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Former Buckeye, Sandusky coach Earle Bruce addresses crowd on leadership

Ask for a definition of leadership, and you'll get 10 different answers from 10 different leaders.
May 9, 2011

Ask for a definition of leadership, and you'll get 10 different answers from 10 different leaders.

That was one of the dozens of lessons a high school and college coaching legend spoke about Friday.

Earle Bruce addressed a crowd, most of the them area football coaches, at the Sandusky Bay Conference Coaching Clinic at the Kalahari Nia Center.

His topic, leadership, was delivered with zest and enthusiasm.

The former Ohio State and Sandusky head coach didn't bother with the microphone, sometimes speaking with a booming voice. The 80-year old Bruce, with 154 college wins and 82 more in high school, spoke with the verve of a leader -- and he spoke like a coach who still had a season or more left in him.

"If you're a leader, you've got to have followers. And if no one follows you, you might as well walk around in the woods," said Bruce, dressed in a Nike scarlet Ohio State polo.

He admitted a reality there are more football players today doing bad things off the football field. And he didn't shy away from talking about current troubles in Columbus.

"If a player of mine sold his Gold Pants, I think he would have died on the spot," Bruce said, referring to five Ohio State players who sold memorabilia, including the Gold Pants charm given for beating rival Michigan, to a Columbus tatoo parlor owner.

Those five players -- which include quarterback Terrelle Pryor, tailback Dan Herron, receiver Devier Posey and lineman Mike Adams -- are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season.

Head coach Jim Tressel will also miss the first five games, but an NCAA investigation could cost him more than a $250,000 fine.

The NCAA alleges Tressel lied when he signed a form stating he disclosed any knowledge of potential NCAA infractions, and for knowingly using ineligible players.

Tressel was notified in April 2010 via emails that Ohio State players were trading memorabilia for cash and reduced-price tattoos. Even though his contract and NCAA rules required him to notify the school, Tressel did not do that.

But make no mistake, Bruce will support any Ohio State head coach 100 percent, and defended Tressel, whose job could be on the line.

"Naturally that's my school," Bruce said. "I vowed whoever the coach is, I'm going to support him. I hate to see someone like Tressel in this situation.

"(Tressel's) a good man," he said, "and he doesn't deserve this."


Earle on Sandusky

"When I coached at Sandusky, we had the speed. When we pitched the ball... I looked up at the scoreboard because we were going the 90 yards," Bruce said.

He was on the sidelines at Strobel for four seasons, but Bruce made them count with a 34-3-3 record.

"I like this area. I had a great four-year career here," Bruce said. " We worked like hell, and we produced some great teams, and we had great support from the crowd."

Prepping for a showdown with rival Lorain Admiral King one year, Bruce and the staff worked with running back Steward Williams on playing linebacker for the game to slow down the Admiral offense.

"Big kid. 6-2, 235 pounds," Bruce said. "Williams scored five times, and I carried him off the field. All 235 pounds."

Bruce left Sandusky for Massillon Washington, and upon his arrival a neighbor told him the residents would dump their trash on his lawn after his first loss.

"I'm not going to lose a game!" Bruce shouted to the crowd.

He didn't. Bruce went 20-0 in two years at Massillon before moving on to coaching at college.


Earle on Columbus

Bruce cited leaders from his parents to military and political leaders like George Washington and Harry S. Truman, and leaders like Woody Hayes, the all-time leader in wins at OSU with a 205-61-10 record.

"I'd rather play for him than coach for him. He was tougher than hell," said Bruce, who was a running back for Hayes in 1951, then succeeded him as coach in 1979. "When he said something, he meant it."

Bruce, who won four Big Ten titles with the Buckeyes and was 81-26-1 there, shared stories about three of his greatest players -- linebacker Chris Spielman, receiver Chris Carter and tailback Keith Byars -- on how they led.

"He is the greatest football player I've ever seen in high school," Bruce said of Spielman. When Spielman arrived in Columbus, he didn't start the opener because of a foot injury.

"I kept hearing someone slamming their foot, yelling, 'I gotta play!'" said Bruce, describing the scene before Spielman went into the game after halftime, down 13-7 to Oregon State.

"He made the first 10 tackles," Bruce said. "Know what they call that? Leadership -- by example."

Byars was the most gifted athlete Bruce coached at the tailback spot, and Carter was the only player he saw receive ovations in practices for the catches he made.

Bruce's finale was the famed 23-20 win that saw Ohio State rally from a 13-0 deficit in Ann Arbor, Mich. Afterward, Bruce said Michigan coach Bo Schembechler told him, "I hate to lose. Today, I didn't mind losing... Bo was the finest coach Michigan had."

Bruce, unceremoniously fired earlier that week, was carried off the field that day by his players. He told them after the game, "You've really done something. That was the greatest effort I've seen."