Urban Meyer was among those who stood up Wednesday to sing the praises of former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce at a memorial service in St. John Arena.
And in the midst of the anecdotes about the man who gave him his start in college coaching, Meyer touched on a quote from Bruce from long ago that he said sustains him to this day.
“ ‘When given an opportunity, you swing as hard as you can and give it everything you’ve got,’ ” Meyer said.
>> Video: Dom Tiberi, coaches remember Bruce
The modest crowd in St. John Arena included an Ohio State pep band as well as Bruce’s four daughters and their families; former OSU coaches Jim Tressel and John Cooper; Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio; and many of Bruce’s former players, including William White, who gave the invocation.
All of them came to honor their father, friend and mentor, who died Friday at age 87.
“When (Bruce’s daughter) Lynn called me and asked me would I do this, I actually almost started crying because to be a part of something like this was very meaningful to me,” said White, who was a starter at cornerback as a freshman on the 1984 Big Ten title team and was a senior captain of Bruce’s final team, in 1987.
“Him and coach Tressel, they’re like my second dad,” White said. “They recruited me … they’ve always been a part of my life. This was very meaningful to me. He was a great guy.”
Tressel, who coached the Buckeyes from 2001-10 and now serves as president of Youngstown State University, jumped at the opportunity to speak during the ceremony for the same reasons.
He cited Bruce’s relationships with his schools, players, coaches, fans and even media members were a series of “love affairs. … Whereever he was he created a special love affair.”
>> Video: Former players honor Bruce
Afterward, Tressel — an assistant at OSU in the mid-1980s under Bruce before becoming YSU’s head coach in 1986 — said that love was based on one trait in particular.
“My word, if held to one, would be loyalty,” he said. “When you were a part of him, whether you were a university or a city, a spouse, a kid, an assistant coach, a friend, a media colleague — once you were a part of him, kind of like you know God will never give up on you? Well, Earle will never give up on you.
“And that loyalty is amazing.”
It’s why Dantonio made the trip from Michigan, accompanied by former OSU offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, now on the Michigan State staff. Dantonio was a graduate assistant coach under Bruce at OSU in 1983 and ’84.
“And a lot of the things that have happened to me along the way in coaching is really a result of being here with him,” Dantonio said. “I learned a lot of life lessons from him. He was a special guy. He brought it every day.”
Current OSU running backs coach Tony Alford witnessed it more than 30 years ago. After Bruce was fired at Ohio State in 1987, he quickly got back into coaching, first at Northern Iowa for a year and then at Colorado State.
Alford was a running back for him at Colorado State, and with that relationship he was welcomed into the fold for life, as he found out.
In 2015 Alford was an assistant at Notre Dame when Meyer offered him a job on the OSU staff. Soon thereafter he received a call from Bruce.
“ ‘What are you doing?’ ” he recalled Bruce asking, and he didn’t mean whether he was eating dinner. “ ‘Has Urban called you? What are you doing?’ ”
When Alford told Bruce he was thinking about the offer, he said Bruce responded with typical bluntness: “Let me help you. Stop thinking, son. It’s time to come home. Do you understand me?’ ”
After the call, Alford said, he turned to his wife and said, “I guess we’re moving.”
That was Bruce in a nutshell, said Matt McCoy, his former radio partner. After Bruce got out of coaching and moved back to central Ohio to be near Ohio State football, he and McCoy had a 27-year relationship on WTVN-AM radio, punctuated by the weekly show Bucksline during the season.
As McCoy pointed out, the dictionary has a definition the “the word passion. … My definition is Earle Bruce. … I am convinced the seven-second delay for live radio was invented for Earle Bruce. … And that rule about no cheering in the press box? Earle Bruce broke that rule every Saturday.”
Dom Tiberi, the veteran WBNS 10TV sports anchor and longtime friend of Bruce’s, said that past the bluster and enthusiasm that endeared the former coach to OSU fans, it always boiled down to one truth.
“We all know Coach Bruce loved Ohio State,” Tiberi said. The he scrunched his face, pointed his right index finger and, sending his voice into a Bruce-impersonating growl, said, “ ‘Do you hear me?’ ”
Bruce’s grandson Zach Smith, currently the receivers coach for the Buckeyes, heard such things for as long as he can remember. “The generational impact (Bruce) had” was obvious, he said.
“He loved his family, his players, his coaches, the fans,” Smith said. “And he hated no one, except Michigan.”