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Coaching The Game for the First Time

In honor of Jim Harbaugh's first meeting with Ohio State as Michigan's head coach, let's take a look back at how every head coach fared in The Game for the first time.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, I wrote an article titled the same as this one, save for "Last" instead of "First," since Brady Hoke's departure was imminent. 364 days and a Jim Harbaugh hire later, the situation in Ann Arbor looks more promising heading into the 112th iteration of The Game. Others have already pointed out how well Michigan head coaches of yore fared in their debut against the Buckeyes, but let's take a deeper dive into how coaches on both sides of this rivalry fared in their first time coaching The Game.

Coaches Who Never Coached in The Game


No coaches (1879-1890), Frank Crawford (1891), Frank E. Barbour (1892-93), William L. McCauley (1894-95), William D. Ward (1896)

Ohio State

Alexander Lilley (1890-91), Frederick Ryder (1892-95, 1898), Charles Hickey (1896)

Note: * indicates that the Michigan-Ohio State game wasn't played on the last game of the season

Gustave Ferbert (UM 1897-99), David Edwards (OSU 1897)

Michigan 34, Ohio State 0 (Oct. 16, 1897, Ann Arbor, MI)*

It's safe to say Ferbert and Edwards had no idea they were coaching the first contest in what would become one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. The Wolverines dominated from the start, scoring all 34 points in the 20-minute first half. The second half saw Michigan play "for the most part a kicking game, putting Ohio on the offensive." But the Buckeyes failed to move the ball against a stout Wolverines defense. It was noted in reports from both sides that the game was free from any wrongdoing: from UM, "The entire team played gentlemanly and not a single wrangle arose to mar the game," and from OSU, "The game was hard fought from start to finish and entirely free from slugging and objectionable features." This appears to be notable since the Wolverines had faced Ohio Wesleyan a week prior in a game that feature much "slugging" from the Ann Arbor visitors.

Following the first meeting between Michigan and Ohio State, Ferbert coached the Wolverines for two more seasons, including a 10-0 finish in 1898 and their first conference title. He left after the 1899 to prospect for gold in Alaska, where he either scored "a $1,000,000 touchdown" or struggled and became a recluse in the process (I recommend the article in the second link, interesting stuff). Regardless of how he fared post-Michigan football, he'll be remembered forever as the first coach to beat Ohio State.

Sources: Bentley Historical LibraryOhio State Libraries

Langdon Lea (UM 1900), John Eckstorm (OSU 1899-1901)

Michigan 0, Ohio State 0 (Nov. 24, 1900, Ann Arbor, MI)*

Thank the football gods that ties are no longer possible. Lea struggled in the final two games of his lone year in Ann Arbor, tying the Buckeyes and falling to the then-rival Chicago Maroons. He'd leave to return to his alma mater, Princeton, where he coached for a single season.

Fielding Yost (UM 1901-23, 1925-26)

Michigan 21, Ohio State 0 (Nov. 9, 1901, Columbus, OH)*

In the third UM-OSU game and first on Ohio soil, Yost led the Wolverines to a shutout victory in his inaugural season. The Wolverines outscored their opponents 550-0 in 1901 - the first of many "Point-a-Minute" squads under Yost - but struggled to their lowest point total of the year against the Buckeyes. He'd make up for it by beating Ohio State 86-0 - the biggest win in rivalry history - in 1902. Nonetheless, the dominating 1901 Wolverines team introduced one of the most iconic figures in Michigan sports history. During his time in Ann Arbor, Yost redefined the game of football and helped shape Michigan athletics as we know it today. He led the Wolverines to a 14-0 victory against the Buckeyes in 1918, the first time The Game was played on the final week of the season. And after returning to coach the Wolverines for two years in 1925, he retired to be Michigan's athletic director until 1940. As for Eckstorm, he left Ohio State following the 1901 season. This was likely due to the emotional toll of coaching the final four games of the year after the death of senior captain John Sigrist due to injuries suffered against Case Western.

