Beyond the Gridiron -- The Life and Times of Woody Hayes

photo of Daryl Sanders

Subject: Daryl Sanders
Interviewer: Alison Rostankowski
Transcript: Alison Rostankowski

The segments included in this interview excerpt were recorded during October 2002, as part of Beyond the Gridiron -- The Life and Times of Woody Hayes. The documentary is a co-production with the Crouse Entertainment Group and WOSU-Columbus, Ohio. Daryl Sanders played tackle for Ohio State (1959-1962) and the Detroit Lions (1963-1966).

How were you recruited by Woody Hayes?
Well I will never forget my recruiting trip because I came from a small high school in Cleveland, Mayfield High School, they were small at the time, and I was considering well would I be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond? And I was invited to come down to the Ohio State vs. Michigan game in 1958. I walked into the stadium, and in those days it was eighty three thousand people, my hair stood up on end. I said this is it! I mean I was just completely overwhelmed. And then I think it was two weeks later my father and I were invited down for a recruiting trip and we spent four hours in Woody's office with him. My father never said a word in four hours, I said "yes sir "twice, that was it--Woody talked for four hours! And then that that was the close as we say He won us over completely and I couldn't even think about going any place else.

Describe the sights and sounds of when you walked into the OSU football stadium for a game.
Well there's nothing like it. I mean you walk out on to the field and you know n those days there were eighty three thousand fans, but I mean you don't know the difference between eighty three thousand and ninety six thousand. You know there's a roar, all you hear is a roar. You know in football you don't hear anything specific. In football you don't hear names or anything like that. It's the decibels. And in Ohio State in those days I mean, I actually think they were noisier than they are today and more excitable than they are today. There's nothing like the college football atmosphere and all of the excitement of people just loving to be there and in Ohio Stadium all of the red and white and all the colors and all the people and the festivity of the moment and the band and all of those things. It just creates a very exciting and spectacular atmosphere.

How did your relationship with Woody Hayes develop? How would you characterize the change from freshman to senior year?
When I was a freshman you wondered if he knew your name you know! And then as you know you go along with things by the time I was a senior he would come into our room the night before a game or something and just kind of say 'well here's what we're going to do tomorrow.' But he would never do that with a sophomore or even a junior. So in the sophomore year all of the upper class man made the sophomore sit in the front row at half time okay? The juniors would sir right behind them. And all of the seniors would stand at the back of the room and you always left your helmet on at half time cause you never knew what he was going to do. You never wanted to be close to him at half time. You knew he always had some strategy in mind to motivate you, either to start playing or play better. The worst thing you could do under Woody was be winning at half time because he would be so afraid that you would just let down. He personally always got worse when we were doing better. His expression was "you guys are getting fat and happy you know!" That was his big expression in those days. My junior year we won you know we were 8 -0-and 1 , and we were national champions and I mean you'd think winning would be great ! Winning was terrible with Woody because he'd always be so afraid you'd slack off or take it easy.

Were they calculated outbursts?
I'll never forget subsequent to my playing, I think it was around1969 at the University of Michigan a famous incident in which Woody threw the yard markers and everything. I was siting there with an executive from General Motors and we were watching the game and Woody ran fifty yards across the field during the game. He went right out onto the field, ran for fifty yards up to this official and stopped within one inch! Never touched him, never brushed up against him, he would never cross that line and started yelling at the official because he felt it was a bad call. Everybody said he's flipped out, he's crazy, what's wrong with him? I said to this executive sitting next to me, you just saw the most controlled person give the appearance of out of control you'll ever see. It's impossible to run for fifty yards and stop an inch away and say he's out of control. No, you're in total control if you can calculate it that much and that close. And if you would go back and revisit that game you would see that the game was slipping away from him and slipping away from his players and he would say I've got to do something and then he would. I mean there was no stopping him. He would do something. So I believe it was very calculated.

've been told that there was a certain psychology involved and that he knew exactly who he could yell at and who he couldn't. Please tell us about that.
It's one of the thing I thinks that made him the great coach that he was. We had an All-American for two years--Bob Ferguson. Bob was a great athlete. Woody coached Bob every day and I mean he would say good things and bad things about Bob every day. And it was because Bob needed that much attention. That was what was going to get the most out of Bob. And I remember one time in my own career. It was my sophomore year and we played up at Illinois and I probably had the worst game of my college career. Woody said you just didn't hit anybody--you just didn't do your job. Well he came next week and he purposefully put me in situations on the practice field that pushed me into that. And he coached me that whole practice and he punched me you know. And I remember it vividly. People said well did he ever hit you? Yes, he hit me. He punched me right in the stomach. And people said oh boy didn't that hurt? And I said only my feelings. He wasn't trying to hurt me. He punched me in the stomach but physically he was holding his punch. He wasn't trying to hurt me. He was trying to get into my head. And it changed me as a player. I responded to it. And he knew that was what I needed at that time, at that point in my development mentally and physically. You know it worked and made me a better football player.

What did you think of the media coverage of Woody Hayes?
Today in athletics you have coaches who will be stopped on the sideline on the way into the locker room at half time. There's no way Woody Hayes would ever do that. And you say well why wouldn't he? What's wrong with that? It's part of PR, its part of getting the name out and the game out and everything. And Woody couldn't care less about what any sports writer thought about him or the way he was coaching. I mean I think Woody would be rolling over in his grave over all the political correctness we keep trying to strive for today because he was the antithesis of that. And there's a lot of people in the coaching profession that feel like they've got to yield in these things and be sensitive for PR and be sensitive to sports writers. But you have to understand Woody Hayes' mentality was I'm not doing anything to please you. I'm not here to please you. I'm not here to please the alumni. I'm not to please the alumni director. I'm not here to please. I'm here to win football games. And he just carried that to the extreme and he didn't care what anyone thought about him.

