Coach's Corner: Custer Didn't Get A Second Chance

Former OSU assistant coach Bill Conley admits the current season looks bleak. But he says the Buckeyes still have a chance to accomplish a few things over the season's final five games. Click here for the latest from this special contributor.

On June 25, 1876, a large band of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians slaughtered 210 soldiers of the seventh cavalry at Little Bighorn.

The cavalry unit was led by Ohio native General George Armstrong Custer. Custer's unit was surrounded on a hill overlooking the Little Bighorn River and, in a matter of minutes, the superior Indian forces were victorious and every member of the unit was killed.

George Armstrong Custer was a flamboyant leader, but often got caught up in his own agenda. He made three catastrophic mistakes in his strategy to defeat the combined Indian forces.

First of all, he underestimated the strength of the enemy. By the time his troops dug in at the site of Custer's last stand, they were outnumbered four to one. Secondly, Custer didn't stay focused on the task at hand. He was supposed to work in unison with troops of Alfred Terry, John Gibbons and George Crook. Instead, he got over anxious and ventured out ahead of the others. Thirdly, he was more concerned with receiving individual honor and glory than the success of the entire expeditionary force.

I think that might have been the way Coach Woody Hayes would have started his Monday meeting with his Ohio State players and coaches after what has happened the last three weeks.

He had a special way of using historical events to get a point across to his team. All of this, for the purpose of regrouping, focusing on the task at hand, and most importantly, sticking together under pressure. He may have concluded the meeting by telling his squad, they have a second chance -- George Armstrong Custer didn't. Custer didn't have a chance to make adjustments, personnel changes or come up with a new game plan.

The Buckeyes have a choice to make at this point in the season. They can right some wrongs. They can pull together and attack the next five games with renewed pride and enthusiasm. You can get knocked down, but true Buckeyes get back up and go again. That's the attitude that is essential to turn a potentially disastrous season into a new beginning.

For this new beginning to take place several things have to happen and in some ways a major metamorphosis must take place. The most important thing is that the players and coaches stick and come together like never before. Outside criticism, second guessing and that great sixth sense called "hindsight" must be ignored by those who plan and play the game. A renewed focus and commitment to program goals and objectives of what it takes to win as a team is imperative. Coaches and players need to believe in each other first and foremost.

These players are talented individuals, the majority of whom were recruited by the major Division I football programs in the country. Their abilities are unquestionable. The coaching staff needs to reevaluate the strengths and talents of the squad members and put them into situations where they can be successful. It may take a philosophical transformation by the staff.

The mark of a good head coach and his staff is one that can adapt to the type of talent it is putting on the field. Versatility and flexibility in offensive and defensive schemes along with a concentration on basic football techniques could be solution to kick start this needed transformation.

It is crucial the foundations upon which the game of football is based are reemphasized: the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. It starts with toughness with being physical. "Pads down"- "drive your feet"- "head up"- "wrap"- "run to the ball." That's what Buckeye football is all about; that's what makes a good player a great one and a great player an All-American.

One offensive suggestion might be to do more live, short yardage situations in practice. Buckle it up and learn to fight and claw for every precious yard. Linemen drive their feet and backs lower their shoulders. Sounds old fashion, but that's what makes the game of football special. Nothing builds confidence more on the gridiron than playing physical.

One of the things we used to do defensively was to grade the unit on how they hustled to the ball. By the time the play ended, all defensive tackles had to be on the tackle, hovering over the ball carrier, or sprinting toward the football. If one player loafed, the entire unit was given a minus grade for that play. The unit had to grade 90 percent overall to earn a treasured Buckeye leaf. Thus, the basis of sound defense, running to the ball, was a paramount emphasis. The players didn't want to let their team members down by not giving 100 percent effort to get to the football. That was a great but simple thing to instill pride and unity.

Sometimes little changes can make big differences. A great man once said, "trifles are little things, the mastering of little things leads to perfection, and perfection is no trifle." The repetition and mastering of the basics of football is essential to building confidence. Renewed confidence breeds enthusiasm and team spirit.

The mark of a true winner is a person, a team, a family that can learn from negative experiences. It's been a rough start for the Buckeyes, but the great thing about the game of football is that it's how you finish that's most important. The start of a winning streak, a renewed optimism, and the opportunity to get to a good bowl game are all possible. That's not bad, not bad at all.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill Conley, an OSU assistant coach for 17 years, will provide insights through columns and Chat sessions on throughout the football season. His next Chat session is scheduled for Mon., Oct. 25. Plus, catch Coach Conley on his weekly radio show from 9 a.m. to noon each Sunday morning on WTVN-AM (610).

Buckeye Sports Top Stories