COLUMBUS, Ohio — The famous intensity combined with a fierce loyalty to Ohio State never faded for Earle Bruce.
Even into his late 80s with his health slipping, the legendary former coach of the Buckeyes would take a seat in the back of the press box and fill up an otherwise-quiet room with the kinds of sounds that only somebody who had commanded the sideline could make.
He could still get worked up over the importance of The Game. He would make any effort needed to swing by the practice field despite his battle with Alzheimer’s, which provided one last fight for a guy who made a career out of never backing down.
And, of course, he had the ear of the man currently in charge of his beloved Buckeyes, his protégé Urban Meyer.
“My mentor,” Meyer said last year while introducing Bruce at a coaching clinic. “Those of you who know me know that other than my father, he’s the most influential person I’ve ever been around.”
That powerful influence is still felt at Ohio State, and there is no question Meyer will protect the legacy of Bruce with every ounce of effort inside him.
Meyer won’t be alone. Not with Bruce’s grandson Zach Smith coaching receivers, or running backs coach Tony Alford having played under Bruce in college, or staffer Tim Hinton having cut his teeth on his staff in the 1980s.
Even after the difficult act of following Woody Hayes came to an ignominious end with the band playing on Bruce’s lawn the night of his firing — one of the earliest memories for Smith, for the record — his love affair with the scarlet and gray never ended. And while it does occasionally get overlooked that he was a damn-fine coach who earned his spot in the College Football Hall of Fame, it probably will be his eye for talent that ensures his lasting impact with the program.
Over the course of his career, Bruce hired four assistants in Meyer, Jim Tressel, Nick Saban and Pete Carroll who would go on to win national championships. That’s just the top of the list of coaches who would learn the game under his wing, and as far as teachers go he clearly was a great one.
“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 statement Friday morning. “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.”
Bruce also could win football games, recording 81 victories with the Buckeyes from 1979 to 1987, twice winning the Big Ten outright and twice splitting the title. Back then, he seemingly was never quite able to escape the shadow of the mythical figure who converted him from player to coach in 1951 when a torn meniscus turned Bruce from a sophomore running back into a member of Hayes’ staff.
The passage of time has helped put Bruce’s accomplishments in a clearer light, and he did more than enough to earn his place as one of the giants in the history of the storied program. Ohio State will mourn the loss of Bruce, and it will weigh heavily on every life he touched during his career — and after it in his second life ranting in the press box.
He won’t soon be forgotten. And it’s clear every day that his influence on the Buckeyes won’t fade anytime soon.