It's not uncommon for boys to grow up dreaming of being astronauts or firemen.
In Ohio you can add football coach. And while parents may pay lip service to the aeronautical hopes of their boys, when a kid in the Buckeye State says he's going to be a football coach, you buy him a whistle and chalkboard and get out of the way.
Sixteen current Division I-A head football coaches are from Ohio. That's four more than second-place California. No other state has produced more than six current head coaches.
How do you explain such a phenomenon?
"Maybe it's because we're hard-working and come from humble means, good backgrounds and all of that," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops, whose brother Bob is the head man at Oklahoma. "You can go all the way back to the Paul Brown years to see the grassroots of coaching in Ohio have always been pretty strong. There's a great foundation of coaches. There is great emphasis on high school football.
"Our area has thinned out some because of the steel mills, but it's just really good people that are humble and hard working. And I think that's what it takes to be a good coach."
"We have an early upbringing where football means so much," said Miami of Ohio's Shane Montgomery, who at 39 is the youngest of the 16 coaches from Ohio. "It gets in your blood."
Indeed, Ohioans bleed for their football. To a man the coaches who grew up there throw out words such as determination, discipline and work ethic to describe their feelings about the game and growing up around it.
They didn't have to look far for role models. If there were a Mt. Rushmore of football, surely it would be located in Ohio. And carved in it would be the faces of Brown, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler. All are Buckeye natives, all coached at Miami of Ohio, and all fit well under the title of legend.
Brown and Hayes left indelible marks because they never left Ohio. Brown coached Ohio State to its first national championship in 1942. He was the inaugural coach of the Cleveland Browns, with the franchise named for him. Imagine the Chicago Ditkas, if you will.
Winning from the cradle
Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, should consider changing its nickname from the cradle of coaches.
Yes, it's where so many careers have been born, but when you think cradle you think of something relatively small.
How about Miami, the warehouse of coaches?
Maybe it only seems as though virtually everyone in football has ties to Miami. But from legendary names such as Earl "Red" Blaik, Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler to current coaches such as Jim Tressel, Shane Montgomery and Ron Zook, the tradition continues.
"This head-coaching job has attracted a lot of good people," said Montgomery, the current Miami coach and at 39 the youngest of the 16 Division I-A head coaches from Ohio. "If you think about the guys who've gone before you here that can put a lot of pressure on you."
Illinois' Zook and recently deceased Northwestern coach Randy Walker were Redhawks teammates from 1973-75 where they played under Bill Mallory and Dick Crum.
"It's strange having all of us(from Miami) in Illinois. Joe Novak (current Northern Illinois head coach) was our defensive coordinator," Zook said. "I was fortunate to play for guys who instilled things that made me want to keep going."
The Walker-Zook teams went a staggering 32-1-1.
"Those teams were so unselfish," Zook said. "We played a true team game. It's what you hope you can do as a coach, get everybody to believe."
Montgomery is the man trying to get everybody to believe at the moment. He's in his second year as head coach, but he had been the offensive coordinator prior to taking the reins.
"It seems like we have been in the limelight," said Montgomery, who went 7-4 in his first season. "We've been on TV a lot the last few years, and with (former QB) Ben Roethlisberger that has put us more in the spotlight.
"We have 12 consecutive winning seasons, so this is a good program and has been for a long time. It's our job to keep that going."
The following is a list of the all-time winningest coaches in Miami University football history:
Brown coached his namesakes for 17 seasons. He was fired in 1962 after a falling out with owner Art Modell and he stayed out of the game for five years before returning as coach and part-owner of the fledgling Cincinnati Bengals. He coached that franchise for eight seasons, then moved into the front office and spent 15 more years as team president.
Hayes spent 28 seasons as coach of the Buckeyes. His Ohio State teams went 205-68-10 and won four national championships and 13 Big Ten titles.
"When I was growing up it was the Buckeyes, the Browns and high school football," said longtime Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak, 61, who played and coached at Miami of Ohio. "A lot of people went to all three. That was their form of entertainment."
