Top 10: Best coaches elsewhere with OSU ties

On March 25, 2013 by Buckeye Empire


Top 10: Best coaches elsewhere with OSU ties

During my days at OSU as a young and eager Buckeye, I had the luck of getting into coach Tressel’s football class. While walking in one morning, I see Tressel, John Cooper and Earle Bruce all talking in the hallway. I’m already nervous walking by this triumvirate of greatness, and coach Cooper stops me as I stroll by. As it happens, being from Northwest Ohio, I am also a huge Chicago Bears fan due partly to their closeness in geography, partly to Mike Ditka, and partly to the superfan skits from Saturday Night Live lore.

Anyway, Cooper sees that I happen to be wearing a Chicago Bears sweatshirt. Immediately, and leaving a conversation with two men of that prowess, he comes over and asks me if I’ve ever met Lovie Smith. Now to most of us, that question is insane. Of course I had never met Lovie Smith. But, being that this man is a future College Football Hall of Famer, I calmly say no. Without missing a beat, Cooper looks straight at me and says to my surprise, “Well he’s a great guy. Matter of fact I got him his job at Arizona State and Ohio State. I just talked to him this morning.”

Looking back, there’s nothing really shocking about that statement from a man like Cooper, but at that moment I realized how incredible these guys’ Rolodexes really are. They talk to people every day that the rest of us groundlings want autographs from. That’s when it hit me, I wondered how many great coaches had actually started in some capacity at Ohio State and done really well elsewhere. Now, years later, I finally answer that question.

Let’s take a look at the top ten coaches elsewhere with OSU ties.


*Rick Barnes (Basketball)- The current head basketball at Texas was also an OSU assistant under Gary Williams. He’s reached the Final Four at a school and state infatuated with football, bringing along a kid you may have heard of by the name of Kevin Durant along the way.

*Dick Lebeau (Football)- The trend setting defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers is also a former player for the Buckeyes. Not only have his defenses been remarkably aggressive during his time, but he is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for contributions as a player and coach.

* Larry Coker (Football)- His footprint on college football would have been a lot bigger if it weren’t for a certain 14-0 team from Columbus in 2002. Yes a ton of the credit for his success can be credited to Butch Davis, but he did win a national title in 2001 after an undefeated season and a beat down of Nebraska. He coached under John Cooper for OSU in the mid 90s, and probably wishes he never had to see those Scarlet and Gray colors again in the second attempt at a national title.

*Won’t be long before Darrell Hazell’s name is on this list also. One of the best coaches in the country.


10. Lovie Smith (Football)- The aforementioned coach Smith had a great run in Chicago, and as a Bears fan I was extremely disappointed with Bears GM Phil Emery for letting him go. However, looking at the positive, Smith took the Monsters of the Midway to the Super Bowl once and to the NFC conference championship game twice. In a time where NFL head coaches last about as long as a firecracker, Smith lasted nine years at Soldier Field, easily one of the longer tenures with one team in the NFL. It’s unfortunate he didn’t get that ring, but what can you expect with Rex Grossman at the helm? With a record of 84-66, it won’t be long before he’s back in the headsets on the sideline.

9. Gary Williams (Basketball)- While the coach at Ohio State in the mid 80s, his record was mildly good, but he was successful enough to earn the head job at Maryland. While with the Terrapins, Williams went on to win a national title in 2002 and gather 461 wins. Altogether, he finished with 668 wins and won an impressive 63% of his games during his 33 years. Despite all of this, his biggest accomplishment may be the fact he didn’t have a nervous breakdown or heart attack on the sideline while he pulled a “Hulk” and yelled uncontrollably at everyone on the court.

8. Pete Carroll- (Football)- I have a real issue with spending this much energy even writing about Pete Carroll because of the fast one he pulled at USC. He completely bailed on them and skipped out on the punishments that were dealt out by the NCAA Infractions Committee. But, as far as coaching ability, he’s one of a kind. This free swinging style of coaching he’s trademarked has worked to the tune of two national titles at Sourthern Cal and a budding resurgence as an NFL coach with the Seahawks. Okay one of those titles was stripped, but we’ll move past that. Carroll was one of many big time assistants under Earle Bruce and coached at OSU in 1979. And I’ll just say it for all of us, thank you for not staying Pete.

