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On This Date in Sports December 29, 1978: Woody Hayes' punch out

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The career of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes comes to a sudden and shocking end as he punches Charlie Bauman of Clemson after he made a game-sealing interception in the Gator Bowl. The Buckeyes were down 17-15 with two minutes left when Bauman picked off Art Schlichter at the Tigers 24. Bauman was tackled out of bounds, with Hayes hitting him in the throat at the end of the play.

Born on February 14, 1913, in Clifton, Ohio, Wayne Woodrow Hayes became the Ohio State football team in 1951, after tenures at Denison and Miami-Ohio. The Buckeyes became one of the top programs in the nation under Hayes, with 13 Big Ten titles and five national championships in 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, and 1970. When former assistant Bo Schembechler became coach at rival Michigan, Hayes began what was known as the decade-long war. While a successful coach, Woody Hayes was often short-tempered and prone to outburst. His hatred of Michigan went deep as he called it the state up north or the school up north, refusing even to say Michigan. Woody Hayes once quoted saying, “If I ran out of gas, I would push my car to the state line, not give that a dime of my money.”

Woody Hayes, always known for his hot temper, began getting increasingly worse incidents in the latter stages of his career. In 1973 he was suspended for three games after shoving the camera in the face of a reporter at that year’s Rose Bowl. In 1977, during the late stages of loss to Michigan, Hayes tried to attack a cameraman for ABC, leading to an ejection and a fine from the Big Ten Conference.

In 1978, Ohio State compiled a record of 7-3-1, including a 14-3 loss to Michigan at the horseshoe in Columbus as they went into the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville with the #20 ranking. Clemson, meanwhile, had a great season, going 10-1 under new coach Danny Ford, who at the age of 30 became the youngest coach in the NCAA, replacing Charley Pell after he left for Florida. The Tigers were #7 entering the game.

After a scoreless first quarter, Ohio State opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal by Bob Atha. The Tigers answered with a 15-play, 80-yard drive capped by a four-yard run by quarterback Steve Fuller. The Buckeyes got the lead right back with a touchdown by Art Schlichter. Clemson would block the extra point and took a 10-9 lead at the end of the first half on a field goal by Obed Ariri. Clemson added to the lead with a one-yard run by Cliff Austin. Ohio State got back in the game in the fourth quarter with a one-yard run. However, on a game-tying two-point try, the Buckeyes quarterback was taken down by Jim Stuckey. With two minutes left, looking to take the lead, Ohio State drove down to the Clemson 24-yard line. On third down, Art Schlichter made his only mistake of the game as nose tackle Charlie Bauman picked off his pass. Bauman would return the ball and get tackled out of bounds landing near Woody Hayes. The Ohio State coach picked him up and hit him in the neck, touching off a brawl on the sidelines. Hayes was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on two straight plays as Clemson ran out the clock for a 17-15 win.

It would not take long for the video to get wide airplay as the replay showed the punch clearly, leading Ohio State to fire Woody Hayes the following day, ending his 28-year tenure, where he posted a record of 205-61-10.