Football Friday: The high school coach who changed Ohio State forever

Today is a good day to look back on one of the seminal moments in Ohio State football.

Aren't they all? Well, yeah, but a story from the Harrisburg Patriot-News serves as inspiration at this particular moment.

What does a paper in Pennsylvania care about Ohio State football on a random day in July?

The area is the home of George Chaump, who isn’t exaggerating when he says he helped save Woody Hayes’ job and launch a new golden age of Buckeye football by getting the old coach to run a new offense.

There began Chaump's turn at the chalkboard. As Hayes commenced a slow boil, the young assistant drew up several concepts that seem elementary now: Forcing a double-team on the flank with hitch passes to the best athlete, White, to acquire a manpower advantage inside. Getting the dangerous sophomore athletes like quarterback Kern, receivers White and Bruce Jankowski and tailback Leo Hayden [of Dayton] into space where they could stretch the defense sideline to sideline. (The sophomore class included 13 future 1971 NFL Draft choices.) But at the time, it was revolutionary stuff to someone like Hayes.

The story of the 1968 Buckeyes is another reminder that what’s old is frequently new again on the gridiron.

The formations weren’t quite the same, but the tactics mirrored some of the “innovations” of today.

Chaump got Hayes to spread out his formations, from the Robust T (or Fullhouse backfield, which they still used in short-yardage situations and the goal line) with three men in the backfield to a slot I formation with a split end.

(The late '90s and early 2000s saw many teams move a second back out of the backfield, too, though now there is a trend back toward more two-back sets.) 

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Perhaps more noteworthy: The Buckeyes also began running what today we're calling run-pass options to take advantage of Rex Kern's intellect and athleticism.

The quarterback could throw a little pass to the outside to punish defenses for packing it in against the Buckeyes, or he could attack the middle with a handoff. He could also keep the ball and frequently did, running for at least 500 years three seasons in a row.

(He might have done that more, but he told me once during an interview while I worked at Buckeye Sports Bulletin he rarely needed to because the offensive line was so good.)

So Woody Hayes, the Clifton native who supposedly liked to tell folks that people from Greene County said he was from Clark County and people from Clark County said he was from Greene County, recruited a transcendent class, let a high school coach tell him a better way to use it*, won his fourth national championship and went on his second great run as the coach of the Buckeyes.

(Not mentioned in the story: Ohio State also went to a hurry-up offense in 1968, something Hayes got from Upper Arlington High School.)

Pretty good, huh?

The 1968 season was one of the greatest in college football history, a convergence of talent and scheme change that reverberates through to today in Columbus and beyond.

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