Gregg and I recently had the chance to visit with former quarterback Craig Krenzel. In our tenure with Buckeye 50, we haven’t conducted many interviews except for the annual Media Day gathering every August. This was our first real sit-down talk, and we couldn’t have had a more gracious subject. There was no “pulling teeth” here- Craig gave honest, thorough answers, even to inquiries he’s probably heard thousands of times. He displays the same cool confidence as he did engineering the Buckeyes to the 2002 national title, content in his role as a husband and dad, looking forward to a new business venture. Having listened to Craig’s work on Columbus radio for the last couple of football seasons, I knew we’d get informed, straight-forward responses. Here is the final piece of our interview.
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Craig’s journey to Ohio State began in earnest after his junior year at Henry Ford II High School in Utica, Michigan. As Craig tells it,
Craig committed to Ohio State in the spring of his junior year, enabling him to enjoy being a senior with his collegiate decision made.
Craig was certainly a recruiting rarity for OSU, a Michigan blue-chipper. He and receiver Ricky Bryant were the only members of the 1999 recruiting class from the state up north, and by 2002 Krenzel was the lone Michigander on the roster. But things felt right-
After a redshirt year, Craig and Scott McMullen served as backups to Steve Bellisari in 2000 and through most of 2001. Buckeye Nation had been frustrated through Bellisari’s tenure with his inconsistency, but as the ’01 season wound down the Bucks were 4-2 in the Big Ten and still in the thick of the conference title hunt. Bellisari was putting together his best stretch of play, and the two teams ahead of OSU in the standings at 5-1, Illinois and Michigan, were next up on the schedule. It was in Ohio State’s hands, but early in the morning the Friday before the Illinois tilt, Bellisari was charged with DUI.
Craig and Scott were about to be tossed into the storm.
Myers, of course, was the Illinois linebacker that picked off a Krenzel pass in the fourth quarter and took it in for the back-breaking touchdown of what would be a 34-22 Illini win, ending OSU’s Big Ten championship hopes. Next up was a trip to Ann Arbor, where the Buckeyes hadn’t won since 1987. Michigan had dealt Illinois its only league loss and therefore owned the tiebreaker since Michigan State had picked off the Wolverines. The Maize and Blue were a win away from a BCS bid and a likely trip to Pasadena, but the Bucks were about to flip what had become a one-sided rivalry.
Krenzel was certainly ready -
The landmark 26-20 win that Krenzel engineered in Ann Arbor not only ensured a more peaceful offseason for Buckeye fans, it would help set the stage for a season that would set Columbus and all of college football on its ear. But first off was the Outback Bowl, and although Craig had helped author one of OSU’s finest wins in several years, Steve Bellisari got one last chance to showcase what he could do. Coming off the bench against South Carolina, Bellisari led a furious comeback from a 28-0 deficit to tie the game. But a late interception and runback set up a last second Gamecock field goal and ‘SC escaped with a 31-28 win. Craig’s recollection of this tumultuous period gives a glimpse from inside the “fishbowl” that is being an Ohio State football player -
Despite the last-second loss in Tampa, the glow of the win in Ann Arbor helped soothe any bitter bowl-game feelings. Craig’s play in the Michigan game helped to ease concerns over the quarterback situation as fans looked ahead. But little did anyone realize what a roller-coaster ride Buckeye Nation was in for.
Although he hadn’t played much in the 2002 Outback Bowl, Craig Krenzel’s workmanlike effort in the 26-20 upset win over Michigan had alleviated some fears over the quarterback position heading into the 2002 season. Although Jim Tressel had landed the much-ballyhooed Justin Zwick in his first full recruiting class, there really wasn’t much doubt who would be under center come opening day against Texas Tech. That sultry Sunday contest would be the launching point for a 25-2 record over the ’02 and ’03 campaigns for the Bucks, the most wins in any two-year period in Ohio State football history. The .926 winning percentage trails only the ‘68/’69 teams (.947) and “Chic” Harley’s first two squads of 1916/17 (.969) for supremacy in Buckeye lore. Craig would be at the helm of 23 of those 25 victories, including all 14 of the title season.
When you have the pleasure to talk with a national championship winning quarterback, you figure, “What hasn’t he been asked about?” When folks reflect back on that season, it’s usually the home stretch and title game that get hashed out the most. When we asked Craig about the win at Cincinnati, a 23-19 nail biter that would be a harbinger of things to come, his answer was, again, philosophical.