You were playing at a time when the faculty forbade your trip to the Rose Bowl. Why did it happen and how did you feel?
Well you know as I look back on it I really feel like it was probably the last gasp attempt to maintain some control over the direction of college athletics. And quite frankly I believe the faculty while they won that battle they lost the war. And I think what they were trying to do is they were trying to pull in the reigns of the power and influence that big time college football had. And it was like well we can intervene here because there's a break in the contract--it was never properly signed--so our vote counts this time--Let's vote. While we at the time felt like it was a disaster. Hey you know we're missing out on one of the greatest games and one of the greatest trips you could get as a college athlete. You know all of the hoopla. I mean the Rose Bowl was still the great game in college football and everything. I believe it was the faculty's last gasp to control it and in a way I'm sorry they lost. I believe that college athletics is out of control today. I believe that what were doing with the college athlete is a toll that they're going to have to pay for the rest of their life both physically and emotionally. You know, we don't know the cost.

What did you think of Woody Hayes' coaching philosophy?
Woody was single minded. Woody didn't want to hear about the passing game. And Woody had made up his mind that the way we're going to win is we're going to run these seven or eight plays and we're going to run them and run them and run them and run them until we can do it and we don't care whether they know we can do it or not. They're not going to be able to react to it because we do it so well. That is essence was his basic football philosophy. You know they talk about all the coaching minds that come up with all these clever plays. Let me tell you football is just blocking and tacking. That's all it is. That's all that it ever has been. You know it's all it ever will be.

As you watched Woody Hayes in the years after you played did you notice any differences in the way he coached the game?
It is interesting because as we got into the late sixties and early seventies if you go look at some of the pictures you see the afros and the hairdos and the long sideburns and all--that stuff used to drive Woody crazy And I remember it was like he had an uprising of the team over hair issues. And I can't tell you exactly what year it was but it was somewhere late sixties early seventies where there was this big uprising you know. The public didn't know about it but among the football family we had heard about it. There was always music playing the locker room. Well when I was in college we were hearing Beethoven, we were hearing classical music you know that was probably the loudest music we got! And then in the late sixties we're hearing about all these guys who were saying we're sick of that music we want rock n' roll. So Woody struggled through a lot of those things of trying to you know adapt a little bit but still maintain his focus, discipline environment. So I did see him struggle with those things and it did impact how he was like he was forced to start listening a little bit you know to the mood and the manner of his players.

Alan Natali talked about Woody Hayes being out of sync with the changing times. Describe what you think?
Oh I believe that. The reason he was out of sync was that he felt that the new voices that were rising up were wrong! I mean Woody was politically conservative, an unabashed Republican conservative and in that party he wasn't into the liberal thinking and into the liberal ideas that were that were taking place. He was still from the school of thought that said you know you're twenty-one years old kid and you're not ready to have an opinion about some of these things. And so I think it was a struggle for him to adjust.

Can you tell me something about Woody Hayes' attitude toward money?
You know poor Anne, the way they ran their family finances was that Woody never saw the money, never knew how much money he had, never knew how much money he made, never knew how much money he had in the bank. He had never paid a bill in his life, his wife did all of those things. And I remember she told me at the time she says oh Darrel he drives me nuts. He wrote a check for ten thousand dollars to give to somebody! Ten thousand dollars and he's making forty three thousand dollars! Gives away then thousand dollars to somebody and had no idea whether he's got ten thousand dollars in the bank! It was just the kind of guy that he was. This guy never did one thing for money. He never did anything in his life. I mean I only know one other person that way. Billy Graham is the only person I know that never did one thing in his life because he was going to get paid for it. And that was Woody's attitude.

Describe the last time you saw Woody Hayes.
The last time I saw Woody he was sick. He was getting weak. I think we all knew that the end was not too far away. He had a lot of sugar problems and I strongly believe that those things effected his mood swings. If you go back over his history, almost all of his major public outbursts were towards the end of the season. I mean he was the kind of man who after the football game you'd be at dinner and you're sitting there at dinner and he would say six o'clock I've got to go. And we'd say where you going? And the reason he'd stay there until six is because it took him that look long to get the film of the game processed so that he could go look at the film of the game. And he would say, I gotta go you guys, they're going to have that film over at my office in ten minutes. And I know the guy I'm coaching against next week is out to dinner having a good time. I'm going to get an edge on him right now! That was his mentality. There's only one Woody Hayes!

How would you describe your perspective in comparison to someone who didn't know woody personally?
Very few people got to look at the facets of Woody Hayes. They just saw this maniac or obsessed person who was a football coach. And he was so much more than that. You know he was a historian--he was always interested in people, always interested in education. You know on one hand, you take a man like Woody and I'll tell you this he never did anything in his life so you would like him more. Never. I mean this man was never motivated to please people. In fact sometimes he'd go out of his way so he wouldn't please you know. And yet here the paradox. Here you have a a man who is I refuse to do anything so that you'll like me. You know I'm not going to try to win you over to like me. You either like it or lump it. You either take me the way I am or don't take me. The same man would go to the hospital--see people he doesn't know, go spend time with people that couldn't do anything for him--reach out to people, care for people. Again I have to say this because he was always giving something. And yet you look at him on this side and you say well he doesn't care about anybody. You look at him on this side--he cares for everybody. You look at him this way and you say oh man he's sure not very social and you look at him over here and this guys as social as can be You look at the guy over here you say he's a strict conservative republican. And yet you look at him over here and he's a liberal thinker and caring for people and reaching out and all that. So the multifaceted people. He was a very interesting man because of that and a very intelligent man because of that.