Fire still burns inside former Ohio State coach Bruce

82-year old also coached powerful Sandusky HIgh School teams (1960-63)
Mark Hazelwood
Oct 28, 2013

Earle Bruce bristled at the question, if almost insulted by the notion.

Bruce was the head football coach for four seasons at Sandusky (1960-63) before eventually coaching the Buckeyes for nine seasons (1979-87). But at 82 years old, it is getting harder for Bruce to get around.

Yet he can be found around Ohio Stadium and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on a daily basis.

What motivates Bruce to keep himself so busy around the program still?

“I'm a Buckeye … My God, are you kidding?” Bruce said in disbelief to such a question Saturday night during Ohio State's 63-14 Big Ten rout of Penn State. “I love football. I love Buckeye football. And look at this team they've got this year. Twenty straight wins after tonight … that's just outstanding.”

Bruce is remembered locally for kickstarting the glorious “Sensational Sixties” decade, the golden era of Blue Streak football. In his four seasons, Sandusky went 34-3-3 and outscored teams 1,205-420 (30-10 average score).

“We had a hell of a run, didn't we? Bruce said. “We had great football players at Sandusky. We had real speed, and most importantly, our kids had toughness. The little kids had the toughness, and the big guys had the speed. We just had some really, really good players on both lines, and we ran well and played hard.”

When asked about his favorite moment while at Sandusky, Bruce didn't hesitate.

“I have a standout moment, very definitely,” he said. “Our victory against Lorain Admiral King when they were ahead of us for the league championship in the last game of the season in 1962. We had a tie and they had a win, so we had to beat them to win the league.”

The game was never in doubt. The Blue Streaks rolled to a 38-8 win as one of the all-time SHS greats, Stew Williams, ran for more than 200 yards and five touchdowns. Bruce also played Williams at linebacker for the first time in the game, which assured Sandusky of an 8-0-2 regular season.

“We soundly beat them, and Stew had the game of his life,” Bruce said. “He made a lot of tackles and scored five times. He was a force. He was 6-2, 235 and I carried him off the field after that … all 235 pounds of him.”

Bruce left Sandusky for state power Massillon Washington and went 20-0 in two years before moving on to coaching at college. He was an assistant under legendary coach Woody Hayes at OSU (1966-71), then went 36-32 at Iowa State before taking over for Hayes at OSU in 1979.

Bruce kept the run going that Hayes had established, winning four Big Ten titles, five bowl games and beat rival Michigan five times in his nine-year run for an 81-26-1 record.

Ohio State lost 17-16 in the Rose Bowl against USC at the end of the 1979 season, missing out on a national championship by a single point as Alabama (12-0) was awarded the No. 1 ranking and title.

But when pressed, Bruce said one of his fondest memories at Ohio State was also one of his worst.

After being informed he was going to be fired at the end of the 1987 season just five days before playing the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Buckeye players wore headbands as a tribute to Bruce.

It was widely an unpopular move to fire Bruce, who took a 5-4-1 record that season into the game after losing less than three games in each of his previous eight seasons. But after trailing 13-0 at halftime, the Buckeyes stunned Michigan, 23-20, which ironically was OSU's last win at Michigan until Jim Tressel arrived in 2001.

“The most exciting part was the comeback after being down 13 points,” Bruce said. “We were playing hard and giving good effort, but momentum was not our way yet. All of the sudden, we get a late touchdown in the first half, and little Carlos Snow takes a pass in the flats 70 yards for a touchdown to start the second half. That put us ahead, and we never looked back.”

Bruce also noted memorable wins when the Buckeyes stunned No. 1-ranked Iowa at home in 1985 (22-13) without star running back Keith Byars, as well as a 28-12 win over Texas A&M in the 1987 Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day.

“They had one of the best teams I had seen assembled as an opposing coach,” Bruce said of the Aggies, who were led by eventual high round NFL draft picks Roger Vick (21st overall), Rod Bernstine (24th overall) and Keith Woodside (61st overall). “We were able to really take it to them. And of course, the five victories against Michigan were also great.”

Bruce couldn't be happier to see Urban Meyer currently coaching the Buckeyes. Meyer is 20-0 in in one-plus seasons entering this week's game at Purdue.

“He's a great football coach, and was a graduate assistant here for me and then an assistant at Colorado State with me also, and did a great job then,” Bruce said of Meyer. “He did everything you would want and more. He's just a fine football guy. I mean, he just knows his football and is a great recruiter. You can't have any better coach than that.”

But Bruce is still living the good life, as WTVN AM-610 also keeps him busy as an analyst. He is also on Meyer's weekly television show in Columbus with John Cooper, who followed Bruce at Ohio State and coached the Buckeyes for 13 seasons (1988-2000).

“We do that every Wednesday, and I'm allowed in any of the staff meetings, but I go easy on that,” Bruce said. “I'm in to watch the offensive line and receivers a little bit. I've also got an office with John in the facility. I'm treated well. I like it, and it's a good thing for me.”



Thanks Coach Bruce