Ohio State Football: One Buckeye fan’s tribute to coach Earle Bruce

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 14: Head coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes watches player warm up before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 14: Head coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes watches player warm up before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images) /

Earle Bruce was a part of the Ohio State football program even before Woody Hayes became the head coach. Talk about deep Buckeye roots.

After former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce passed away last Friday there were a countless number of  people who came forward to tell how much he impacted their lives. Those comments were heartwarming and gave us an insight on what he meant to players, coaches and seemingly anyone who knew him well.

I never had the privilege of meeting coach Bruce so I can only speak about him from a fan’s point of view. I want to share the impact he had on the football program during the 50 years I have followed the Buckeyes.

Coach Bruce was instrumental on me becoming a fan, and I had no clue that was the case at the time. As an 11-year-old in 1968 I was infatuated with skill position players and not the offensive linemen he coached.

While backs Jim Otis, John Brockington and Leo Hayden were literally running over the opposition, I didn’t realize it was coach Bruce’s guys who were opening the holes for them. That era made me become a Buckeye fan for the rest of my life so in large part I owe Earle Bruce for that.

After he returned to become Ohio State’s head coach in 1979, there would be no doubt about his impact on the football program.

For many fans, myself included, they couldn’t remember the time when Woody Hayes wasn’t walking the sidelines in short sleeves yelling at the officials. Buckeye fans wondered just what the football program would become without the legendary coach in charge.

Before Woody took over as head coach, Ohio State wasn’t the dominant team in the Big Ten let alone a national powerhouse. Would the Buckeyes revert back to being just another football team who would just contend for a Big Ten title from time to time?

Things didn’t look promising either. Ohio State was coming off a 7-4-1 season, a third straight loss to Michigan and the Gator Bowl debacle.

Woody had been in the process of changing the offense to more of a pro style attack and the pieces didn’t seem to fit. Also, quarterback Art Schlichter threw 21 interceptions and only 4 touchdown passes as a freshman.

Somehow coach Bruce got his players to gel and the team finished the season with an 11-0 record, and most importantly they stopped Michigan’s winning streak in “The Game”. Now it was off to Pasadena to face USC and a win would result in a national title.

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Charles White had the greatest game a running back ever had in the Rose Bowl and lead the Trojans to a 17-16 victory. While Ohio State football fans were disappointed, they knew the program was in great hands.

Coach Bruce’s teams won at least 9 games each of the next 7 seasons and he finished his Ohio State coaching career with a 81-26-1 record. The Buckeyes won or shared 4 Big ten titles during his tenure and were 5-3 in bowl games. 

After a 5-4-1 record through the first 10 games of the 1987 season Earle Bruce was notified he wouldn’t be coaching the Ohio State football team the next year. However, he understood the importance of the game left to be played.

He prepared his players well and they pulled out a 23-20 victory in Ann Arbor, once again proving he was a true Buckeye. That win gave Earle a 5-4 record over Bo in “The Game”.

He moved on to coach Northern Iowa and then Colorado State but he still impacted the Ohio State football team into the 21st century. Two of his former assistants, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, won national championships. Each are quick to point out that principles and techniques they used in doing so are things they learned from coach Bruce.

After his coaching days were through, Earle Bruce came back to the Columbus area to become the biggest Buckeye fan of them all.

Whether he was on a pregame show or a post game recap he would share what he thought the Buckeyes should do, what they should have done or the things they did correctly. You never had to wonder about where he stood on any subject either because he was quite emphatic with his opinions.

He brought the exuberance of a 20-year-old OSU student and the knowledge he gained from his many years of being around college football. He was recruited to play for Ohio State even before Woody Hayes was hired on as head coach. It was always interesting to hear what coach Bruce had to say about any situation.

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One thing in particular always stood out about Earle Bruce. Even though he could be brash at times, he came across as a gracious man who showed respect for others. With the sentiments shared the last few days by those who knew him well, I am sure that was the case.

Buckeye Nation lost one of the most influential men to ever grace the Ohio State University last Friday. However, that doesn’t mean Earle Bruce’s impact on the football program came to an end. You will see evidence of his influence during the 2018 season because of the things Urban Meyer learned from the Hall of Fame coach.

From the standpoint of a fan who has followed Ohio State for 50 years, it was a sad day for me when I heard Earle Bruce had passed. He had so much to do with me becoming a Buckeye fan and was so instrumental of the success of the Ohio State football program over the years it’s unbelievable. And he was a Buckeye through and through.

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I just want to finish by saying two things I think Earle Bruce would approve of. Thank you coach for the great memories you have given Buckeye fans over the years. And GO BUCKS!!!