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24 Club: John Richards went from revered OSU coach to a hated foe

Richards quit after a year as head coach of the Buckeyes, and year’s later threatened to resign as Wisconsin’s head coach if OSU was ever scheduled.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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 11th head coach in OSU football history, John Richards, who wound up as one of the most despised opposing coaches in the early days of the program.

Name: John Richards
Seasons Coached: One (1912)
Overall Record: 6-3

Where Does He Rank in the 24 Club?
Overall Wins: Tied No. 18 out of 24 OSU Coaches
Winning Percentage: No. 16 out of 24 OSU Coaches

It was 1912 and Ohio State was looking for coaching stability. OSU was on its third coaching search in three years. Coach Howard Jones left after a single season in 1910, and coach Harry Vaughan quit to go to law school after 1911. Despite the volatility in the coaching ranks, OSU was winning, and the Buckeyes were also rising up the conference ranks.

Ohio State had been a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, which featured the best teams in the state of Ohio. After a series of moves, OSU successfully was approved to be the newest member of the powerful Western Conference, the forerunner of today’s Big Ten. The Western Conference would welcome the Buckeyes into their ranks starting in 1913. That left OSU with one year to prepare. The 1912 season would be that final tune-up season before the Buckeyes made the jump to join the Western Conference.

Ohio State hired one of the nation’s top coaches to lead the program — John Richards. Richards coached the Wisconsin Badgers to a 5-1-1 mark the previous season. He also played college football for the Badgers, and was twice named captain. When Colliers — a leading national magazine — named it’s top head football coaches in America based on the job they did the previous year, Amos Alonzo Stagg was number one and John Richards was number two. Richards had proven he could win in the Western Conference, and looked to be just the coach the Buckeyes needed.

Richards’ 1912 Ohio State team finished with a 6-3 mark and the program’s second Ohio Athletic Conference championship. But Richards shocked Ohio State — he quit after a single season to pursue a job opportunity in Chicago outside the coaching ranks. OSU was stunned. They had turned to Richard’s to guide them into play in the Western Conference, and now — just as with the two coaches that proceeded him — he had left after a single season at the helm.

But Richards wasn’t yet done infuriating OSU. Year’s later, he would return to coach Wisconsin. In 1920 his Badgers suffered a last second loss at OSU. After the loss, Richards publicly criticized Ohio State as treating his team unprofessionally and said he would resign as head coach if the Buckeyes were ever on Wisconsin’s schedule again. The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, didn’t take that comment lightly, and wrote:

“In our opinion, the most unpleasant thing (coach Richards) saw at Columbus was the walloping his team received at the hands of the Buckeyes and that the alleged offenses of Ohio Staters did not trouble him nearly as much as the result of that game. That is not said, however, to belittle the members of the Badger team, as they played the best they knew how, which might have been improved upon had Richards been the coach he believes himself to be. It is our personal hope that Ohio State will be able in a short time to continue football relations with Wisconsin, which means that we are implying that Richard’s existence at Wisconsin will be short lived. It is our belief, Mr. Richards, that with the penning of this most recent attack on Ohio State, you have signed your own death warrant as a Big Ten coach. Wisconsin, we sympathize with you as you struggle under this great handicap.”

Ohio State and Wisconsin would not play again for a decade. By that time, Richards had retired for good from the coaching ranks.