Ohio State’s All-Time Winning Coaches: The Top 10

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Ohio State ranks among the best programs in college football history, with a level of consistency unmatched by any other school. Not since 1922-24 have the Buckeyes lost in a row.

One of the main reasons for OSU’s continued success is its long list of ultra-successful coaches. Each coach of Woody Hayes at Jim Tressel was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Urban Meyer’s Three National Championshipstwo in Florida and one in Ohio State, making him a near-lock when he becomes eligible. Current Coach Ryan Day’s The 33-4 record puts him on pace to join the club, although that’s likely a long way off for the 43-year-old.

Here is a list of the most successful coaches in Buckeye history:

1. Woody Hayes (1951-78, 205 wins)

To this day, Woody Hayes remains the standard by which all Ohio State coaches are measured. His wins are nearly double the total of any other OSU coach. Hayes’ teams have won 13 Big Ten titles and were the consensus national champions of 1954 and 1968 at that time in the polls. Hayes, whose hiring from the University of Miami was not universally applauded, was a character and often caricatured. His critics have denounced his conservative coaching philosophy and tantrums. But his players revered him, knowing he cared deeply about preparing them for life and success after football. If the state of Ohio had a Mount Rushmore, he is the first to climb it.

2. John Cooper (1988-2000, 111 wins)

*** NOTE: THIS PHOTO ALSO HAS RAN 11/18/97 (1D) and 1/10/97, PG.  6, SPECIAL ROSE BOWL MEMORIAL SECTION.  *** Ohio State coach John Cooper celebrates after his team scored their first touchdown against Arizona State in the 83rd Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Wednesday, 1 January 1997. (AP Photo/Michael Caulfield)

Yes, we know his dismal record against Michigan (2-10-1) and in bowl games (3-8). But John Cooper racked up a lot of wins in Columbus. Ohio State hired Cooper from Arizona State, and after a lackluster first season, the Buckeyes were consistently at or near the top in the polls. He built on what Earle Bruce had done to modernize the Ohio State offense. Cooper recruited and coached Buckeye’s all-time players Eddie George, Orlando Pace and Terry Glenn, among many others.

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3. Jim Tressel (2001-10, 94 wins)

Coach Jim Tressel holds the National Championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami in Tempe, Arizona January 3, 2003. Ben Hartsock, who played on that team, said this season, the Buckeyes were a good example of how adversity galvanized a team.?  Paul Sakuma/AP Coach Jim Tressel holds the national championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami in Tempe, Arizona on January 3, 2003. Ben Hartsock, who played on that team, said that this season's Buckeyes had been

After the failures against Michigan under his predecessor, Tressel’s embrace of this rivalry made him a fan favorite from the start. His dominance over the Wolverines earned him the status of one of the best coaches in Buckeye history. Some derided “Tressel-ball,” emphasizing on-court position and kicking play, but the results spoke for themselves. He took Ohio State to three national championship games, winning the first of a major upset against Miami in one of college football‘s all-time classics. It looked like Tressel would coach at Ohio State for as long as he wanted. Then came the tattoo and memorabilia scandal that cost him his job.

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4. Urban Meyer (2012-18, 82 wins)

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer watches his team during a punt return against the Northwestern Wildcats during the 2nd quarter of the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, Indiana on December 1, 2018 .  [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Meyer was the first coach at Ohio State that was already as big as the program when he arrived. The Ashtabula native coached Utah to an undefeated season and won two national titles in Florida, one in a stunning rout of Ohio State. After a year without practice, a refreshed Meyer led the Buckeyes to wins in their first 24 games. In 2014, he led Ohio State to an unlikely national championship in the first college football playoffs despite losing two quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. Meyer brought OSU back to CFP in 2016 before retiring after the 2018 season, which ended with a Rose Bowl victory.

