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Ohio the Cradle of Great Coaches


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Why Ohio Makes the Best Coaches

<H2 class=subhead>From Shula and Hayes to Stoops and Meyer, Ohioans rule football with a lunchbucket approach</H2>

<H3 class=byline>By DARREN EVERSON</H3>Ohio is a state in a deep recession, laid low by the decline of manufacturing. And yet, the Buckeye state is to college football coaching what Silicon Valley is to technology: It's where the brightest minds come from.


<H3 class=first>The Cradle of Coaches</H3>View Interactive


OB-CW272_ohioFo_D_20081225171747.jpgSee an interactive map of coaches with an Ohio connection


Both Florida's Urban Meyer and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who will face off in the national-championship game on Jan. 8, grew up in Ohio. Recent title-winners Jim Tressel of Ohio State and Les Miles of LSU are native Ohioans, as are two of the college game's rising stars, Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Missouri's Gary Pinkel. The list of coaches with Ohio ties includes Alabama's Nick Saban, who played at Kent State and coached at Toledo, and USC's Pete Carroll, who was an Ohio State assistant in 1979.


Less than 4% of the country's population lives in Ohio, but 15% of college football's major-conference head coaches were born there -- the most for any state. And this volume is more than matched by quality: 14 of the last 18 teams that have made it to the national title game have had head coaches with Ohio connections.


Four decades ago, when Ohio State's Woody Hayes, Michigan's Bo Schembechler and Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian prowled the college sidelines -- and fellow Ohioans Don Shula and Chuck Noll ruled the NFL -- Ohio's coaching supremacy was a foregone conclusion. But at a time when the best football is generally played in the South -- teams from the Southeastern Conference have won the last two national titles -- the rise of a new generation of Ohio coaches belies the popular perception that Midwestern football is slow, staid and increasingly obsolete.


<H3 class=first>State of Greats</H3>Ohio natives Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, top, and Urban Meyer of Florida, bottom, will meet to decide the national title on Jan. 8.


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WK-AO035_OHIO1_D_20081222204750.jpgGetty ImagesBTN_insetClose.gifWK-AO035_OHIO1_G_20081222204750.jpgView Full Image


OB-CW259_ohio_m_D_20081224214713.jpgSports IllustratedBTN_insetClose.gifOB-CW259_ohio_m_G_20081224214713.jpgThe state's passion for football is fed by a history of tough, lunchbucket labor in mining, manufacturing and steelmaking. Ohio has one of the highest percentages of native-born residents of any state, which helps its interest in football regenerate itself through generations. Ohio is the seventh-largest state but has the third-most high school football players.


But what really separates Ohio from other states is an uncommonly high number of decent college football programs. Ohio's 36 NCAA football schools ranks second in the nation overall and includes eight schools that play in the NCAA's elite Football Bowl Subdivision (Pennsylvania, which has more programs overall, has only three in the FBS). These schools, which range from Ohio State in the Big Ten to Bowling Green, Toledo and Ohio University of the Ohio-centric Mid-American Conference, give Ohio kids more opportunities to play college football and, if inclined, to join a coaching staff.


Ohio schools have long been known as proving grounds for young coaches. Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, which has been called the "Cradle of Coaches" (Messrs. Hayes, Parseghian and Schembechler all coached there), is where Kevin Wilson, Oklahoma's heralded offensive coordinator, got his first job running a major-college offense. Mr. Saban of Alabama got his first head-coaching gig at Toledo in 1990 and Bowling Green, just 20 miles away, gave Mr. Meyer, coach of the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators, his first team to command in 2001.


Although all of Ohio is a hotbed for football, the industrial Northeast is where the majority of coaches come from. Mr. Meyer is from Ashtabula, near the Pennsylvania border. Mr. Stoops and his brothers Mike, Mark and Ron -- all of whom are in coaching -- are from Youngstown, an hour south of Cleveland (Nebraska's Mr. Pelini, also from Youngstown, was a Stoops family friend growing up). LSU's Mr. Miles and Ohio State's Mr. Tressel, last year's title-game coaches, hail from Elyria and Berea, respectively, two towns along Lake Erie.