They may not have always played well, but win they did. And as the undefeated Buckeyes headed to West Lafayette to do battle with Purdue, Craig Krenzel was about to become a participant in arguably one of the single most important plays in all of OSU football history. Down 6-3 to the Boilermakers with less than two minutes to go and facing a 4th-and-maybe the season call from the Purdue 37. Krenzel airmailed one deep to Michael Jenkins for the game-winning score. The strike seemed to catch everyone off guard- particularly Brent Musburger, whose call of “Holy Buckeye” has become the de facto name of the play- but maybe no one more so than the Purdue defense. Craig relayed to us that on the field after the game, Boiler safety Stuart Schweigert told him that they had every Buckeye offensive play basically figured out and couldn’t believe the pass to Jenkins. As Craig told him,
One could understand Schweigert’s frustration- the “Holy Buckeye” play would be the only offensive touchdown that Ohio State would score against Purdue in both the ’02 and ’03 matchups, yet the Boilers lost both games as the Buckeye defense matched their counterparts move for move.
The win at Purdue would be the first of four straight down-to-the-wire classics to close the national championship season, and it was no secret that despite episodes of turmoil and controversy, Maurice Clarett had been a huge cog in the 14-0 machine. One might anticipate that Clarett would be a somewhat touchy subject to bring up to Craig, but not so-
Unfortunately, Clarett’s impressive frosh campaign would be the beginning and end of his turbulent career. And although Ohio State would stand on the brink of a return trip to the national title game before losing at Michigan, Craig says there was a missing ingredient that might have made a repeat possible-
For the last several years during Michigan Week, Gregg and I have attended the Diabetes Association’s dinner, and several members of the “Super Sophs” have served as panelists for the “debate” portion of the evening. For all the success they had, I can’t tell you how many of them to this day rue the only two losses they ever suffered- to Michigan in ’69 and to Stanford in the ’71 Rose Bowl. Being the competitor that he is, it was no surprise that a great deal of our chat with Craig recalled the two losses of the 2003 season-
The Bucks still managed to get in the BCS following the Michigan loss, and Krenzel would cap off his stellar career with a 4-touchdown pass performance in the win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. While 2 were to his main man Michael Jenkins, Craig also hooked up with redshirt freshman Santonio Holmes for a pair. And while Craig admits that he would’ve like to have had Chris Gamble a bit more on offense in 2003, he offers up Santonio as an example of the
In that vein, Craig and Scott McMullen would give way to Justin Zwick and Troy Smith. And while the Buckeye offense would hit heights not seen yet during Jim Tressel’s reign, Craig would take his game to the next level. And it would be during a rehab stint in the NFL that a phone call would offer a great opportunity.
It’s a time-honored tradition at Ohio State, whether it’s Woody, Earle or Tress, that fans will be treated to healthy doses of conservative offensive football. Without a doubt, October and November weather around the Big Ten doesn’t lend itself to an all-out aerial assault. But regardless of the elements, why does it seem impossible at times for Ohio State to utilize all available offensive weapons? Why is seemingly every first down play a run between the tackles? When fans down through the years have sat in the Horseshoe and predicted plays from their seats, a sense of frustration grows. The bottom line is this- it sure seems easier for any team to be able to move the football when they’ve got the defense off balance and guessing.
Craig Krenzel’s “Holy Buckeye” touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins against Purdue in 2002 was huge on many levels, but part of the reason it worked- not taking a thing away from Craig and Michael’s abilities- is NO ONE expected a bomb from Ohio State on a 4th-and-1 play. Two weeks later, Craig converted a critical 4th-and-1 on the final winning drive against Michigan with a quarterback sneak. On the radio broadcast, analyst Jim Lachey noted that UM’s linebackers were 5 yards off the ball, and he alluded to the pass at Purdue when explaining why. Had “Holy Buckeye” never happened, would the Wolverines, or any other opponent, have done nothing except crowd the line in a similar situation? In our talk with Craig, he gave a little “chalk talk”-
Even though Craig may have preferred a different offensive approach, he was wise enough to understand his limitations as a quarterback while maintaining the confidence that he could get the job done-
Even if you haven’t come from a college offense where you put the ball up 40 times a game, the NFL still takes notice if you’ve won over 90% of your starts at quarterback. Craig did a short stint in the NFL, but it was during down time from an injury that one of life’s next chapters came calling-
It should come as no surprise that the Craig Krenzel that you’ve “met” in our interview is the same one that fans have heard on the airwaves. Besides the obvious qualification as a former Buckeye player, Craig has informed opinions and articulates them well, whether it’s the Bucks, college football or any other sport. And personally, I find it refreshing to have someone whether it’s at 610 or The Fan who isn’t afraid to question things about Ohio State football. Having been involved myself with radio sports; I asked Craig about the difficulties, if any, he had of balancing being a fan with being a broadcaster-
Although we could have taken our entire interview time talking about the fans and hashing out Buckeye Nation’s demands every year, Craig hinted that expectations are perhaps no higher than right in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center or the southeast corner of Ohio Stadium-
One thing is for certain- while football is still a team game, the young man who now is in Craig Krenzel’s old position is one of the biggest keys to whatever degree of success the 2009 Buckeyes will have. The interview would not be complete without getting Craig’s take on the young man under center now for the Scarlet and Gray. Although you always have to keep in mind the wildcard that is Jim Tressel’s play-calling, you would hope that the Buckeye offense would be more consistent in 2009. Coming off of a roller-coaster year with a midseason quarterback change and fluctuating results of 4 games with 40+ points mixed with 3 games with no offensive touchdowns, it would stand to reason that a more seasoned Terrelle Pryor and diving deeper into the playbook might make the “O” more of a known quantity.