It was a great time to be entertained. Brown is called the "father of the modern offense." He brought such innovations to football as facemasks and "messenger guards" to relay plays from the sidelines. He even experimented with helmet radios decades before they became the norm.
Hayes was a taskmaster. He believed in discipline first and foremost, and he didn't pay lip service to the importance of academics.
"When I was growing up in Central Ohio my first memory of a college football coach is of Woody Hayes," Montgomery said. "He was this larger-than-life figure."
"Woody Hayes affected a lot of us," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. "One way or another I bet just about all of us have ties to Coach Hayes. Some of us worked for him, some of us went to clinics which he conducted.
"I can remember him blowing his whistle and yelling at coaches if they weren't in their seats. He brought an attitude and respect for the coaching position."
Five of the 16 coaches from Ohio are coaching in the state now - Amstutz, Montgomery, Jim Tressel at Ohio State, Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati and Frank Solich at Ohio. They're dipped in the state's football tradition. They recruit heavily in-state and know virtually ever nook and cranny.
"I really enjoy recruiting in the state of Ohio," Amstutz said. "Kids grow up wanting to reach that goal of playing college football in Ohio.
"I wanted to be on football scholarship, and I was interested in being a coach after that. I went right after those goals."
In addition to the influences of Brown and Hayes, many of the coaches mentioned their close relationships with their high school coaches. The Stoops brothers were coached by their father, Ron Sr., the longtime defensive coordinator at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. Tressel's father, Lee, coached in the high school ranks at Ada, Massillon Washington (as did Brown) and Mentor (Novak's alma mater) before taking over at Division III Baldwin-Wallace where Jim later quarterbacked for him.
The Ohio coaching legacy perpetuates itself. Kids grow up playing for great coaches, men who influenced them in their formative years, and they gravitate back toward the profession.
"I started playing football in the second grade," Cincinnati's Dantonio said. "You basically grew up in an environment where you had three or four junior high programs that were feeders to the high school and they ran the same offense and the same defense as the high school. Football becomes a natural fit."
So natural, in fact, that when baby boys from Massillon are born at Doctors Hospital, a gold football is placed in their cribs.
No word on whether it's accompanied by a whistle and a chalkboard.
The Ohio Sixteen
Tom Amstutz, Toledo Age: 50 Birth date: Aug. 30, 1955 Hometown/HS: Toledo Whitmer College: Toledo (1977; OL) Note: Nicknamed "Toledo Tom," Amstutz is an icon in Northwest Ohio. Amstutz grew up in Toledo and played for the Rockets. Amstutz was a graduate assistant before being named an assistant coach. He spent 21 years as an assistant at Toledo, leaving briefly for a stint as an assistant at Navy in the late 1980s. Longtime assistant to Missouri coach and fellow Ohioan Gary Pinkel.
Mark Dantonio, Cincinnati Age: 50 Birth date: March 9, 1956 Hometown/HS: Zanesville College: South Carolina (1978; DB) Note: Assistant under Jim Tressel at Youngstown State and Ohio State. A member of Earle Bruce's Ohio State coaching staff in 1983 and 1984. Was an all-state football player at Zanesville before heading to South Carolina, where he won three letters with the Gamecocks.
Brady Hoke, Ball State Age: 47 Birth date: Nov. 3, 1958 Hometown/HS: Dayton/Fairmont East College: Ball State (1980; LB) Note: Was an assistant at Toledo for two seasons, 1987-88. That covered two of the three years current Rockets coach Tom Amstutz was at Navy. His brother, Jon, is the secondary coach for the NFL's Houston Texans.
Urban Meyer, Florida Age: 41 Birth date: July 10, 1964 Hometown/HS: Ashtabula College: Cincinnati (1985; DB) Note: First college job was as grad assistant at Ohio State under Earle Bruce. His first head-coaching job was at Bowling Green from 2001-2002. He led the Falcons to a 9-3 season and No. 20 finish in 2002. A 13th-round pick in the 1982 Major League Baseball amateur draft, Meyer spent two seasons playing in the Atlanta Braves' farm system.
