Hayes enlisted in the United States Navy in July 1941, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander during World War II. He commanded the PC 1251 in the Palau Islands invasion and the destroyer-escort USS Rinehart in both the Atlantic and Pacific operations.
As World War II was winding down and Hayes' Alma mater, Denison University, was pursuing plans to reinstate its football program (which had been suspended during the war), it contacted former head coach Rogers (also in the Navy) about rejoining the program as head coach. Rogers declined, but recommended that his former team captain, Hayes, be named the next head coach. Denison was able to locate and cable Hayes an offer, which he accepted, minutes before his Navy ship was to begin the passage through the Panama Canal — meaning Hayes would have been unreachable for an extended period of time.
Upon returning to Denison in 1947, Hayes struggled during his first year, winning only two games, over Capital and the season finale against Wittenberg. However, that victory sparked a 19-game winning streak, a surge that propelled him into the head coaching position at Miami University. Miami is recognized as the "Cradle of Coaches", because of its history of outstanding coaches starting their careers there, such as Paul Brown, Ara Parseghian, Weeb Ewbank, Bill Mallory, Sid Gillman, Randy Walker, and Bo Schembechler. Gillman was Hayes' immediate predecessor at Miami before Gillman moved down the road to coach at the University of Cincinnati, which was then Miami's chief rival. Hayes and Gillman maintained a fierce rivalry between themselves, combining mutual distaste for the others coaching style and because they were in recruiting competition in the same general area.
In his second year with the Redskins, Hayes led the 1950 squad to an appearance in the Salad Bowl, where they defeated Arizona State University. That success led him to accept the Ohio State head coaching position on February 18, 1951, in a controversial decision after the university rejected the applications of other more well-known coaches, including former Buckeyes' head coach Paul Brown, incumbent Buckeye assistant Harry Strobel and Missouri head coach Don Faurot.
Hayes' basic coaching philosophy was that "nobody could win football games unless they regarded the game positively and would agree to pay the price that success demands of a team." His conservative style of football (especially on offense) was often described as "three yards and a cloud of dust"—in other words, a "crunching, frontal assault of muscle against muscle, bone upon bone, will against will." The basic, bread-and-butter play in Hayes' playbook was a fullback off-tackle run.
Despite this seeming willingness to avoid change, Hayes became one of the first major college head coaches to recruit African-American players, including Jim Parker, who played both offensive and defensive tackle on Hayes' first national championship team in 1954. While Hayes wasn't the first to recruit African-Americans at Ohio State, he was the first to recruit and start African-Americans in large numbers there and to hire African-American assistant coaches.
Another Hayes' recruit, Archie Griffin, remains the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in seven decades of selections. Altogether Hayes had 58 players earn All-America accolades under his tutelage, while many notable football coaches, such as Lou Holtz, Bill Arnsparger, Bill Mallory, Dick Crum, Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian and Woody's successor, Earle Bruce, served as his assistants at various times.
Hayes would often use illustrations from historical events to make a point in his coaching and teaching. When Hayes was first hired to be the head coach at OSU, he was also made a "full professor of physical education," having earned an M.A. degree in educational administration from Ohio State in 1948. The classes that he taught on campus were usually full, and he was called "Professor Hayes" by students. Hayes also taught mandatory English and vocabulary classes to his freshman football players. One of his students was a basketball player named Bobby Knight, who later became a legendary basketball coach.
During his time at Ohio State, Hayes' relationships with faculty members were particularly good. Even those members of the faculty who believed that the role of intercollegiate athletics was growing out of control respected Hayes personally for his commitment to academics, the standards of integrity with which he ran his program, and the genuine enthusiasm he brought to his hobby as an amateur historian. Hayes often ate lunch or dinner at the university's faculty club, interacting with professors and administrators.
As a coach and an educator, Hayes was one of the first to use the motion picture as a teaching and learning tool. He was also memorable in that he could be seen walking across campus, taking the time to visit with students. When talking to young people, Hayes treated all of them equally and with respect, without regard to race or economic class. This behavior by Hayes was helpful to Ohio State in quelling the violence and damage from anti-war demonstrations that Ohio State and other college campuses suffered in the late 1960s/early 1970s. He would actually take the time to communicate with student leaders. Then-team quarterback Rex Kern said: "Woody was out there on the Oval with the protesters, and he'd grab a bullhorn and tell the students to express their beliefs but not be destructive. He believed in Nixon, and he believed in the Establishment, but he wasn't afraid to talk to the students. He wanted to stay close to the action. Hayes was considered one of the few authority figures that students then had respect for. His enthusiasm for coaching and winning was such that many across the nation consider the following maxim to be true: "What Vince Lombardi was to professional football, Woody Hayes was to college football."
During his tenure at Ohio State, Hayes would joke that he considered himself to be Notre Dame's best recruiter because if he couldn't convince a recruit to come to Ohio State instead of Michigan he'd try to steer the recruit to Notre Dame, who Ohio State didn't play. While Hayes' public stance was that he refused to play Notre Dame because he was afraid of polarizing the Catholic population in Ohio, however, Notre Dame's long-time athletic director Edward "Moose" Krause said that Hayes had told him that Hayes liked having Michigan as the only tough game on the Ohio State schedule and that having the Buckeyes play Notre Dame would detract from that.Given Hayes' apparent fear of playing more than one "tough" game a year, Ohio State still managed to schedule regular-season games with Nebraska, Washington, Southern Cal, UCLA, and Oklahoma during his tenure.