Craig liked what he saw in the spring out of Terrelle, but there’s always room for growth-
Most Buckeye fans’ last images of Pryor are from the Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas, which not only was far from a passing clinic but also featured several head-scratching runs out-of-bounds as if Terrelle lacked confidence in his running ability. In Krenzel’s eyes, it was the apex of a slow regression from the regular season.
One of the main reasons Terrelle was inserted into the lineup to begin with was the absence of “Beanie” Wells. With no C-Dub, OSU had no real running threat and Terrelle at least provided that. When the Buckeyes went into East Lansing and pummeled Michigan State the week before Penn State’s visit to Columbus, it seemed Pryor, and the offense, had found its stride. But the Nittany Lions put the clamps on Wells, and Terrelle couldn’t make enough plays in the passing game to sustain the offense. Was he feeling the pressure or did Tressel just not want to gamble? In any event, the air attack sputtered last year and as Craig pointed out, the triggerman has to keep the cool head and work to slow the game down-
By all accounts, Terrelle is a bright young man and Jim Tressel has more than once spoken of how his QB wants to learn and soak up all he can about the offense. A lot of the points Craig makes are things that come in time. The quarterback change, the high profile losses and the hamstrung offense all left somewhat of a bad taste in the collective mouths of Buckeye Nation, but starting September 5th is hopefully when the growing pains of having a true freshman at quarterback last year will start to bear fruit. And while “The Vest” is probably not going to ever completely unshackle the offense, Craig feels the staff can assist Terrelle’s progress without having to shoot the works.
If anyone needs any proof of that, go back and watch Colt McCoy’s work in the Fiesta Bowl. No matter how good any quarterback and his offense are, no one is going to complete 77% of their passes over a season, as McCoy did, by playing “bombs away”.
Ultimately, how Terrelle performs for the rest of his Ohio State career is a two-way street- his work ethic and continued experience combined with Tressel’s trust in turning Pryor loose. Although Florida would’ve beaten Ohio State in the 2006 BCS title game no matter how you want to slice it, some people claim that Troy Smith’s evolution into a pure pocket passer hurt because the Troy of the 2004 Michigan game for instance could’ve made plays with his feet and perhaps stemmed the Gator tide. Personally, I doubt it would’ve mattered, but it is a tremendous challenge to Jim Tressel and his staff to mold Terrelle’s passing game without sacrificing a running ability that is perhaps second-to-none in college football among quarterbacks. Craig feels the sky is the limit if the right balance, or something close to it, is achieved-
If you want to talk about unlimited potential to cause chaos, you must be talking about the BCS. It probably wouldn’t make me feel a whole lot better, but it would be nice if one of the “powers-that-be” would have the stones to just say it’s all about money. We asked Craig to temporarily assume the mantle of BCS Commissioner and give us his thoughts-
Craig has made a very successful transition from the playing field to the business world. In addition to his radio work with “The Fan” in Columbus, he has lent his voice and likeness to Buckeye Nissan and JD Equipment, but it’s a new business venture that had him very enthusiastic-
At one time the collegian who took charge in the huddle for the Buckeyes, Krenzel now enjoys being in the enviable position of calling his own shots-
Those leadership qualities were a huge factor in one of Ohio State’s greatest eras of football success. Not to mention a competitive fire that is still evident around the Krenzel household-
Who knows, in another 15 years or so, it may be the name Braden Krenzel featured prominently on Scout.com? And maybe Jim Tressel will once again find his way into the Krenzel family living room, looking to add another legacy name to his recruiting class. One thing is for certain- it won’t matter if it’s 15 years from now or even more. The name “Craig Krenzel” will still be remembered fondly by all of Buckeye Nation