Rapp Around: Dignified Ending
May 08, 2010
How class of a guy is Bob Todd?
The 61-year-old coach began his remarks at a press conference confirming his impending retirement from Ohio State by … thanking the media? Who does that?
“We could not have done this without your support,” Todd said at a lectern on the third base line of Bill Davis Stadium on Thursday. “Many times the media can turn a blind eye or turn their back on people. You people didn’t do that to us and to our program and I am very thankful for that.”
The “this” to which Todd referred is his building of the OSU program into a Northern superpower that can compete with the big boys of the South, Midwest and West. It’s an accomplishment that needs to be celebrated.
Putting all of his focus into leading the Buckeyes into the light has been a 23-year “labor of love” as Todd termed it, but not without humble beginnings and minor temptations to head elsewhere, to a place that puts more emphasis on the sport.
“I won’t deny the fact that there were opportunities for me to leave to go somewhere but my heart was at Ohio State, I felt comfortable here, my family felt comfortable here, and as far as I was concerned those heartfelt feelings were much more important than any monetary gains I could have had by going somewhere else,” Todd told reporters with his wife of 39 years, Glenda, just a few feet away.
Todd graduated from Missouri in 1971 and followed up with a master’s degree in education with a specialization in psychology from Missouri-St. Louis two years later. While a grad student, he served as an assistant coach at a nearby high school. That led to a 10-year stint on the coaching staff at Mizzou and, in 1984, the chance to become a head coach at Kent State.
After four years of success in northeast Ohio, he was hired to run the show at Ohio State, which had decent baseball tradition (including the 1966 national championship) but was dealing with waning attendance and a windswept bandbox of a home diamond in Trautman Field.
“We played basically on a glorified high school field when I came here and the conditions weren’t very good,” he said.
Bill Davis Stadium is a the result of tireless efforts of the Buckeye Diamond Club and a major donation, but mostly it stands as a reminder of the university and community interest in collegiate baseball thanks to Todd.
In his 23 years at Ohio State he has racked up an impressive 897 wins (compared to 472 losses and two ties) to become the school’s all-time winningest baseball coach. He’s the only person ever to win Big Ten baseball coach of the year five times and he has seven regular-season conference titles and has led the Buckeyes to the winner’s circle of the league tournament eight times.
Todd has never had a losing season and has 11 campaigns with 40 or more victories including a school-record 52 in 1991 and 50 in 1999. His Buckeye teams have played in 13 regionals and hosted the Super Regionals on two occasions.
Recently, Todd was inducted into both the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame. In February, he reached the lofty 1,000-win plateau, which boggles even his mind.
“I never even dreamed of that,” he said, “but I think we have accomplished a lot. When I came here I wanted to establish a program. I just didn’t want to have a couple of winning seasons. I was committed to trying to put Ohio State baseball on the map, and I think we’ve got it as one of the top 20 programs in the country.”
Todd also can boast a very impressive list of players who went on to the professional ranks – 72 and counting – and 27 more who were honored as academic All-Americans.
He said he always prided himself on finding quality people, not just athletes, to represent Ohio State. He said he and his assistants often underwent background checks on prospective players’ character, academics and work ethic.
“I’m probably most proud of the fact that you haven’t read about our players in any other capacity other than their accomplishments in baseball and academics, and I think that’s a tribute to my entire staff,” he said.
Sure enough, Todd became most emotional when talking about his players. He told them his decision after a loss to Louisville on Wednesday, swallowing hard.
“I can tell you I’ve practiced that many times,” he said, eyes welling. “I’ve been blessed with good players over the entire time I’ve been here, and this group is no different. To walk away from something that you’ve done all your life is difficult, I won’t deny that.”
Several of the players said they were stunned by the announcement in the team meeting room – some expected a tongue-lashing after they had lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games – and clearly the group appears refocused.
“We want to send him out a winner, and as a senior I want to go out a winner as well,” said outfielder Ryan Dew. “We talked more about finishing the season and trying to put everything together. We know eventually the breaks are going to fall our way.”
All-American catcher Dan Burkhart, a junior, said Todd is the main reason why he chose to come to OSU from Cincinnati Moeller.
“He just absolutely loves the game of baseball,” he said. “He thinks about it 24-7, how he’s going to help the team out and how we’re going to win games. And he just loves his players and takes care of everyone.”
Todd has few regrets. In fact, the only downside of his tenure is all the near-misses in the Buckeyes’ quest to return to the College World Series for the first time since 1967. OSU has been a game away four different times in the Todd era.
“As I reflect back, the one thing that’s still missing is the opportunity to have players play in Omaha,” he said. “I’ve been to Omaha many times. It’s a great venue, it’s a great atmosphere and I think there would be nothing greater than for a team to be able to get there.”
The Buckeyes are not headed in that direction. Their Big Ten record fell to a break-even 8-8 after a 6-3 loss to Illinois on Friday and they are no just 24-18 overall. Still, they are two games out of the league lead with eight to play and also host the Big Ten Tournament at the end of the month.
Whether or not Todd’s career comes to a storybook ending will be up to the current players. Todd, though, is sure this is his final run at a title.
“I went to Florida in January with my wife and we talked about it then, but I can tell you there was a specific time after we had taken two or three road trips,” he said of the decision to retire. “This was over spring break and we were in Winter Haven (in Florida during mid-March). I was sitting in the hotel and I was just looking out the window and said, ‘You know, I’ve lost the energy that I really would like to have for this team, and I never want to be an anchor to these players.’
“Those players are too special to me.”