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Former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce dead at 87

  • EARLE-BRUCE-FORMER-OSU-COACH

    Former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce sits in the press box prior to the Buckeyes game against Rice on Sept. 4, 1993. Bruce did sports commentary for a radio station in Columbus after his coaching career ended. Bruce died today at age 87.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • MICHIGAN-OHIO-STATE-FOOTBALL

    Ohio State University head coach Earle Bruce is carried from the field on the shoulders of his players after Ohio State defeated Michigan 14-9 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on in this Nov. 21, 1981 file photo.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • HALL-OF-FAME

    Earle Bruce smiles while reacting to a question at a golf outing as part of the Enshrinement Festival Friday, Aug. 8, 2003, in South Bend, Ind.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Ohio-St-Michigan-Controversies-Football

    In support for fired Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, the Buckeyes all showed up with headbands inscribed with "Earle" before the start of Saturday's game with Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., in this Nov. 21, 1987.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • brucescreen-png

    AP/BLADE ILLUSTRATION

Former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce has died at his home in Powell, Ohio, after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87.

According to a statement from Bruce’s daughters that was distributed by the university, he died early Friday morning:

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our father, Coach Earle Bruce, early this morning, Friday, April 20. 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.

“His loving daughters: Lynn, Michele, Aimee and Noel"

A native of Cumberland, Md., Bruce first arrived at Ohio State as a player in 1949 before a knee injury cut short his career. Building a bond with legendary coach Woody Hayes, Bruce served on Hayes’ staff as an assistant coach from 1966-71, then succeeded Hayes as head coach from 1979-87.

He was 81-26-1 at OSU and won four Big Ten championships in his nine seasons before his controversial firing — under pressure from university officials, athletic director Rick Bay resigned rather than fire Bruce — when the team had a 5-4-1 record in 1987. Wearing headbands emblazoned with the coach’s first name, Ohio State went on to upset Michigan that year in Bruce’s final game.

On that staff was a graduate assistant named Urban Meyer, who now is Ohio State’s head coach. Bruce was the first person to extend a coaching position to Meyer, who rose through the coaching ranks and eventually won two national championships at Florida and the 2014 title at Ohio State.

Bruce was a mentor to Meyer, who made it a point to keep Bruce involved with the Buckeyes after Meyer was hired in December, 2011.

“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 release. “Every significant decision I’ve made growing up in this profession was with him involved in it. His wife 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.”

Although Bruce never won a national championship — he came closest in his first year of 1979, when Ohio State had an unbeaten regular season but lost the bowl game — or a Rose Bowl, his tenure at OSU was defined by talent. Chris Spielman, Cris Carter, and Keith Byars were among those who went on to long NFL careers after playing under Bruce, and he mentored such coaches as Meyer, Jim Tressel, Nick Saban, and Pete Carroll on his Ohio State staffs.

Bruce was head coach at the University of Tampa and Iowa State before his OSU tenure, then led the programs at Northern Iowa and Colorado State after leaving OSU. He had a career record of 154-90-2. While with the Spartans, he helped snap Toledo’s 35-game winning streak with a 21-0 win Sept. 9, 1972.

Respect for Bruce extended to the other side of The Game. Michigan coach Jim Harbuagh — who famously guaranteed victory, then delivered as Michigan’s quarterback against Bruce’s Buckeyes in 1986 — paid his respects on Twitter.

“The UofM football program and Harbaugh family send our prayers and condolences to the Earle Bruce family on the passing of a football icon,” Harbaugh tweeted. “Simply said Coach Bruce was a respected husband, father, friend and football coach.”

Former Buckeyes quarterback Mike Tomczak called Bruce “one of my favorites” in a tweet. “I’ll miss our talks Earle. RIP,” he wrote.

After his coaching career ended, Bruce became a popular radio commentator in Columbus and was a constant presence around the program under Tressel and Meyer.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2002.

Current Buckeyes receivers coach Zach Smith is Bruce’s grandson. Smith called Bruce “one of the finest men I’ve ever met.”

“The impact he had on those he loved, cared about, coached and mentored has left a legacy that will pay forward for generations,” Smith wrote. “No greater example than the impact he’s had on me. He will be missed but his presence here lives on.”

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at: npiotrowicz@theblade.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz.

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