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5. Earle Bruce (1979-87, 81 wins)

Oct. 13, 1984 - File black and white photo - Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce offers advice to Buckeye star Keith Byars during the second quarter of Saturday's game against Illinois.  (Columbus Dispatch Photo by Craig Holman) *** Used in newspaper October 14, 1984. *** Ohio State football coach of osu

It’s a thankless job following a legend, but Earle Bruce was the right man for the time being. Bruce was a Hayes protege and similar in philosophy. He was equally passionate, but not prone to his mentor’s outbursts. Bruce’s first team was his best. Not much was expected of the 1979 team, but they went undefeated in the regular season before being choked out by USC in the Rose Bowl to deny the Buckeyes a national championship. Six straight 9-3 seasons followed, which would be considered a success in most places other than Ohio State. After he was fired the week before the Michigan game in 1987, Bruce’s team rallied around him and pulled off a superb upset. Bruce’s enduring image as an OSU coach is of him wearing a fedora as players wore it off the field.

6. John Wilce (1913-28, 78 wins)

The longest-serving coach other than Hayes, Wilce led the Buckeye program to the fore. He coached Ohio State to its first three conference titles and its first win over Michigan in 16 tries. It happened in 1919 thanks to the heroism of the school’s first real star, Chic Harley. The following season, Ohio State went to the Rose Bowl for the first time. Wilce, who earned his medical degree in 1919, left his coaching job nine years later to focus on his medical practice.

7. Francis Schmidt (1934-40, 39 wins)

Francis Schmidt was known for his innovative – and often unusual – offensive schemes as Buckeyes coach from 1934 to 1940. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Schmidt propelled Ohio State into the modern era of college football. His teams presented an innovative attack with plenty of razzle-dazzle. Schmidt won two Big Ten titles. He might be most famous for his quirky personality and elevation of the Michigan rivalry. Ohio State’s tradition of giving the team trinkets of gold pants after wins over the Wolverines began after it said Michigan players put their pants on one leg at a time , as is that of the State of Ohio.

8. Ryan Day (2019-current, 33 wins)

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day prepares to lead his team onto the field during the NCAA football game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. on Sunday, October 24, 2021 Ohio State won 54-7.  Ohio State Buckeyes at Indiana Hoosiers

Day had never been a head coach before coming to Columbus as quarterbacks coach and offensive co-coordinator. But he impressed Urban Meyer and others so much that when Meyer was suspended for three games in 2018, athletic director Gene Smith bypassed former head coaches Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson to name Day’s interim coach. The Buckeyes won those three games, and Smith hired Day to replace Meyer at the end of the season. Day’s teams have only lost four games. His 2019 team ranked among the most dominant in school history until his CFP semi-final loss to Clemson. The 2020 Buckeyes weathered COVID-19 to reach the national title game. With recruiting and development remaining at a high level, it seems like a matter of time before Ohio State under Day takes it all.

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9. Albert Herrnstein (1906-09, 28 wins)

Herrnstein was the most successful of Ohio State’s early coaches, none of whom lasted too long. Herrnstein was a star player at Michigan under Fielding Yost. Ohio State hired him in 1906 and he led the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record, their best season yet. The only loss came at Michigan, and his Buckeyes were 0-4 against his alma mater. For most of the rest of his life, Herrnstein ran a hardware store in Chillicothe.

10. Sam Willaman (1929-33, 26 wins)

Ohio State didn't do their best in 1931 against Minnesota, and coach Sam Willaman (middle) was criticized by the press for it.

Willaman was a star guard at Ohio State in 1911 and 13. Hired by John Wilce in 1926 to be assistant coach and eventual successor, Willaman took over in 1929. His last team was his best. OSU went 7-1 in 1933, beat opponents 161-26 and shut out five of them. The Buckeyes’ only loss was a 13-0 loss to undefeated Michigan. But the loss was his third in five games against the Wolverines, and Willaman resigned under pressure after the season to coach at Western Reserve University in Cleveland. His career and life were cut short when he died following emergency bowel surgery in 1935 at the age of 45.

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @brdispatch.

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