7. Bo Schembechler (Football)- I won’t brag that our hated rivals’ most legendary figure was trained by us and our legendary figure. I won’t brag that it takes Ohio born coaches to make most programs relevant (see Alabama, LSU, TSUN, Oklahoma, Florida, Miami, etc). But, in all honesty, Bo did things the right way. He just did them at the wrong place. He did happen to win at a 77% clip, but his lack of a national title and struggles in major bowls (5-12) keeps him farther down the list than most dirty skunk fans would like. While unfortunately deciding to spend his time in a place Canada rejects, he still was a formidable opponent and was obviously one of the most influential coaches in his generation. A good guy at an evil place, you might say.

6. Tara VanDerveer (Basketball)- The legendary head coach of the Stanford Cardinal women’s basketball team was the head coach at OSU in the early to mid 1980s. In her career, she has earned over 800 wins, is closing in on 900, and has won two national titles along the way in Palo Alto. She’s won over 80% of her games, and she has been named the national coach of the year four times in her career. These stats are staggering to say the least, and coach VanDerveer showed her dedication to the sport by taking the year off in 1995 to coach the U.S. Olympic team. All in all, she’s been one of the best in her profession.

5. Lou Holtz (Football)- Motivational guru, Mark May’s antagonist, legendary coach, fluent speaker. Whatever his clownish antics may bring on College Gameday Final, he’s very loyal to his Ohio roots. He’s a real Daniel Kaffey in the fake, courtroom-style arguments they have on the show. He constantly defends OSU against Colonel Nathan R. Jessep himself (May) showing the pride he garnered from not only growing up in Ohio, but coaching as an assistant with Woody Hayes on the 1968 national championship team as well. Holtz did win the national title himself with the Irish in ’88, and continues to loom large over the Notre Dame football program and college football in general as a member of its Hall of Fame.

4. Urban Meyer (Football)- Well this is awkward. The same guy who is currently bringing OSU back from the depths of under .500 was also one of the biggest reasons that OSU couldn’t win a second national title under Jim Tressel. Not only did his Florida team leave Troy Smith and the Bucks in their wake back in ’06, he’s also the reason the SEC had to step up their game and start the dominant streak in football they’ve had of late. They had to stay up with Meyer. Thank the heavens that he is back with the good guys, and his first year couldn’t have gone better. He started as the mustached assassin as the GA at OSU in 1986 under his mentor Earle Bruce, and has amassed an 83% win rate as a head coach since. Two national titles later (hopefully more coming), he has the chance to surpass Saban soon as he is 13 years younger, and is on the right path at the right place to do so. Even before he does that, he’s obviously the jewel of this list for Buckeyes.

3. Nick Saban (Football)- Despite having the personality of Ebenezer Scrooge before Christmas Eve, Saban has established himself as the premier coach in college football lately. He’s also indoctrinated himself into the annuls of sports history through his red-faced hysterics on the sideline while winning by 50 plus points. Holding four national titles, and winning three of the last four in the hillbilly heaven that is Alabama football, he’s come a long way since his days as Kent State GA and later the OSU secondary coach in 1980-1981. He’s also further evidence of the fact that Earle Bruce really knew what he was doing when hiring assistant coaches.

2. Paul Brown (Football)- After winning at Massillon Washington high school, and winning a national title at OSU, Brown won four AAFC titles where his namesake team,  the Cleveland Browns, started. He also won three NFL titles with Cleveland, posting 167 wins for the team he created. Add in that he has the Bengals stadium and Massillon stadium named after him, I would say he was pretty successful. More than that, he revolutionized coaching in professional football with many innovations no person before had come up with.

1. Bobby Knight (Basketball)- Let’s be honest, no one is more of a polarizing figure in sports than coach Knight. The General is widely considered the meanest sweater wearing teacher this side of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. But during and after his time as an OSU basketball player he has been very vocal about his pride as a Buckeye. Despite being the chair-throwing, player-slapping, profanity-yelling coach of Bloomington, he’s also one of the most influential figures in the history of basketball. Grooming three national championship teams, posting 902 wins, and teaching the eventual overtaker of his wins record along the way has ingratiated ‘The General’ in the canon of sports as the second best coach in the history of college basketball next to John Wooden.