Born June 29, 1908, in Youngstown, Ohio, Wesley Eugene Fesler was one of the most decorated high school players of his era, excelling in four different sports – football, basketball, baseball and track. When he reached Ohio State in the fall of 1927, he simply kept on going.
Playing on defense at an end position and on offense at a variety of spots including halfback and end, Fesler became one of the finest players ever for the Buckeyes in the early part of the 20th century.
Although the teams on which he played never finished higher than fourth in the Big Ten standings, Fesler was one of the top defensive stars of his day for Buckeye squads that were extremely stingy. During his sophomore season of 1928, Ohio State gave up only 35 points to eight opponents over the course of the entire season. Four of the team's five victories that year were shutouts.
In fact, defense ruled the day for the Buckeyes throughout Fesler's playing career. He starred on defensive units that surrendered only 152 points over a three-year period, giving opponents an average of just 6.3 points per game throughout that stretch.
During his junior season of 1929, Fesler electrified crowds with one of the most spectacular plays in college football history to that time. During an 18-6 loss to Northwestern in Ohio Stadium, Fesler pounced on a fumble and returned it 95 yards for the Buckeyes' only touchdown in the game.
As a senior in 1930, the Buckeyes pitched four more shutouts and finished the season with three straight wins to finish at 5-2-1. Fesler served as the team captain that season and was named the Big Ten's most valuable player.
It capped a tremendous career for the player who earned first-team All-America honors three straight times, becoming only the second player in school history to be so honored. The legendary Chic Harley (1916-17, '19) was the first.
Pittsburgh head coach Jock Sutherland, whose Panthers were beaten 16-7 by the Buckeyes in 1930, called Fesler "a one man team. It is unbelievable how that boy can do so many things."
In addition to his defensive prowess, Fesler was often Ohio State's leading receiver, and even moved into the backfield on occasion to take over the quarterback spot.
But Fesler wasn't only a football star at Ohio State. He also lettered for three consecutive years in basketball for the Buckeyes, earning All-Big Ten honors in that sport as well as a Helms Athletic Association All-American team berth in 1931. He also served as team captain for the 1929-30 squad.
In addition to his athletic ability, Fesler also excelled in the classroom. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and would likely have been an Academic All-American if the honor had been around in those days.
Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice put Fesler at end on the all-time All-American team he named in 1939 and football's first historian, Parke Davis, wrote in 1931 that Fesler was "the most versatile end the game has ever known."
Once his collegiate career ended, Fesler immediately got into coaching – but it wasn't football coaching right away. He was the varsity basketball coach at Harvard for eight seasons from 1934-41, then got his first football assignment at Ohio Wesleyan in 1942.
He coached there for two seasons before returning to the Ivy League and the hardwood at Princeton. He spent just one season with the Tigers, then went back to football, showing up to run the program at Pitt in 1946.
After just one season with the Panthers, Fesler "came home" to his dream job, securing the head coaching job at Ohio State after Paul Bixler had resigned following the '46 season. Unfortunately for Fesler, his dream job turned out to be more of a nightmare.
His first season resulted in a 2-6-1 record, only the school's second losing record in 22 years – and the other came during World War II when the Buckeyes had barely enough players to field a team.
Things got progressively better the next two seasons with a 6-3 finish in 1948 and a 7-1-2 record in '49 that included a tie for the Western Conference title and a 17-14 victory over California in the Rose Bowl.
But Fesler fell victim to the same problem that has plagued many other OSU coaches before and since – he couldn't find a way to beat archrival Michigan. After only a tie to show for three previous tries against the Wolverines, Fesler probably knew he had to have a win over Michigan in 1950 to save his job. And it looked like he would get it, too, as the Buckeyes had a superior team that season led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz.
But the morning of the game, a winter storm hit Columbus and led to the infamous "Snow Bowl" game. Snow and ice covered the field and temperatures plummeted below zero at game time. Fesler left up to his players the decision of whether or not to play the game, and they voted to go ahead.
Unfortunately, it was a mistake-laden contest and the Buckeyes made more mistakes than the Wolverines. Michigan secured a 9-3 victory and fans began to call for Fesler to be fired to be replaced by former OSU head coach Paul Brown.
Nevertheless, Fesler received a vote of confidence from athletic director Richard Larkins and another from the faculty board, but his nerves were shot. He resigned his post, leaving a four-year record of 21-13-3, and accepted the head coaching job at Minnesota.
OSU pursued Brown to return, but he decided to remain head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The Buckeyes had to settle for their second choice – Miami (Ohio) head coach Woody Hayes.
Fesler spent three seasons with the Gophers, going 10-13-4, before leaving the profession after the 1953 season and moved to California. There, he became a successful real estate broker for more than three decades.
In 1954, Fesler became only the second Buckeye player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He followed Harley, who was in the hall's inaugural class of 1951.
Fesler was also included in the 1977 inaugural class of inductees for the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame, joining such other luminaries as Bill Willis, Jim Parker, Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, Janowicz and Horvath.
Fesler died July 30, 1989, at the Palm Terrace Rest Home in Laguna Hills, Calif., after suffering from Parkinson's disease for about a year. He was 81.
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