Perry Hale (OSU 1902-03)

Michigan 86, Ohio State 0 (Oct. 25, 1902, Ann Arbor, MI)*

In his two years at Ohio State, Hale's teams failed to score a single point against the Wolverines, getting steamrolled by a combined score of 122-0. From an Ohio State writeup after the 1902 game:

Never before did Ohio State have such a score run up against her, and she probably never will again. Few people who saw the game are willing to admit that there will ever again be such a team as the Wolverines. Anything nearer perfect in the way of a football team could hardly be imagined. The Buckeyes were clearly and undeniably outclassed.

Yet this one word, outclassed, will not explain why the Wolverines were able to make runs of from ten to seventy yards, almost at will, until they had piled up fifteen touchdowns on a team which was, and still is, one of the strongest candidates for the championship of Ohio. The Ohioans seemed paralyzed by the very reputation of their opponents...

Hale departed Ohio State after back-to-back second place finishes in the Ohio Athletic Conference.

Edwin Sweetland (OSU 1904-05)

Michigan 31, Ohio State 6 (Oct. 15, 1904, Columbus, OH)*

Like Hale, Sweetland struggled against the unstoppable force that Yost fielded in early 1900s and left Ohio State after only two seasons. However, he succeeded in scoring six points in 1904, the first by any Buckeyes team against Michigan.

Albert Hernstein (OSU 1906-09)

Michigan 6, Ohio State 0 (Oct. 20, 1906, Columbus, OH)*

Hernstein played for Michigan from 1899-1902 before a couple of coaching stops prior to Ohio State. He never topped his alma mater, falling in all four meetings. Unlike those before him, he kept the final score closer but couldn't find a way to win as a 10-6 loss in 1908 marked his best effort. In 1906, the Wolverines and Buckeyes battled back and forth, resulting in a 0-0 score with four minutes remaining. But Michigan added a field goal - worth four points - and a safety  to top Ohio State. Hernstein left in 1909 as the Buckeyes winningest coach to that point in history with 28 career victories.

Howard Jones, Harry Vaughn, John Richards (OSU 1910, '11, '12, respectively)

Michigan 3, Ohio State 3 (Oct. 22, 1910, Columbus, OH)*

Michigan 19, Ohio State 0 (Oct. 21, 1911, Ann Arbor, MI)*

Michigan 14, Ohio State 0 (Oct. 19, 1912, Columbus, OH)*

Under Jones, the Buckeyes tied Michigan for the second time in twelve meetings as both teams traded field goals in the second quarter. Ohio State celebrated the tie as a positive after nine consecutive losses to the Wolverines. Jones left to enter the private business world after the 1910 season.

With Vaughn replacing Jones, the Buckeyes lost any momentum gained with the 1910 tie, falling by a score of 19-0 in 1911. Michigan outpaced Ohio State and scored points in the final three quarters for the win. Like Jones, Vaughn entered into private business after his single year in Columbus.

Richards took over for Vaughn and proceeded to be shutout by the Wolverines as well. Michigan tallied touchdowns in the first and final quarters, and Ohio State failed to create any offense. The 1912 game also marked the start of a hiatus between both schools as the Buckeyes joined the Western Conference in 1913, while the Wolverines remained independent. Richards left Ohio State for reasons unknown, especially since he led them to their second Ohio Athletic Conference title.

John Wilce (OSU 1913-28)

Michigan 14, Ohio State 0 (Nov. 30, 1918, Columbus, OH)

Due to the aforementioned hiatus between both schools, Wilce had five years to build up Ohio State's program before facing Yost in 1918. However, it didn't lead to the Buckeyes first victory in the rivalry. Weather marred this contest, leading to a 0-0 score heading into the fourth quarter. Michigan tacked on two touchdowns to close out the game and hand Wilce a loss in his first game in the rivalry. Though he'd bounce the Buckeyes back the following year, leading them to their first victory over Michigan and a three-game winning streak from 1919-21. He coached Ohio State for 16 seasons, surpassed only by the legendary Woody Hayes in tenure.

George Little (UM 1924)

Michigan 16, Ohio State 6 (Nov. 15, 1924, Columbus, OH)*

Little served as an assistant under Yost for the '22 and '23 seasons before leading the Wolverines for a single year. Against Ohio State, Michigan fell behind 6-0 before storming back and taking the game. Little left to become both head coach and athletic director at Wisconsin, leading to Yost's return in '25 and '26.

