Woody coached longer at OSU and had more victories than Cooper, he also was run out of town for what he didn't do.
"The only thing John could have ever done to make people like him was to beat Michigan and win the Rose Bowl, which John never did," said OSU student coach Ed Sidwell in "Buckeye Madness." "He eventually did them both on separate occasions, but never in the same season."
Covering the losses
Sidwell, who worked with Cooper from 1988-1993, tells the majority of the 13-year Cooper saga, without corroboration from any other sources within the Ohio State program. Menzer mentions more familiar names from Cooper's staff, such as Fred Pagac, Elliot Uzelac, Bobby Turner and Larry Coyer, but it's odd that none was called upon or -- would talk about -- his years working with the beleaguered coach. Sidwell's negative portrayal of Cooper, although quite possibly true, prompts a feeling of nothing more than sour grapes.
Almost immediately after Cooper's dismissal, the search for the next person to lead the Buckeyes into Ohio Stadium began, and at the end of a long list of worthy candidates was Div. I-AA Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel. Any OSU fan will find it thrilling to read about Tressel's first victory over Michigan, a feat he had publicly promised during a Buckeyes basketball game nearly a year earlier. Fans will cheer when reading about Maurice Clarett and his phenomenal freshman season on the field leading the Buckeyes to a 14-0 season and the national championship, and pound their fists when reading about his off-the-field antics and how he became "public enemy No. 1" to Ohio State faithful.
"Buckeye Madness" carries the reader through the best and worst of the storied Ohio State football program and leaves them waiting to see where it goes from here.