Former Ohio State Football Coach Earle Bruce Dies at 87

By Dan Hope on April 20, 2018 at 7:13 am
Earle Bruce dotted the 'i' during Script Ohio before Ohio State's game against Rutgers in 2016.

Former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce has died at the age of 87, his daughters said in a statement released through the university on Friday morning.

"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our father, Coach Earle Bruce, early this morning, Friday, April 20," said Bruce's daughters, Lynn, Michele, Aimee and Noel. "He was a great man, a wonderful husband, father and grandfather, and a respected coach to many. Our family will miss him dearly, but we take solace in the belief that he is in a better place and reunited with his beloved wife, Jean. We thank you for your prayers and good wishes."

Bruce was the head coach of the Buckeyes from 1979-87, compiling an 81-26-1 record and leading Ohio State to four Big Ten championships in his nine seasons at the helm.

The former coach had remained close to Ohio State’s football program in recent years. Current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer worked for Bruce as a graduate assistant in his final two years coaching the Buckeyes; current wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Smith is Bruce’s grandson.

“I’ve made it clear many times that, other than my father, Coach Bruce was the most influential man in my life,” Meyer said in a university release. “Every significant decision I’ve made growing up in this profession was with him involved in it. His wife [Jean] and he were the role models for Shelley and me. They did everything with class. He was not afraid to show how much he loved his family and cared for his family.”

Bruce played fullback for Ohio State’s freshman football team in 1950, but became a student coach for the varsity Buckeyes in 1951 – Woody Hayes’ first year as head coach – after suffering a career-ending knee injury.

Bruce's career as a full-time coach began at the high school level, starting as an assistant at Mansfield High School before tenures as the head coach at Salem High School, Sandusky High School and Massillon Washington High School (all in Ohio). Bruce returned to Ohio State in 1966 and served as an assistant to Hayes for six seasons. Bruce then spent one season as the head coach at the University of Tampa before six seasons as the head coach at Iowa State.

When Ohio State fired Hayes after the 1978 Gator Bowl, Bruce was chosen as Hayes’ replacement. In his first season on the job, Bruce led Ohio State to an 11-1 season and was named national coach of the year.

Bruce went on to win at least nine games in each of his first eight seasons as Ohio State’s coach. He was fired after the Buckeyes went 5-4-1 in their first 10 games of the 1987 season, but finished out his career with a 23-20 win over Michigan, giving him a 5-4 record in The Game for his Ohio State tenure.

Following his departure from Ohio State, Bruce spent one season coaching Northern Iowa and four seasons as the head coach at Colorado State, where Meyer worked for him as wide receivers coach. He also spent time coaching in the Arena Football League with the Cleveland Thunderbirds (1994), St. Louis Stampede (1995-96), Iowa Barnstormers (2003) and Columbus Destroyers (2004).

Bruce was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004. Bruce also had the prestigious honor of dotting the "i" in Script Ohio – an honor usually reserved for band members – before Ohio State's 2016 game against Rutgers.

Prior to his death, Bruce had been battling Alzheimer's, a disease that affected several members of his family. Bruce and his late wife started the Earle and Jean Bruce Alzheimer's Research Fund in Neurology at Ohio State.

A public celebration of Bruce's life will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. John Arena.

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