The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Mark Stier has found that lessons in leadership provide benefits for a lifetime.

Mark Stier delivers a sermon at Westerville Christian Church, where he serves as associate pastor.

In the fall of 1966, the Buckeyes were coming off a 4–5 season and, as Mark Stier recalls it, the fate of legendary coach Woody Hayes was in jeopardy.

Yet two years later, Ohio State went 10–0, defeating O.J. Simpson’s USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl to capture the 1968 national championship. The Buckeye roster featured first-team All-American Jack Tatum and several future first-team All-Americans, including middle guard Jim Stillwagon and running back John Brockington.

Stier, a senior linebacker, was co-captain of the title team and the defender primarily charged with containing Simpson. Mentoring younger players — directing them where to be in the defensive alignment, but also encouraging them in a personal way — made him somewhat of a coach on the field. He was voted the team’s most valuable player.

“I’ve taken that and tried to use that model all the way through,” said Stier, 69, who transitioned from business to his current position as an associate pastor (while coaching high school football all along).

The “rags-to-riches” experience, from losing team to national champions, built Stier’s stamina and perseverance to meet life’s challenges.

“That’s the beauty of football. There are not too many games where you get physically knocked down and have to get up time after time after time,” Stier said. “It teaches you a different dynamic. There are a lot of parallels in life to how you react on the football field. And that whole experience has made me a better person.”

Stier said Hayes impressed him after the 27–16 Rose Bowl win by inviting Simpson to speak in the Buckeyes’ locker room — the only time in Stier’s career that an opposing player was allowed into that inner circle. Simpson, a running back who won the Heisman Trophy that year, was still in his Trojans uniform when he acknowledged the Buckeyes were the nation’s top team.

Stier said his national championship ring, which he still wears, reminds him when he’s down that he has the ability to overcome and succeed.

“There are a lot of different kinds of toughness,” he said. “There’s physical toughness, there’s emotional toughness, spiritual toughness.”

Stier said Hayes instilled grit in his players and recalled him as a “tyrant” on the field. But he helped breed winners by spending much of his time coaching about life, not just football.

“Showing up at class on time, sending a card for Mother’s Day,” Stier said, ticking off the things Hayes stressed. “Do right. Be right. Live right. It was a much bigger picture than just, ‘Let’s go out there and win a football game.’ Although he very much wanted to do that, too.”

Stier said his experience as a mentor in football, “a coach on the field,” has helped him as a pastor in working with members of his congregation and staff. He has served Westerville Christian Church since 2001 and for 13 years was the executive pastor.

Stier became a minister after retiring from Worthington Industries, where he worked for 27 years, finishing as vice president of corporate human resources. He also is an assistant football coach at Worthington Christian High School, where his son Brian is the head coach.

“You’re always coaching,” he said of his ministry. “How can I influence this person? How can I encourage them to be better? I think, in essence, we’re all coaches to some extent.”

Stier said that on a personal level, winning the national championship has been inspirational in whatever work he was doing.

“It’s been a constant motivator pretty much all my life,” he said. “For that particular point in time, we were the best there was.”


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