Hayes' volatile temper was often on display during key games; a serious character flaw which often overshadowed his coaching ability. One acquaintance said of Hayes, "Woody's idea of sublimating is to hit someone." In 1956, Hayes attacked a television cameraman following a defeat to the University of Iowa, which was followed three years later by an incident in which he took a swing at Los Angeles Examiner sportswriter Al Bine, but missed and instead struck the brother of Pasadena Independent sports editor Bob Shafer. The scuffle followed a 17-0 loss to the University of Southern California.
Another loss to Iowa in the 1960s resulted in Hayes cutting his face with the large ring on his left hand. His rage with that team stemmed from his feud with Hawkeyes head coach and athletic director, Forest Evashevski. In a May 1965 meeting of Big Ten Conference athletic directors and coaches, Hayes nearly started a fight with Evashevski.
Hayes had also been seen on television on occasion striking himself in the head and biting his own hand in frustration.
In two instances against arch rival Michigan, both in Ann Arbor, his fury also got the best of him: in 1971, he ran onto the field and confronted referee Jerry Markbreit and tore up sideline markers, receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Hayes was furious over what he thought was a missed defensive pass interference foul committed by Thom Darden of Michigan. After getting the flag, Hayes began ripping up the yard markers and throwing the first-down marker into the ground like a javelin, prompting another unsportsmanlike conduct flag. Six years later, a late fumble caused him to charge an ABC television cameraman who recorded his frustration. The latter incident resulted in Hayes being put on probation by the Big Ten Conference.
In between those incidents, Hayes' ejection from two separate Rose Bowl appearances also created headlines. Prior to the 1973 contest, Hayes pushed a camera into the face of a news photographer, screaming, "That'll take care of you, you son of a bitch." Three years later, after UCLA had stunned the Buckeyes and cost them a national championship, Hayes refused to let anyone speak to the media following the game.
|Year||Team||Wins||Losses||Ties||Conf. finish||Bowl||Rank AP/UPI*||Notes|
|1949||Miami(OH)||5||4||0||4||Miami was the first D-1 school for which Woody coached|
|1950||Miami(OH)||9||1||0||1||W Salad Bowl|
|1951||Ohio State||4||3||2||5||When Woody was hired, not many in Columbus agreed with the decision|
|1954||Ohio State||10||0||0||1||W Rose Bowl||1/2||National Champions-AP|
|1955||Ohio State||7||2||0||1||5/6||Coached Howard Cassady to the Heisman Trophy|
|1957||Ohio State||9||1||0||1||W Rose Bowl||2/1||National Champions-UPI|
|1961||Ohio State||8||0||1||1||2/2||National Champions-Football Writers Association of America/OSU Faculty Board rejects Rose Bowl bid|
|1968||Ohio State||10||0||0||1||W Rose Bowl||1/1||National Champions-AP, UPI, FW & NF|
|1970||Ohio State||9||1||0||1||L. Rose Bowl||5/2||National Co-Champions (w/Texas)-National Football Foundation|
|1972||Ohio State||9||2||0||1||L. Rose Bowl||9/3|
|1973||Ohio State||10||0||1||1-T||W. Rose Bowl||2/3||Controversial Big Ten vote sends OSU to Rose Bowl|
|1974||Ohio State||10||2||0||1||L. Rose Bowl||4/3||Woody coached Archie Griffin to a Heisman Trophy|
|1975||Ohio State||11||1||0||1||L. Rose Bowl||4/4||Archie Griffin wins the Heisman for a second year, the first and only in NCAA history.|
|1976||Ohio State||9||2||1||1-T||W. Orange Bowl||6/5|
|1977||Ohio State||9||3||0||1-T||L. Sugar Bowl||11/12||Ohio State wins or shares a record six straight Big Ten Titles|
|1978||Ohio State||7||4||1||4||L. Gator Bowl||20/20||Woody's last year at OSU because of his actions in the Gator Bowl|
|30 Years (D1)||2 Schools||205||75||9||13 Big Ten titles, 1 MAC title||6-6||Five National Titles|
At Hayes' funeral on March 17, 1987, former President Richard Nixon delivered the eulogy before a crowd of 1,400 acknowledging the friendship that had begun during his second term as vice president. Having met Hayes at a reception following a Buckeye win over Iowa in 1957, Nixon recalled, "I wanted to talk about football and Woody wanted to talk about foreign policy. And you know Woody. We talked about foreign policy." The following day, more than 15,000 people took part in a memorial service at Ohio Stadium.
Hayes' commitment to academics at Ohio State was evidenced by his request that donations from his family, friends, and supporters be made to the academic side of the university. Following his death and in keeping with his wishes, the Wayne Woodrow Hayes Chair in National Security Studies was established at Ohio State's Mershon Center for International Security Studies. Professor John Mueller currently holds the chair. In November 1987, the university dedicated the new Woody Hayes Athletic Center in his memory. There is currently an effort by Ohio State students to build a statue of Woody Hayes on the campus of Ohio State to honor his achievements and commitment to Ohio State.
Hayes would also give historical perspectives related to each movie. Hayes' segments (depending upon the movie) were taped in such locations as Fort Knox, West Point, the USS Yorktown, and Stuttgart, Germany (where he interviewed Manfred Rommel the son of Erwin Rommel who himself became Lord Mayor of Stuttgart.)