For decades, northeastern Ohio was a key part of the Midwestern manufacturing corridor. Youngstown was a major steelmaking hub and Elyria invented the padded bicycle seat. Berea's claim to fame was grindstones. Today, the state's foreclosure rate is the nation's seventh-highest and its biggest private-sector employer is Wal-Mart. Some say these changes have actually strengthened the connection to football and its ideals of hard work and teamwork.


"People cling to football as a place where those values still matter," says Christopher Butler, a Minnesota-Morris English professor and author of a book about Ohio high school football.


Ohio was one of the first parts of the country to become obsessed with college football. Although the rules of the modern game were largely fashioned by Walter Camp of Yale and other Easterners in the late 19th century, the game migrated west, due in part to legendary Olympian Jim Thorpe who played professionally in Canton, Ohio -- the birthplace of what is now the National Football League.


Ohio first became the leading source for football strategy in the 1940s and 1950s with the successes of Paul Brown (coach of the NFL's Cleveland Browns) and Woody Hayes at Ohio State. The latter was renowned for his ferocity, the former for his obsession with detail. "On the first night of training camp, he would dictate -- and you'd have to write down long-hand -- the fundamentals of football: how to run, how to catch, how to carry the ball," says Mr. Shula, the Hall-of-Fame Miami Dolphins coach who played for Mr. Brown in the early 1950s. "He did that every year. Otto Graham [Cleveland's star quarterback] had been there 10 years and he's in there doing it with the rookies."


Messrs. Brown and Hayes's ideals have been aped by generations of Ohioans, first by their former players and assistant coaches and later by their descendants. Mr. Meyer was heavily influenced by the physical brand of play favored by Mr. Hayes and former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, a Hayes disciple whose staff Mr. Meyer served on in the 1980s.


The Stoops brothers had their role model at the kitchen table. All four played and later coached defense, like their father, the longtime defensive coordinator at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School. "He'd put the film projector on the kitchen table and watch game tape on the fridge," says Ron Stoops Jr., Bob's brother and a coach himself now at Mooney. "It didn't go unnoticed."


Strategically, the Ohio coaches of today have broken from their forefathers' conservative, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust past. Both Mr. Meyer and Mr. Stoops were sharp enough to learn from a seminal event in recent college-football history: Northwestern's 54-51 victory over Michigan in 2000, a game the less-skilled Wildcats won with an innovative "spread" offense that forced Michigan to defend the entire field.


Mr. Meyer, who took over the next season at Bowling Green, sent staffers to Northwestern, among other places, to study this system. Mr. Stoops, whose Oklahoma Sooners were already using a version of the spread but were struggling with their running game, hired Mr. Wilson from Northwestern in 2001. Today, both Oklahoma and Florida run spread offenses. Oklahoma, which broke the major-college record for points this season, ranks first nationally in scoring while Florida is third.


Some coaches say the quality of football recruits in Ohio has slipped and the state's tough economic straits could be taking a toll in its football infrastructure. But there's little doubt that the one common thread between the top Buckeye-state coaches is still intact: a traditional adherence to toughness and discipline that will be on display in Miami during next week's title game. "It's a blue-collar environment," says recently retired Purdue coach Joe Tiller, a Toledo native. "They like rough stuff."


At his first practice as Florida coach in 2005, Mr. Meyer yelled to a player, "I don't even know who you are, but if you run like that again you're off the team." Mr. Stoops believes in the primacy of repetition and execution, just like Messrs. Hayes and Schembechler before him. "Sometimes overall schemes are overrated," he says. "It's how you execute them."


Write to Darren Everson at darren.everson@wsj.com



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Good post, just makes it more sicking to realize what our team has become and I didnt think I could feel worse about this season. We should be a top team instead we are bottom of the barrel.



If only you could get them to Coach IN Cleveland ! And thanks for Chuck !

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Best part is just as many Steeler fans have replied as Browns fans.........tells where our head it be.............


give em honey and they ................ummmmmmm..........do whatever

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