The rule is so sacrosanct — “No cheering in the press box — that reminders seldom are necessary.
Except the rules didn’t apply for Earle Bruce. No cheering? The hell with that.
In the years after he was fired as Ohio State football coach, Bruce would spend home Saturdays in the fall in the Ohio Stadium press box — usually in his role as a radio analyst for WTVN, sometimes just to be there.
From his spot in the third row, Bruce occasionally would pound the workspace in front of him and yell “yes!” when his Buckeyes made a big play.
That was Earle. Raw and real. You always knew where you stood — and where he sat.
How I will miss that man.
Upon learning Earle had passed away Friday morning at age 87 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, my mind went to the places I had interacted with him through the years:
* In his Dublin residence, where he told love-hate stories about Woody Hayes, including how the Old Man occasionally punished assistants by making them kneel on uncooked rice.
* At weekly OSU football news conferences, where he never asked a question; after 40 years of coaching he pretty much knew all the answers.
* And in the press box, where he once tripped while holding a hot dog and fell into my arms. (Don’t worry, coach, the mustard stain will come out.)
I’m not sure I would have enjoyed covering Earle when he coached — I am told he could be ornery and slightly paranoid; he did coach under Woody, after all — but he was a delight to deal with once he retired.
Unless you disagreed with him.
In such cases, you would get the “Earle look.” It began with a reaction of disgusted surprise, followed by neck veins popping up like mole hills, and finishing with a tight smile — of mild amusement or antipathy I was never quite sure. And then, just like that, we would be fine. Friends again.
Chris Spielman got the look, too, the former Ohio State linebacker having played for Bruce from 1984-87.
“But only when I hit Cris Carter in seven-on-seven drills,” Spielman said, deadpan.
Spielman recalled his former coach as an unshakeable supporter of Ohio State, remembering how Bruce was incredibly touched when TBDBITL serenaded him outside his home after he was fired the week of the 1987 Michigan game.
“Coach Bruce had pure love for his university,” Spielman said. “When I found out he had passed away, that was the first image that popped into my head.”
For some, the first image was 9-3 — Ohio State’s record in six of Bruce’s nine seasons. As an OSU student at the time he coached, I was never overly enamored with his overall 81-26-1 record, either.
Other than the 11-1 season in his first season of 1979, which ended with a painful loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl, Earle mostly was a bridge between Woody’s cloud-of-dust offense and the sling-it strategy employed by John Cooper, who succeeded him.
In hindsight, however, that near decade of transition could have gone much more sideways. The Buckeyes never became irreverent under Bruce — see the current Michigan situation for the reverse — and Earle outshone his predecessor and quasi-mentor in at least one important way, notching a 5-4 record against Bo Schembechler to Hayes’ 4-5-1 mark against the Michigan coach.
It also should be noted that Bruce’s .755 winning percentage ranks fourth, one spot behind Hayes, among the eight coaches who spent at least five seasons at OSU.
All that said, numbers are not how I will remember Earle. Instead, I will recall a coach comfortable in his own skin. What you saw was what you got. And you got a lot of it. He was a meat-and-potatoes man in an increasingly nuanced — Earle would say overly sensitive — culture.
“He always told you the bad and the good,” Spielman said.
But usually more good. How we will miss that man.