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May 13, 2013

Time and Change: Earle Bruce

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod

So many times in these Time and Change features I have the chance to talk about players who I have seen play or even players that I have had the opportunity to be teammates with but in this installment I am talking about one of the great coaches that I had a chance to play under, Earle Bruce.

I was lucky to have been a member of the 1979 Big Ten Champion Rose Bowl Team that Bruce coached in his first year at Ohio State.

There were many memorable aspects of that magical year and Coach Bruce and I recently had the opportunity to reminisce about many of those memories.

"It was the greatest year for learning how important it is to become a team, when you're all committed to the same purpose," Bruce told me. "When you look at what happened up at Minnesota (down 17-6 at halftime) and coming back and winning 21-17. Going 80 yards to win the game in the last two minutes against UCLA, those two wins, on the road, were incredible."

I personally will never forget that UCLA game. We came back in the fourth quarter, with 2:21 left on the clock to beat UCLA 17-13 at the L.A. Coliseum and remained undefeated for the season.

On the plane ride back to Columbus, the pilot dipped the right wing of the plane and then we were looking directly down and into the Rose Bowl. The excitement in the air was electrifying. I remember getting goose bumps, when Todd Bell said, 'Baby, we're comin' back! Baby, we're comin' back!'

And come back we did.

"That year was one in which we started out with an inexperienced offensive line and they came through with flying colors," Bruce said.

"To think that we were picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten and we beat the team that was picked to win the Championship, Michigan State, and we beat them rather handily, 42-0. You guys really grew as football players. You started out and got better every game and when you win a close game, that helps you mold together."

There were plenty of challenges during the season however.

"We had trouble with 'little old Northwestern' in a 16-7 game and then you couldn't have asked for a better finish to a Michigan game than a blocked punt for a touchdown to win the game in the fourth quarter. That was great football, great football." Bruce added.

We then went out to the Rose Bowl. I have written this before, but that day we played what I still feel to this day was the best team talent-wise in the history of college football.

Never having been done before, the USC offense had two Heisman Trophy winners on the same team, Tailback Charles White and Fullback Marcus Allen (Oakland Raiders). They also had the following players on offense: Quarterback Paul McDonald (Cleveland Browns), Offensive Tackle Bruce Matthews (Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans), Offensive Tackle Keith Van Horn (Chicago Bears), Offensive Tackle Anthony Munoz (Cincinnati Bengals), NFL Hall of Fame Offensive Tackle Don Mosebar (Los Angeles Raiders), Offensive Guard Brad Budde (Kansas City Chiefs), Offensive Guard Roy Foster (Miami Dolphins) and Center Chris Foote (Minnesota Vikings).

The USC defense was led by Outside Linebacker Chip Banks (Cleveland Browns), Defensive Tackle Myron Lapka (New York Giants), Inside Linebacker Riki Ellison (Los Angeles Raiders/SF 49ers), Safety Jeff Fisher (Chicago Bears and longtime head coach of the Tennessee Titans), Safety Dennis Smith (Denver Broncos), Safety Joey Browner (Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Minnesota Vikings) and Rover Ronnie Lott (San Francisco 49ers and the Pro Football Hall of Fame).

"That was a great Rose Bowl," Bruce said. "We actually led that game for 57 minutes. They had a great football team and it was a great game and it could have been won by Ohio State, but we just lost in the last minute. It was a very rewarding season."

It is no secret that Urban Meyer considers Bruce to be a mentor and while Earle is very fond of Urban, he immediately deflects any credit when accolades come his way regarding his relationship with Meyer.

"It was actually his Dad and then me," Earle said. "His dad was a great man. His Dad and I are alike in the sense that he's a tough guy and so am I. Urban learned from his dad that if you don't practice hard, you don't play hard, if you don't go after it, you don't get any better.

"You earn it, that's what you do in football. You earn everything you get. Toughness is part of it and Urban has learned that too. He and I used to have arguments in a way. Speed versus toughness, Urban wanted speed and I said I'll take toughness anytime, because if I'm hitting you hard for three quarters, in the fourth quarter, you're going to fold and we're going to take over that game. You win big football games in the fourth quarter."

