Earle Bruce – A Buckeye Legend

Written June 14th, 2012 by WVaBuckeye

Carried off the field after defeating TTUN one of the five times he did so

He’s definitely had one of the least liked exits as a head coach in Ohio State history and has continued to this day to love THE Ohio State University in spite of the way he was treated.

From being a player for the Buckeyes in the early 1950′s to local prognosticator on Columbus radio recently, he has never been shy about his love affair with the Scarlet and Gray.

He has an amazing coaching tree that has literally come full circle in bringing Urban Meyer back to the beginning of his coaching roots.

One things for sure, there may not be anybody that’s ever been as much of a Buckeye that Coach Earle Bruce is.

Coach Bruce suffered one of the worst fates for a football player but it clearly set forth a path to something greater. He played full back at tOSU in 1949 on the Wes Fesler coached freshmen team but suffered a knee injury before his sophomore season and never saw the field. Woody Hayes clearly saw something special in Coach Bruce and offered him a position on the staff until he graduated in 1953.

That experience in itself set forth a coaching career that began at Mansfield HS as an assistant. He then was hired as the head coach at Salem HS in 1956 and began one of the best head coaching careers in Ohio High School history. After going 28 – 9 at Salem and then 34-3-3 at Sandusky HS, Coach Bruce moved on to Massillon where he set a standard to never be matched in Tiger football lore. During his two seasons at Massillon HS in 1964 and 1965 the Tigers were undefeated and back to back state champions. He is the only undefeated head coach in Tigers history. Check out the original bio put together by the Massillon Tigers Cyber Review.

Coach Bruce returned to Ohio State as an assistant in 1966 as Woody Hayes jumped at the chance to bring his star pupil home. He was an offensive line and defensive backs coach during his tenure as an assistant, but he was destined to be a head coach. He took a job at the University of Tampa in 1972 which earned him the same position at Iowa State to prepare himself to one day be the head coach at his favorite university in his home state of Ohio. Little did he know that his mentor and one of his best friends would be making an early exit from the top post because of a punch.

One of the best pics of Coach Bruce and the team

1987 should have probably been Woody Hayes swan song as the head coach in Scarlet and Gray, but as fate would have it, it was a great first season for new head coach Earle Bruce. Finishing the season undefeated, the Buckeyes lost to Charles White’s 247 yards and last-minute TD by the Trojan on his way to Rose Bowl MVP honors.

“Mr. Nine and Three”, as I have always affectionately called him, never disappointed the fans and players during his tenure. He has always been a players coach and got the best out of his players.  While at Ohio State he had an overall record of 81-26-1 and a conference mark of 57-17 with four championships. He defeated TTUN five times and most notably during the 1987 season the week after he was fired. Coach Bruce won that last game as players wore headbands with EARLE on them to support him after his sudden firing. After the game, the ever respectful  Bo Schembechler told Bruce, “I always mind losing to Ohio State but I didn’t mind so much today.” He had a bowl record of 5-3 and may have gotten number six but tOSU turned down an opportunity to play in a bowl due to the firing of Coach Bruce.

Support, On And Off The Field

During his time in Columbus in Scarlet and Gray, he made a profound impact on several assistants who later became head coaches. The two most notable will be former and current head coaches Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. Coach Bruce still has a very close relationship with both but has been in the Urban Meyer corner for several months. Coach Meyer has said on more than one occasion what Coach Bruce has meant to him as a mentor, friend and even a father figure recently when his father passed. Other in the tree include Dom Capers (82&83); Pete Carrol (1979, came with Coach Bruce from Iowa State); Mark Dantonio (83&84 Grad Assist); Glen Mason (longest tenure w/Woody in 78 and Coach Bruce through 1985); Nick Saban (80&81).

Coach Bruce is all about coaching. It has been his life’s blood since being a sophomore in college. Being let go by the university that he loved had to be a tough pill to swallow. He hasn’t let go of that relationship and has been a part of the media that gets to talk about teams every Saturday in Columbus. After being let go he went straight to Northern Iowa for a season and then finished his college coaching career at Colorado State, leading the Rams to a Freedom Bowl victory in 1990. Being on the sidelines will never be out of his system as he spent two seasons in the Arena league with the Iowa Barnstormers and finished with the Columbus Destroyers in 2004.

Coaching tree has come to Ohio State

As good as a football coach that he is, he is a better human being and has proven it time and again with his work in the charity arena. We all are affected by some form of disease, whether it be cancer, diabetes or in  my case cystic fibrosis. Coach Bruce has a long-standing relationship with Alzheimer’s charities and has done some great work supporting it. Having raised a child with cystic fibrosis and losing my grandmother to dementia, I can tell you that Alzheimer’s is a very difficult one to handle. It’s not something that I would ever want to deal with again and Coach Bruce has twice, losing his father in 1986 and his sister in 2008.

Coach Bruce lost his wife Jean this past December but not before they did some great work together with the Earle and Jean Bruce  Alzheimer’s Research Fund in Neurology. For more information go here. To support the cause go here. The Bruce’s together also created the Buckeye Charitable Benefits to help the cause as well as the Earle Bruce beat TTUN Tailgate. The James Horne Memorial golf outing as well as teaming up with Coach Tressel’s spring kickoff in past years has also gone to the cause.

Coach Bruce and Jean

Woody Hayes has been gone for a very long time and Coach Bruce has done a great job of being the true Patriarch of the Buckeye football program. He is currently enjoying life as a fan of the program and mentor to its current head coach. I’m sure that the one thing that he is most proud of is that his grandson Zach Smith is on staff with the Scarlet and Gray. He has a connection with Coach Meyer that cannot be denied and I am sure a lot of it has to do with the lifetime relationship he has enjoyed with him.

The legend that is Earle Bruce will continue for many years to come thanks to the people who have become the coaches they are due to his guidance. Who knows, maybe it’s fate that someday a true leaf that hasn’t fallen very far from the tree, in Coach Zach Smith, will one day be the head coach of THE Ohio State Buckeyes.

Let’s face it, it’s definitely in his blood.


  1. Ben HNo Gravatar
    June 14th, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    This man is the epitome of what OSU means to me. I started watching OSU as a youngster in 1983. I was only 7 at the time and only remember my dad showing me that pic of him acting like he’s holding the guys back. I started playing football the next year after watching Coach Bruce and the Buckeyes have a great season with beating #2 Oklahoma but unfortunately got beat by TTUN in a close one. Since then I’ve always been a big fan of Earle and feel he’s sometimes not mentioned enough as a former great coach at OSU. Thanks for this article WVABuckeye=) I always love the pic of him and Urban. I have that as my screen saver at work.


    WVaBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 18th, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Thank you! I can honestly say that I am still disappointed in how he was fired. I could truly understand if they wanted to get back to the elite level. But he could have been allowed to leave in a different way. Mr Nine and Three is one of my favorite coaches in all of sports.


  2. Gary Russell IINo Gravatar
    June 16th, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Coach Bruce was the first Buckeye football coach that I watched as a kid. My Dad loved that man. He will forever be in my heart. Anytime Coach Bruce is metioned I think of my Dad. Great article WVA!


    WVaBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 18th, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Thank you Gary. Its good to have wonderful memories of your father. I know yesterday was rough and I am sorry.


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