Former Ohio State Buckeyes head football coach Earle Bruce, the man who succeeded Woody Hayes and served as a mentor for Urban Meyer, died early Friday at 87 at his home in Powell, Ohio State announced.
Bruce, who was hired in January 1979 after Hayes was fired, coached the Buckeyes from 1979-87 and had a record of 81-26-1 in nine seasons. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
“He was a great man, a wonderful husband, father and grandfather, and a respected coach to many,” a statement by his daughters (Lynn, Michele, Aimee and Noel) read. “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.”
» HARTMAN: Bruce one of most influential Buckeyes ever
Bruce won four Big Ten championships (1979, 1981, 1984, 1986). He won his first 11 games in 1979 and was named national coach of the year. Only a 17-16 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl kept him from winning a national championship in his first season.
Bruce was 5-4 against Michigan in his career and 5-3 in bowl games. He began his coaching career at Iowa State (1973-78) and coached four seasons at Colorado State (1989-92) after he was fired by Ohio State in 1988. His career record in 19 seasons was 139-82-2.
“I’m proud of about three things in my career,” Bruce said in 2001. “One is the Michigan record: 5-4. And the only games they won were because there wasn’t a fifth quarter. If there had been a fifth quarter, we would have kicked their butts. We just ran out of time, that’s how I look at it. And I went against Bo Schembechler, the best coach they ever had, no question.”
Bruce remained close to the program. In 2016, he dotted the “I’ in Script Ohio before a game against Rutgers at Ohio Stadium. He attended Ohio State’s spring practice on March 8, the day he turned 87.
Meyer was a graduate assistant at Ohio State in the 1986 and 1987 seasons, Bruce’s final two years with the program, and often credited Bruce for teaching him about the importance of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
“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 press 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.”