Bruce is aware that people tie him and Meyer together but doesn't want to take credit for what Urban has done through his coaching career.

"I appreciate being referred to as Urban's mentor, but he was a good football coach when he came here," Bruce said. "He had a good football mind, he liked the game and he worked at it. That's what it takes. He's a good man."

Woody Hayes also certainly embodied the word toughness.

During that 1979 season Earle Bruce took over the reins to the Buckeyes from Hayes and described that scenario for me.

"Woody was most certainly a gracious guy," Bruce said. "He wouldn't come to the games that first year because he didn't want to take anything away from our team. He was very supportive of Ohio State and very supportive of me. He would call me each week and say, 'Are you practicing for Michigan?' And I would say, 'Well, we haven't yet coach' and he said, 'You better get on that, you better get on that right now! You gotta beat Michigan, remember that, remember that!'

"Being involved with Coach Hayes was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had, because I had him as my coach and then my boss. It made me a better football coach. There were not many people that lasted six years as an assistant football coach to Woody Hayes, but that is something I'm proud of. Six years on the practice field with Woody Hayes, I have many stories, but this is one of my favorites:

It is my first year as an assistant and we are in the middle of spring practice and I didn't feel well after practice. So I went in to see Ernie Biggs (Head Trainer) and Dr. Bob Murphy. They said, 'What's the problem,' and I say, 'You know, I'm feeling rather tight around the chest.'

They said, 'Tightness of the chest?' And then they started to laugh.

And I said, 'What's so funny?' and they said, 'Join the club'. I said, 'What club am I joining?'

Dr. Bob said, 'Every first year assistant football coach that's ever coached here for Coach Hayes has come in here and said they have tightness around the chest.'

I said, 'Well, what do you do about it?'

Dr. Bob said, 'This is what you do about it, do you see this?'

I said, 'Yeah, what is it?'

He said, 'It's Valium. I'm going to give you a prescription for this and I want you to go home, take one of these, fill up your bathroom tub with 12 to 14 inches of hot water, lock the door, get in the tub and cuss Coach Hayes out for about a 45 minute period and you'll feel a hell of a lot better.'

So I go home and I'm telling my wife, Jeanne, what they told me to do and she said, 'Are you really going to do that?' And I said, That's what they told me to do.'

So, I get in the tub and I started cussing out Coach Hayes and forget about my two daughters, who are ages four and two. They're outside the bathroom and start yelling ,'Who's in there with Daddy, Mommy? Who's in there with Daddy, mommy?'

So Jeanne had to take them outside because daddy was cussing out Woody Hayes. I thought what the hell is a grown man doing in the bathtub doing that? Coach Hayes really affected you a little differently. There are many guys that could only coach one year under Coach Hayes, but if you could stick out six, you deserved about two medals, I guess."


Even with the intimidating start to his tenure, Bruce admitted that he looks back fondly of his time learning under the legendary Ohio State head coach.

"I'll tell you what I'm proud of is that I was an assistant coach to Coach Hayes for six years," Bruce added. "I coached the offensive line and the defensive backs. That's a long time at Ohio State to be an assistant to Coach Hayes. I learned a lot and came out of it a better man and a tougher guy than you would normally be."

As always I had the opportunity to ask Coach Bruce what were the greatest experiences in his college football career and he was emphatic with his response.

"I've had a great experience at every one of the places I've coached," Bruce said. "But let me put it into perspective. When you graduate from Ohio State and you coach here and you tried to play here, I actually got hurt playing - Everything is big here.

"Certainly beating Iowa when they were undefeated and number one in the country and beating Michigan in 1979 was great, but for sure in 1987 after I was fired was incredible. To get fired on Monday and to win the biggest game in college football on Saturday, that just doesn't happen. That was about as exciting as anything could possibly be. To have the joy of that football game afterwards, was a great memory. (Bruce was carried off the field by his players in Michigan Stadium after completing a 5-4 record vs. Michigan in nine seasons) That's a tribute to the kids that played.

"I've had a great career in coaching and a bunch of great football players, you don't win unless you have great football players and that's what it's all about."

Some things will never change.



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