Elton Wieman (UM 1927-28)

Michigan 21, Ohio State 0 (Oct. 22, 1927, Ann Arbor, MI)*

After a scoreless first quarter, Wieman's Michigan team scored a touchdown per quarter to end The Game in '27. All three scores came on passes from end Bennie Oosterbaan to halfback Louis Gilbert, with Gilbert kicking the extra points. The Wolverines fell apart under Wieman in '28, struggling to a 3-4-1 record and reports that the relationship between Wieman and Yost had disintegrated. While this was denied publicly, Wieman was relieved of his head coaching responsibilities after his second season.

Harry Kipke (UM 1929-37), Sam Willaman (OSU 1929-33)

Michigan 0, Ohio State 7 (Oct. 19, 1929, Ann Arbor, MI)*

With Wieman and Wilce out at Michigan and Ohio State, respectively, Kipke and Willaman took over and both coached their teams to mediocre campaigns in 1929. The Buckeyes edged the Wolverines by a lone touchdown to give Ohio State back-to-back wins in '28 and '29. Willaman and Kipke faced off four more times, with Michigan taking three, before the Ohio State coach resigned amid accusations of underperformance. As for Kipke, he built the Wolverines into a national powerhouse again, winning back-to-back national championships in '33 and '34, the first for Michigan since Yost won six. However, his teams fell off in his final four years, including two 1-7 finishes, and he struggled against Ohio State, losing his last four meetings to give him a 3-6 record against the Buckeyes. This led to his contract not being renewed following the '37 season. It should be noted that the tradition of ending the season with The Game started during Kipke's tenure, with the first occurrence coming in a 38-0 Michigan loss in '35 (exceptions to this include '42, '86, and '98).

Francis Schmidt (OSU 1934-40)

Michigan 0, Ohio State 34 (Nov. 17, 1934, Columbus, OH)*

Schmidt kicked off a four-game Ohio State winning streak against Michigan with a 34-0 blowout in 1934. During the streak, the Buckeyes dominated the Wolverines, beating them by a combined score of 114-0. However, the roles reversed in 1938 with Michigan's hiring of Fritz Crisler, and Schmidt left Ohio State losing three straight against the Wolverines by a combined score of 79-0.

Fritz Crisler (UM 1938-47)

Michigan 18, Ohio State 0 (Nov. 19, 1938, Columbus, OH)

As mentioned above, Crisler turned the rivalry around and back in Michigan's favor in 1938. He coached the Wolverines to their first points over the Buckeyes since 1933 and rarely lost to Ohio State, compiling a 6-2-1 record in the series that included a 21-0 upset by an unranked Michigan team over #6 Ohio State in '39. He spent his first eight years in Ann Arbor falling just short of national glory before winning a national championship in his final season.

Paul Brown, Carroll Widdoes, Paul Bixler, Wes Fesler (OSU 1941-43, 1944-45, 1946, 1947-50, respectively)

Michigan 20, Ohio State 20 (Nov. 22, 1941, Ann Arbor, MI)

Michigan 14, Ohio State 18 (Nov. 25, 1944, Columbus, OH)

Michigan 58, Ohio State 6 (Nov. 23, 1946, Columbus, OH)

Michigan 21, Ohio State 0 (Nov. 22, 1947, Ann Arbor, MI)

Ohio State ran through four coaches in a decade before hiring their greatest coach of all-time, Woody Hayes. Brown led the Buckeyes to a tie in his first year, the first in the rivalry since 1910. He'd tally a win and a loss in the series before leaving to join the Navy. Widdoes was an assistant under Brown and took over following his departure. He won his first game - a showdown between undefeated #3 OSU and one-loss #6 UM - before losing his second and leaving to be the head coach at Ohio University. He named his offensive coordinator, Paul Bixler, head coach, and Bixler's Buckeyes were annihilated by the Wolverines, failing to score any points until the final minute of the contest. Like Widdoes, Bixler left Ohio State to coach elsewhere - Colgate - and Fesler became the final coach in Columbus before Woody. His teams failed to score more than a touchdown in four tries against Michigan - although the Buckeyes tied the Wolverines at 7 in '49 - and lost his first game in the rivalry, 21-0. That victory helped propel the Wolverines to a national championship and caused Crisler to walk off the field with "tears of joy" in his eyes.

