Hartman: Earle Bruce is one of the most influential Ohio State Buckeyes ever

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

There will never be another Earle Bruce.

The Hall of Fame Ohio State football coach, who died early Friday at the age of 87, was an import from out of state, but he ended up being one of the most influential Buckeyes of all time.

A hotshot halfback from Cumberland, Md., “Lefty” Bruce had his playing career cut short by a knee injury.

PHOTOS: Earle Bruce through the years

First-year head coach Woody Hayes re-recruited him to stick around and help out the team, though, and that turned out to be a fateful decision for both men and the program.

Bruce is best known nationally for his nine years as head coach of the Buckeyes.

The College Football Hall of Fame tenure began with a Big Ten championship and an undefeated regular season and ended with his players carrying him off the Michigan Stadium field after an upset win over the Wolverines.

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

He won (81-26-1), but not enough to live up to the high standards of Ohio State.

The firing of “Ol’ 9 and 3 Earle” at the end of a disappointing 1987 season was controversial at the time, but subsequent seasons showed recruiting had declined and a change was probably needed before things got worse.

Regardless, it proved to be far from the end of Bruce’s association with the Scarlet and Gray.

Better days were to come, and Earle Bruce played a large part in making them possible.

Bruce’s successor, John Cooper, modernized the program by nationalizing recruiting and updating Ohio State’s schemes, but two Bruce proteges took the Buckeyes back to the top of the college football world.

Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, winners of the national championship in 2002 and 2014, respectively, both were brought to Ohio State initially by Bruce, and both counted him as an important mentor.

Bruce was also a difference-maker away from the field.

Through multiple efforts — including his annual Beat Michigan Tailgate — he helped raise over $1 million for Alzheimer’s research, a disease that claimed his father and two sisters.

His family revealed last summer he was also in the early stages of battling the disease.

Death is a part of life, and few lived as full of one as Earle Bruce, a player, coach and mentor who left an indelible mark on Ohio State football.

Over the past 20-plus years, he remained a presence with the program and a go-to resource for media members who wanted first-hand accounts of the days of Hayes or insight on what makes Tressel and Meyer tick.

During the Tressel days, “Hurricane Earle” was famous for blowing through the Woody Hayes Athletic Center early in Michigan Week.

He would give one of those old fashioned fire and brimstone speeches to get the players fired up to face the Wolverines, a fitting coda to a life lived as one of the ultimate Buckeyes.

One can’t help but wonder how many young Ohio State players -- including those who like him came from out of state -- first learned about the intensity of The Game from Bruce.

Too many to count.

That might not be the biggest part of his legacy, but it’s perhaps the most appropriate.

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