December 19, 2008

Friday Book Review: War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest

Since Christmas is right around the corner, I figured I would put in a plug for an outstanding book in case anyone is still searching for a Christmas gift. The book is called War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest by Michael Rosenberg. Rosenberg is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. I don’t know if he has put out any books before, but this one is an exceptional book.

As you could guess from the title of the book, the primary figures in “War as They Knew It” are Wayne Woodrow Hayes and Glenn Edward Schembechler. Two of the all-time larger than life personalities in the history of college football and sports in general. If the book was just about football, it would be a great book that provided some amazing stories about their “Ten Year War” and their hot and cold personal relationship. Between all of their antics on and off the field throughout the years, there is a lot of great stuff in this book. Woody and Bo were not perfect people by any stretch and had many flaws, but they are both legends in the Midwest for good reason. Growing up in Ohio, it was hard for me not to know a lot about both of them since they are both Ohioans and each have significant ties to Ohio State and Miami (Ohio).

But the book also takes the form of a political history book by setting the “Ten Year War” in the midst of the tumultuous times in the 60s and 70s. Between the Vietnam War and Watergate and even the Weather Underground stuff (believe it or not, Bill Ayers makes multiple appearances in the book), you had a lot of stuff going on that affected the campus life in Ann Arbor and Columbus. The book makes an effort to intertwine the football world with the political world, and guys like Bo and Woody are clearly made to look like outcasts from the changing world. And we get a pretty in-depth look at their political views. Schembechler was pretty much indifferent about politics with the exception of his friendship with Gerald Ford, but Hayes was very political engaged and opinionated about the world (it wouldn’t take much of a guess to assume that Woody was very conservative). The man who delivered the eulogy at Woody Hayes’ funeral in 1987??? Richard Millhous Nixon.

It is absolutely amazing how many great coaches coached under Woody Hayes: Lou Holtz, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, Earle Bruce, etc. When you consider how many big time college coaches today (Stoops, Saban, Meyer, Tressel, Les Miles, Harbaugh, Pelini, Dantonio) are from the state of Ohio and have at least some distant ties to Woody, you could make a case that the biggest branch of the coaching tree in college football today stemmed from Woody Hayes (with probably Bear Bryant and Frank Broyles serving the same role for the southern coaches). As Woody Hayes famously has said, “You win with people!” I'm not going to lie that I want the next coach at Notre Dame to be at least connected in some degree to this lineage. It is no coincidence that the two most successful coaches in the last 50 years at Notre Dame (Lou and Ara) are both products of this coaching tree. Urban Meyer was an assistant under Earle Bruce and under Lou Holtz. Pete Carroll was also an assistant under Lou and Earle Bruce. I'm just sayin!

One interesting anecdote for you college hoops fans. According to the book, Ohio State alumnus Robert Montgomery Knight actually came very close to leaving Indiana in the 70s for his alma mater when the OSU job came open. I guess Bobby Knight grew up idolizing Woody Hayes and wanted to coach alongside him at OSU. For whatever reason, OSU flinched about having “Little Woody” around and Knight pulled his name out of consideration. Interesting stuff. College basketball could have been completely different in the Midwest over the last 30 years if that had happened.

Anyway, this book is my favorite sports book of the year. Probably fitting that it was the last book I read of the year. A great read that is hard to put down, and a really interesting narrative. Highly recommended, especially for some older family members who enjoy college football history and history in general.

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