Bennie Oosterbaan (UM 1948-58)

Michigan 13, Ohio State 3 (Nov. 20, 1948, Columbus, OH)

Oosterbaan took over for Crisler and led the Wolverines to their second national championship in as many years. Since Michigan couldn't represent the conference in the Rose Bowl due to rules prohibiting any team from playing in the game more than once per three years, the Wolverines concluded their '48 campaign in Columbus. The Buckeyes suffocated Michigan's rushing attack, holding them to a mere 54 yards on the ground, but the Wolverines found enough success through the air to win. Like Kipke, Oosterbaan's tenure in Ann Arbor started strong and fell off late. He went 5-5-1 against the Buckeyes, including a victory in the 1950 Snow Bowl. After a 20-14 loss to Ohio State in '58, he resigned as Michigan's head coach.

Woody Hayes (1951-78)

Michigan 7, Ohio State 0 (Nov. 24, 1951, Ann Arbor, MI)

The legacy of Woody Hayes goes without saying. He's the most successful coach in Buckeyes history, and the battles between Bo and Woody shaped this rivalry into what it is today. While he narrowly dropped his first contest against Michigan, that wasn't the norm as he accumulated a 16-11-1 record against the Wolverines, tying him with Yost for most wins by a coach for either team in the series. However, it should be noted that 12 of those wins came before Bo took over in Ann Arbor.

Bump Elliott (UM 1959-68)

Michigan 23, Ohio State 14 (Nov. 21, 1959, Ann Arbor, MI)

Elliott struggled to find consistent success as Michigan's head coach, coaching as many winning seasons as losing (five each). The Wolverines victory over the Buckeyes in 1959 marked just one of three in the rivalry under Elliott, and the only win for Michigan at home. Elliott resigned after a 50-14 rout by the Buckeyes in '68, the game after which Woody exclaimed his famous, "Because we couldn't go for three!" quote.

Bo Schembechler (1969-89)

Michigan 24, Ohio State 12 (Nov. 22, 1969, Ann Arbor, MI)

Bo needs no introduction, and this game probably doesn't either. Ohio State entered this game as reigning national champs, undefeated, and ranked #1. Michigan was no slouch, ranked #12 at 7-2, but the Buckeyes were expected to win this one. However, the Wolverines came out on top, and the massive upset changed the course of this rivalry in the process. In the game, Ohio State scored first, but missed the extra point, giving them a 6-0 lead. Michigan responded with a touchdown and successful conversion to carry a 7-6 advantage into the second quarter. The Buckeyes scored next and failed a two-point conversion attempt, giving them a 12-7 lead. From there, it was all Wolverines as they scored 17 unanswered points heading into halftime. Neither team scored in the second half, and the win kicked off the Ten Year War, which Bo won with a 5-4-1 record.

Earle Bruce (OSU 1979-87)

Michigan 15, Ohio State 18 (Nov. 17, 1979, Ann Arbor, MI)

Bruce gave Bo a taste of his own medicine by beating the Wolverines in his rivalry debut. It was Ohio State's first win in the rivalry since 1975 and ended a 15-quarter touchdown drought against the Wolverines. Although he amassed a 5-4 record in The Game, he failed to reach the same heights as Woody. This led to him knowing he was fired heading into the '87 Michigan game, which he won 23-20.

John Cooper (OSU 1988-2000)

Michigan 34, Ohio State 31 (Nov. 19, 1988, Columbus, OH)

Michigan fans probably miss the Cooper years as he struggled miserably in The Game. Over his 13 seasons as Ohio State's head coach, the Buckeyes went 2-10-1 in the series, including back-to-back losses with an undefeated season on the line in '95 and '96. In his debut, Cooper led the Buckeyes back from a 20-0 deficit by scoring on all but one of their second half possessions. However, John Kolesar returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards into Ohio State territory, and after an incompletion, grabbed a 41-yard touchdown reception to give Michigan the win. Cooper was eventually fired after years of falling short.