Les Miles, LSU Age: 52 Birth date: Nov. 10, 1953 Hometown/HS: Elyria College: Michigan (1975; OL) Note: Played for Bo Schembechler and later coached under him at Michigan. He is among only four of the 17 head coaches from Ohio to never coach at the collegiate level in Ohio.
Shane Montgomery, Miami (Ohio) Age: 39 Birth date: March 14, 1967 Hometown/HS: Newark Catholic College: N.C. State (1989; QB) Note: Offensive coordinator and QB coach of Ben Roethlisberger at Miami. Montgomery won two Ohio state football titles while prepping at Newark Catholic before heading to North Carolina State. A three-time letterwinner for the Wolfpack, Montgomery was the offensive MVP of both the 1988 Peach Bowl and 1989 Copper Bowl. His 535 yards passing against Duke in 1989 remains the best single-game performance in N.C. State history.
Joe Novak, Northern Illinois Age: 61 Birth date: April 19, 1945 Hometown/HS: Mentor College: Miami (Ohio) (1966; DE) Note: Played for Bo Schembechler, then had his first coaching job as a grad assistant for Schembechler at Miami.
Tom O'Brien, Boston College Age: 57 Birth date: Oct. 5, 1948 Hometown/HS: Cincinnati St. Xavier College: Navy (1970; DE) Note: He is among only four of the 17 head coaches from Ohio to never coach at the collegiate level in Ohio. Played at Navy and attained the rank of Major in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Gary Pinkel, Missouri Age: 54 Birth date: April 27, 1952 Hometown/HS: Akron Kenmore College: Kent State (1973; TE) Note: Spent 10 years as Toledo head coach and counts Tom Amstutz as a protégé.
Mark Snyder, Marshall Age: 41 Birth date: Dec. 30, 1964 Hometown/HS: South Point/Ironton College: Marshall (1987; DB)
Note: An assistant with Mark Dantonio under Jim Tressel at Youngstown State and Ohio State.
Frank Solich, Ohio Age: 61 Birth date: Sept. 18, 1944 Hometown/HS: Cleveland Holy Name College: Nebraska (1966; RB) Note: Only coaching experience had been at Nebraska before he accepted head post at Ohio.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma Age: 45 Birth date: Sept. 6, 1960 Hometown/HS: Youngstown Cardinal Mooney College: Iowa (1982; DB) Note: Spent one season as an assistant at Kent State; his father, Ron Sr., was the longtime defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney. Ron Sr. died of a heart attack while on the sideline in 1988 at age 54.
Mike Stoops, Arizona Age: 44 Birth date: Dec. 13, 1961 Hometown/HS: Youngstown Cardinal Mooney College: Iowa (1984; DB) Note: He is among only four of the 17 head coaches from Ohio to never coach at the collegiate level in Ohio. His father, Ron Sr., was the longtime defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney. Ron Sr. died of a heart attack while on the sidelines in 1988 at age 54.
Joe Tiller, Purdue Age: 63 Birth date: Dec. 7, 1942 Hometown/HS: Toledo Rogers College: Montana State (1964; OT) Note: He is among only four of the 17 head coaches from Ohio to never coach at the collegiate level in Ohio.
Jim Tressel, Ohio State Age: 53 Birth date: Dec. 5, 1952 Hometown/HS: Mentor/Berea College: Baldwin-Wallace (1974; QB) Note: His father, Lee, was a legendary coach at Ohio Division III power Baldwin-Wallace; counts Mark Dantonio and Mark Snyder among coaching protégés; spent time as an Ohio State assistant under Earle Bruce.
Ron Zook, Illinois Age: 52 Birth date: April 28, 1954 Hometown/HS: Loudonville College: Miami, Ohio (1975; DB) Note: College teammate of Randy Walker and spent three seasons as an assistant at Ohio State.