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Football: What the current Big Ten coaches recall about Ohio Stadium

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Fireworks go off at Ohio Stadium as the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes run onto the field ahead of their 52-21 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 24. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

Nestled in each corner and row at Ohio Stadium remains a story created from the countless memories housed in one of college football’s most iconic stadiums.

The ‘Shoe.

Ohio State will spend Saturday’s game against Rutgers with the 100 Years of Ohio Stadium Celebration by looking back at the history made since its opening Oct. 7, 1922. Head coach Ryan Day cited two moments in which he holds near to him when inside the ‘Shoe.

“I’d say probably my two favorite things is listening to the crowd after a touchdown or listening to the crowd after a third down sack or stop,” Day said. “That’s when I think the stadium is at its loudest. When you look back on those times, it makes you smile.”

For the first time since 2018, Ohio State will host Michigan in the return of “The Game” at Ohio Stadium. Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh said the fact that they haven’t played in Columbus in four seasons won’t phase Michigan.

“They’re not going to flinch,” Harbaugh said. “There’s nothing really I got to teach them or show them or tell them. I know our team really well by now. They don’t blink. They don’t flinch at stuff. Just keep attacking and building.”

Come the 2024 season, the Big Ten will expand and add University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California to its conference, bringing new competition regularly into Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes have competed in prolific games in the ‘Shoe across nearly 10 decades. Day reminisced on Ohio State’s season opener in which he served as interim head coach in 2018 among others since he took over full time following that season.

“In a short period of time, have some great memories,” Day said. “Running out of the stadium the first time in that Oregon State game was kind of a surreal experience. The wins against the team up north were huge. Great memories of being in the stadium, hearing ‘Hang on Sloopy’ at the end of the third quarter. The band. Even pregame. Just the excitement of being in that stadium.”

Here is what each of the current Big Ten football head coaches recall about Ohio Stadium.

Bret Bielema – Illinois

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema played along the defensive line at Iowa from 1989-92. He said he remembered when the Hawkeyes defeated Ohio State Nov. 2, 1991.

On the University of Iowa’s campus one day prior, a shooting claimed the lives of six individuals. Bielema said then-Iowa head coach Hayden Fry and the Hawkeyes paid tribute to the victims when they played the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium.

“I don’t know if it was coach Fry, or somebody decided to take our decals off our helmet that day in honor of the people,” Bielema said. “We won that game, and there’s a picture of me with — I was the starting nose guard — and Mike Wells, who was a great player, and Ron Geater, and behind us is a row of the most disappointed Ohio State fans in the history of the stadium that I saw. I have that picture just because I know it’s out of respect.”

Tom Allen – Indiana

Ohio State and Indiana most recently played in the ‘Shoe during the pandemic-impacted season in 2020 during which games were held without fans.

Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen said Indiana “had a chance at the end to try to win that game,” and added there are still future memories “we’re trying to create” at Ohio Stadium.

“You just think tradition. You walk in there and you know all the greats that played there,” Allen said. “It’s one of the great stadiums in the whole country, so it’s pretty cool. Just got to find a way to beat them there.”

Kirk Ferentz – Iowa

Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz recalled several postseason matchups against Ohio State, but pointed to when Iowa defeated the Buckeyes in 1987.

“Chuck Hartlieb hit Marv Cook, and we hit one on a fourth and forever, and then coach [Earle] Bruce was dismissed I think shortly thereafter. It was kind of a miracle play,” Ferentz said. “But most of our games have been pretty good. Lost a tough overtime game in ‘09 for the Big Ten Championship that year. It’s a hard place.”

Michael Locksley – Maryland

During the 2007 season, the top-ranked and undefeated Buckeyes hosted unranked Illinois in Week 11.

The Fighting Illini, led by then-offensive coordinator and current Maryland head coach Michael Locksley, downed then-No. 1 Ohio State 28-21, snapping the Buckeyes’ winning streak of 28 regular-season contests and 20 Big Ten games.

“I was with a little, unranked team from Champaign, Illinois, and we came away with a big win,” Locksley said. “That’s what I like to remember because I’ve had a whole bunch of slaughterings in there. I’ve been on the other side, but I’m going to remember the positive things.”

Mel Tucker – Michigan State

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker served as Ohio State’s defensive backs coach from 2001-04. He was part of the Buckeyes’ 2002 national championship-winning team under former head coach Jim Tressel.

“I was there for four years, so I’ve got a lot of memories,” Tucker said. “We won a couple games while we were there as well. There was a lot of fond memories of Columbus.”

P.J. Fleck – Minnesota

Like Tucker, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck previously spent time on Ohio State’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant under Tressel in 2006.

Fleck said the 2006 matchup between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan, often labeled the ‘Game of the Century,’ brought back his memories in Ohio Stadium.

“We were both undefeated, ranked one and two, at the Horseshoe. I was a little old GA, so I didn’t really have a lot of responsibilities,” Fleck said. “That was one of the greatest experiences you could have because it was called ‘The Game’ for all the right reasons, and it was such a fantastic back-and-forth game.”

Jeff Brohm – Purdue

Purdue most recently defeated the Buckeyes in Columbus during the 1988 season, but it pulled away with wins at its own home stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana, on five instances since.

Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm said Ohio State has “tremendous fan support” in addition to its expectation to “go win the national championship” each season. Brohm offered insight into playing a team like Ohio State where expectations among the Buckeyes are high year in and year out.

“You know if you beat them, you’re going to have to just have everything go the right way, so it’s a lot of fun,” Brohm said. “It’s a lot of fun playing those games. You really have nothing to lose, so you just kind of throw some things out there and see how it goes.”

Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said he remembers when a running track lined the circumference of Ohio Stadium, which has been among the changes the ‘Shoe has seen over the years.

Fitzgerald said he’s been a part of Buckeye game days at the ‘Shoe as a fan and called it “the cathedral of college football.”

“I just think of the pageantry, the fans. It kind of reminds you still of, like, to watch Gladiator. Kind of one of those Roman colosseums-type feels as you pull up to it,” Fitzgerald said. “Not a great time to play because they’re outstanding, but it’s a great place to play.”

Greg Schiano – Rutgers

When the Buckeyes host the Scarlet Knights Saturday, former defensive coordinator Greg Schiano will return to the sidelines, this time on the opposite side of the field as head coach.

While he was at Ohio State from 2016-18, Schiano said he met people who left an impact on him and his coaching career, on and off the field.

“Lot of great coaches I worked with, lot of great players I got to coach. And I don’t just mean athletes, I mean people,” Schiano said. “I’d say probably the 2016 Ohio State-Michigan game was, that’s one for the ages.”

Paul Chryst – Wisconsin

The Badgers have visited Ohio Stadium two times since Paul Chryst took over as head coach in 2015, and the two teams have also met twice in Big Ten Championship games.

When competing at the ‘Shoe, Chryst said he’s “always grateful” for his players and team to experience a game day there.

“I think this is one of the things that’s cool about the Big Ten, is there’s a tradition there and there’s great players have played on that field or in that stadium,” Chryst said. “For them to experience other stadiums, it’s always good, and then it comes down to, ‘How’d you play?’ Our goal is to, every week, to play well.”

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