Gary Moeller (UM 1990-94)

Michigan 16, Ohio State 13 (Nov. 24, 1990, Columbus, OH)

Moeller won his first meeting with Ohio State due to a questionable coaching decision by Cooper. With 1:47 remaining, The Game was tied at 13, and the Buckeyes faced a 4th-and-1 on their own 29-yard line. Cooper decided to go for it, and the Wolverines stuffed the Buckeyes attempt. Michigan would go on to kick the game-winning, 37-yard field goal as time expired. In his five years in Ann Arbor, Moeller performed well in The Game, tallying a 3-1-1 record that included the monumental 28-0 upset over undefeated #5 Ohio State in '93. Unfortunately, Moeller lost his final meeting against the Buckeyes and resigned the following May in response to a drunken arrest.

Lloyd Carr (UM 1995-2007)

Michigan 31, Ohio State 23 (Nov. 25, 1995, Ann Arbor, MI)

Carr coached the Wolverines to an upset victory in '95, ruining Ohio State's undefeated season. Tim Biakabutuka shredded the Buckeyes defense for 313 rushing yards and a two-yard touchdown that put Michigan ahead by 16 points midway through the fourth quarter. However, Carr struggled after Tressel took over for Cooper and retired with a 6-7 record in the rivalry.

Jim Tressel (OSU 2001-10)

Michigan 20, Ohio State 26 (Nov. 24, 2001, Ann Arbor, MI)

Aside from the forfeited 2010 game, Tressel only lost once against the Wolverines during his tenure in Columbus. His first game watched the unranked Buckeyes upset the #11 Wolverines, ending a 14-year losing streak for Ohio State in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes carried a 23-0 lead into halftime, and a late surge by Michigan fell short. He left Ohio State amid NCAA violations but with a six-game winning streak in The Game.

Rich Rodriguez (UM 2008-10)

Michigan 7, Ohio State 42 (Nov. 22, 2008, Columbus, OH)

RichRod never beat Ohio and was booed out of town. The 105th iteration of The Game watched the Wolverines keep the game close in the first half with the Buckeyes entering halftime up 14-7. However, after the break, Ohio State curb stomped Michigan, scoring two touchdowns per quarter en route to a commanding victory.

Brady Hoke (UM 2011-14), Luke Fickell (OSU 2011)

Michigan 40, Ohio State 34 (Nov. 26, 2011, Ann Arbor, MI)

If not for Fickell being a miserable stopgap in Columbus, there's a decent chance Michigan would still be looking for its first win in The Game since 2003 heading into tomorrow. The 2011 shootout featured a battle between Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller, and Shoelace came out on top. Denard threw for 167 yards and three touchdowns while adding 170 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to account for the majority of Michigan's offense. Miller countered with 235 yards passing and one touchdown with 100 yards rushing and another touchdown, but an interception on Ohio State's final drive ended The Game. Two days after Michigan's victory, Urban Meyer had replaced Fickell in Columbus, and Hoke came close, but never beat the Buckeyes again.

Urban Meyer (OSU 2012-present)

Michigan 21, Ohio State 26 (Nov. 24, 2012, Columbus, OH)

Meyer kicked off another Ohio State win streak in The Game in his first year, kicking two field goals in the second half to edge Michigan in a close contest. The Wolverines offense failed to find much success with Devin Gardner at quarterback and Shoelace in the backfield, leading to no points in the final two quarters. Meyer will face a revived Michigan team this year under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and given the fact that Hoke kept The Game close for the last three years, anticipate another nail-biter on Saturday, if not the first Michigan win in three years.


Saturday will add Jim Harbaugh to this list, and based on history, the odds are in his favor to win since Michigan head coaches have gone 11-2-1 in their first game against Ohio State. With Harbaugh and Meyer mirroring Bo and Woody, The Game should be revitalized for years to come. A Wolverines win on Saturday would be a fine way to kick off another Ten Year War. Go Blue!