A branch falls from the Buckeye Tree


My daughter Rachel still treasures the Buckeyes cap given to her by Coach Bruce

By Marc Katz

What kind of a guy was he? Well, he always asked about my kids, and I’m not sure he knew how many I had.

At one pre-season photo day, he noticed my wife and oldest daughter, Rachel, who was about three at the time. He came over, said hello and took the OSU cap off his head and put it on Rachel, who still has the cap.

It has EB etched in a black marker under the bill.

Oh, sure, you’re thinking I liked Earle Bruce because he was nice to me, and that does play a part, even though a few of our discussions ended with one of us shouting a bit, and it wasn’t me.

Lots of people remember Bruce, the former Ohio State football coach, for stringing together six straight 9-3 seasons from 1980-85, which would be strictly ho-hum today. But the guy went 81-26-1 in nine seasons at OSU, and for every head-scratching loss to Illinois or Indiana came more than enough victories over Michigan and Oklahoma–more than enough to land him in college football’s Hall of Fame.

Did you know of Bruce’s 26 losses at OSU, 18 of them were decided by six points or less, most at the very end of the game?

Do you remember he was 5-4 against arch-rival Michigan, and 5-3 in bowl games? Do you recall his two Rose Bowl appearances ended in tight 17-16 and 20-17
losses to USC?

He was the guy hired to replace Woody Hayes, a bombastic man who also cared about his players and also built fearsome coaching staffs that included the likes of Bo Schembechler and Lou Holtz.

Bruce actually arrived at OSU before Hayes, recruited in 1950 by then-coach Wes Fesler. When a knee injury ended Bruce’s playing career, he became an assistant coach, encouraged by Hayes, who took over for Fesler in 1951.

These “coaching tree” references can sometimes become nonsensical, but Bruce later sprinkled his OSU staffs with people such as Jim Tressel, Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer. You may have heard of them.

What do I remember most about Earle Bruce?

There was the hour or so I spent in his closet of a dressing room at the not-yet refurbished Woody Hayes training facility on north campus as he tried to defend former OSU quarterback Art Schlichter on gambling charges leading to his dismissal from
the NFL.

I wasn’t certain Bruce would talk at all, but he did, and when I pulled out my notebook, he said, “You aren’t writing this down, are you?” What he didn’t say was, “Don’t write this down,” or, “This is off the record.”

I put my pad and pencil away, and at the end of a long, emotional Bruce soliloquy, left the room and did write everything down for a story.

There was the time he called an infamous “bumble” play against Michigan in 1983, which on first glance appeared to be a major mistake, and was, except it was a
well-considered mistake.

When it didn’t work, instead of saying he had a gut feeling to use the play, Bruce laid out several reasons why he thought it would work.

Maybe the play was flawed, but it sat on a solid foundation.

None of this, of course, was anything like the last Michigan game, in Ann Arbor, on
Nov. 21, 1987.

On the previous Monday, Bruce was fired at OSU for reasons I still don’t understand, by then school president Ed Jennings, who was surprised to learn athletics director Rick Bay was handing in his resignation over the matter.

Jennings also decided Bruce would be able to coach his last OSU game, the only one left on the schedule, at Michigan.

That proved to be a public relations flop by Jennings. Even those who thought OSU could do better than Bruce had to be emotionally charged when the OSU team entered the Michigan Stadium field just before game time, all wearing white headbands with EARLE printed in black on each one.

Ohio State came from behind to win that game, 23-20.

“There’s no sweeter victory in the world than a victory over Michigan in your last game at Ohio State,” Bruce said then. “…It showed me a lot about sticking together and playing as a team.”

Earle Bruce coached again, at Northern Iowa and Colorado State and in Arena Football, retired to Columbus and did some radio work.

I never thought of him as being as old as he was. To me, he is frozen in football time.

That’s how I’ll remember him.  I wish I had called him more recently, but he had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. On Friday Morning, April 20, he passed away at 87.

I, and OSU football, will remember him fondly.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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