Successful College Football Coaches from Ohio Reflect State's Culture
The Southeastern Conference has dominated the National Championship game the past two years and some of its fans might argue in favor of the conference's supremacy. But this year's match up, like last year, features two Ohioans leading the way. University of Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer is from Ashtabula. He will take on Youngstown native Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners on Thursday.
Recently named Toledo head coach Tim Beckman says Ohio's football tradition and work ethic stems from great coaching at the high school level.
"It seems to be a big fraternity of Ohio-based coaches," Beckman said. "With the nature of the players in Ohio and football in Ohio, it's kind of the thing in the state of Ohio. I'm proud to be from Ohio and I'm proud to be from a great tradition of high school football."
Beckman, who went to high school in Berea, coached under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green State University. He says Meyer was competitive especially during practice. He recalls a practice scrimmage.
"The coaches were standing there watching and he made the coaches run too because they lost too," Beckman said. "I grabbed the defense and we all got around and I said, Don't you ever make me run up that hill.'"
Beckman says he still maintains close relationships with Meyer and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel who he also worked for, evidence of an established brotherhood.
At a recent press conference, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops reflected on his close ties to the Florida coaching staff.
"The good thing is, and I've said this before is that if you were playing your brother or someone you knew really well in this situation, the positive is one of you has to win," Stoops said. "So to me it's when you're playing them when there's nothing other than a loss on the line. To me there doesn't seem much purpose in it."
The Oklahoma coach is part of a more recent talent pool, but Ohio has a rich history of generating talent. During the 50's a few football coaching legends made a pit stop in Oxford at Miami University. Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian, Michigan's Bo Schembechler and Ohio State's Woody Hayes all spent time there. The same can be said of Ohio State in recent years. University of Southern California's, Pete Carroll, Miami's Larry Coker, Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Alabama's Nick Saban all had a stint in Columbus. During the last 10 seasons, 14 of the 20 head coaches appearing in the National Championship game had connections to Ohio. Nine of them are Ohio natives, all from Northern Ohio.
Cleveland native Christopher Butler says that's not a statistical abnormality.
"I really think growing up in Ohio sort of affords you this sort of lifelong exposure combined with this historical precedence for the importance of football," Butler said.
Butler is an English professor at The University of Minnesota Morris. He spent a season following high school teams and exploring the football culture throughout the state. He wrote a book about the experience titled "Across Many Fields."
"It as much about being a fan as it is about saying this is how I choose to support my community," Butler said. " Cause when you're in high school, the paperboy might be the lineman and your next door neighbor might be the quarterback and on defense you might see someone who is your cousin or your nephew."
A couple of weeks before last year's National Championship against Elyria native Les Miles, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel addressed Ohio's football prominence. He traced the phenomenon back to Cleveland Browns namesake Paul Brown.
"Culturally Ohio is very interested in football," Tressel said. "Paul Brown, who I think is one of the giants of the game of football and one of the giants of making Ohio State what it is today, was one of the first coaches that had a playbook and studied film."
The list of coaches with Ohio connections goes on. Whether it's the history, work ethic or sense of community, football is deeply integrated into the states culture. Part of the evidence is in this year's Bowl Championship series. Five of the ten coaches have strong ties to the Buckeye state and two Ohio teams are represented, Cincinnati and Ohio State.