COLUMBUS, Ohio - Joe Daniels now finds himself using all those life lessons about coping with adversity and battling against the odds.
In 37 years as a coach, including the past seven working with Ohio State’s quarterbacks, Daniels has been there for countless players, pushing them to give just a little bit more, to fight a little harder and to be focused against an unrelenting opponent.
Now the terms are almost identical even if the stakes are far higher as Daniels deals with cancer. He’s not coaching the Buckeyes this spring while he recovers after having a diseased kidney removed in February.
“The biggest thing right now is recovering from the surgery,” he said quietly in a hall at the team’s practice facility. “They told me it would take time. Now, I didn’t want it to take as long as it is. But I understand.”
A small smile plays on the corner of his mouth. For so many years, the 61-year-old Daniels has counseled patience to 19- and 20-year-old players who wanted playing time right now or wanted to be all-conference immediately. Now he has difficulty handling the waiting.
Daniels has a sallow complexion. He looks tired, worn down — the effects of the surgery and of the strong medications he takes.
His illness has drawn the Daniels family even closer. His wife, Kathy, son Matthew and daughter Kaitlin have been strong for him, just like he always has been for all those kids away from home for the first time at preseason practice, school or football camp.
His family’s support helped him during college coaching jobs at East Stroudsburg, New Hampshire, Boston College, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Akron and Cincinnati, along with NFL stints with the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Now that support is concentrated on his health.
Nick Siciliano, who was on the Ohio State football staff as an administrator, has gotten the call to fill in for Daniels.
If Siciliano also looks tired, that’s understandable. His wife gave birth to quadruplets (boys Cole and Giovanni and girls Gabrielle and Zoe) on Feb. 7.
Siciliano, a former assistant coach at three colleges, said he tries not to worry Daniels with the daily concerns of spring workouts. He also makes it clear that he has no design on taking the job permanently.
“As soon as he gets healthy, he can have his warm seat back,” he said with a smile.
Quarterback Todd Boeckman misses seeing Daniels’ familiar face at practice.
“You can tell he wants to be back. I guess that means he’s getting a lot better,” he said.
Sometimes Daniels has to battle his impatience. Head coach Jim Tressel has noticed.
“He’s got to be smart. We always tell our guys you can’t win the championship in the spring,” Tressel said. “I told him the last I checked we didn’t have a real game until Aug. 30.”
Boeckman, preparing for his second year as a starter, has noticed how Daniels has confronted his health problems.
“That’s very inspirational to me,” Boeckman said. “I look up to him so much. I can’t believe what he’s going through.”
Daniels is certain each morning that he is improving.
“Every day I’m getting a little bit better, a little bit stronger,” he said.
Many have been touched by what Daniels has already overcome.
“He’s the toughest guy I ever met in my life,” Siciliano said.
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