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24 Club: Perry Hale, a winning coach that suffered OSU’s worst ever loss

This OSU coach couldn’t beat Michigan in the early years of the program. But he beat just about everyone else.

Perry Hale pictured in Makio 1901.

There have been 24 head coaches in the history of Ohio State football. Each has a story and legacy. This offseason, Land-Grant Holy Land’s new series 24 Club will help you get to know the coaches from past and present who built the program. Today we look at the coach who beat just about everyone except for Michigan — Perry Hale.

Name: Perry Hale
Seasons Coached: Two (1902-1903)
Overall Record: 14-5-2
Where Does He Rank in the 24 Club?
Overall Wins: Tied No. 16 out of 24 OSU Coaches
Winning Percentage: No. 11 out of 24 OSU Coaches

It’s not easy to take over after a great coach. Especially a program’s first great coach. But that was the task that fell to Perry Hale after coach John Eckstorm left Ohio State. Eckstorm inherited a losing OSU program in 1899 and over the course of three seasons racked up a 22-4-3 record. Eckstorm was the first OSU coach to finish with an undefeated season as well as play the mighty Michigan program to an even draw. In a shock to OSU officials, Eckstorm stepped away from the program at the end of the 1901 season after one of his players — John Sigrist — died from a freak game injury.

After Eckstorm stepped away, Ohio State brought in Perry Hale as head coach. Football fans around the country knew Hale. He was an All-American fullback and one of the best players at Yale, one of the nation’s best teams.

The January 22, 1902 edition of The Lantern welcomes Perry Hale as Ohio State’s new head football coach.

Hale’s task was to keep Ohio State’s momentum going as it moved from an independent into the newly formed Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC). As a charter member of the OAC, the Buckeyes would square off against the strongest teams around the state — Ohio Wesleyan, Oberlin, Kenyon, Western Reserve and Case.

Hale was up to the task. The Buckeyes went 6-2-2 in 1902 and finished 8-3 in 1903. The Buckeyes were rolling up wins against the best in Ohio, but a gap still remained between OSU and some of the nation’s best.

While Hale’s teams excelled, he’ll always be associated with one of the lowest moments in OSU history. His 1902 team stepped onto the field against Fielding Yost’s Michigan Wolverines and came away 86-0 losers. It remains OSU’s worst ever defeat. The October 29, 1902 edition of The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, took stock after the drubbing — accurately forecasting it as a low point of the program and the series:

“It was a very humble and chastened crowd which returned from Ann Arbor Saturday night...Ohio had expected to be beaten, but 86 to 0 was so far beyond the thought of the most pessimistic, that the 1800 loyal rooters were fairly shocked into dumbness. Never before did Ohio State have such a score run up against her, and she probably never will again.”

Hale finished with an 0-2 record against Michigan, losing 36-0 in 1903. Despite the losses to Michigan, Hale’s time at Ohio State was critical to the program’s modern day success. He guided OSU to winning records in its first seasons of conference play. Ohio State wasn’t quite ready to hang with some of the country’s best, but the Buckeyes had established themselves as one of Ohio’s most formidable sides.

OSU was on its way up.