Graduating from the university in 1935, he took up the position of an assistant for the Ohio high school, Mingo Junction. After his yearlong service at the Mingo Junction, he took up the same position at New Philadelphia High School in 1937.
The resignation of John Brickels from the position of the head coach of New Philadelphia High School brought good news for Hayes as he was promoted to the former’s position. In the new capacity as the head coach, he led the team to set a 17-2-1 record in his first two seasons.
In 1941, he was drafted in the Unites States Navy. At the time of World War II, he was promoted to the rank of the Lieutenant Commander.
With the culmination of World War II, Denison University planned to re-establish its football program. For the same, they offered him the position of head coach, which he gladly accepted.
In 1946, he assumed his position as the head coach of the football team at the Denison University. He took time to adjust in the new role, which directly affected the team performance. In the first year of his term as the coach, the team won only two games.
The finale against Wittenberg was the starting of good things for both him and the university team as the victory sparked a 19-game winning streak, which automatically scaled the team position and the coach’s reputation in the gaming circuit.
The outstanding performance of the team brought him the prestigious offer to serve as the head coach of Miami University. The position was one-of-its kind and was fondly referred to as ‘Cradle of Coaches’, as it kick-started the career of a number of great coaches in the past.
Meanwhile, on the academic front, he enrolled at the Ohio State University to earn a Master’s degree in educational administration. He obtained the same in the year 1948.
He developed a rivalry against Gillman, the former coach of Miami, who had given up the position to coach the University of Cincinnati. He led the team to record a victory against Arizona State University at the Salad Bowl. It was this victory that gained him an offer to serve as the head coach for Ohio State in 1951.
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Interestingly, he was not just offered the position of the head coach at the Ohio State University but that of a professor of physical education as well, given his excellent academic record. He even taught mandatory English and vocabulary classes to his freshman football players.
In his capacity as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the team performed outstandingly well, setting a 205-61-10 record. Under his guidance, the team recorded victory at the three consensus national championships in 1954, 1957 and 1968.
In addition to the three consensus national championships, the Ohio State Buckeyes also won two non-consensus national titles in 1961 and 1970, 13 Big Ten Conference Championships and made 8 Rose Bowl appearances.
He practiced a conservative style of coaching and was one of the early coaches to recruit African-American players in the team. What’s more, other than players, he was the first to appoint African-American assistant coaches in the team.
During his tenure as the head coach, about 58 players under his expertise won the All-American honor. Furthermore, numerous football coaches such as Lou Holtz, Bill Arnsparger, Bill Mallory, Dick Crum, Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian and Woody's successor, Earle Bruce, served as his assistants at various times.
During his years of active coaching, he went into a brawl a number of times and had been a part of numerous controversies. These basically arose due to his volatile temper and incontrollable actions when angry.
It was after the 1978 Gator Bowl incident when he made abusive comments at the referee and injured one of his own players when the latter tried to intervene that he was told to resign by Ohio State University’s Athletic Director Hugh Hindman.
He did not accept the proposal and thus was sacked from his job, on account of assaulting a college athlete. He was succeeded by Earle Bruce as head football coach at Ohio State University.
He continued to serve as the professor of Military History at the Ohio State, until his death.