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24 Club: Coach Earle Bruce’s magic touch against Michigan

When Bruce left Ohio State, he had more wins against Michigan than any OSU coach not named Woody Hayes.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

There have been 24 head coaches in the history of Ohio State football. Each has a story and legacy. This offseason, Land-Grant Holy Land’s new series 24 Club will help you get to know the coaches from past and present who built the program. Today we look at Ohio State’s 20th head coach — Earle Bruce.


Name: Earle Bruce
Seasons Coached: Nine (1979-1987)
Overall Record: 81-26-1

Where Does He Rank in the 24 Club?
Overall Wins: No. 5 out of 24 OSU Coaches
Winning Percentage: No. 7 out of 24 OSU Coaches


Earle Bruce’s task was impossible — he had to replace Woody Hayes. Bruce knew Ohio. He played at Ohio State, served as an assistant to coach Hayes for six seasons, and racked up wins as one of Ohio’s top high school coaches. He jumped in as a college head coach and led the University of Tampa to a 10-2 record before moving to Iowa State. At ISU, he became the first coach since 1919 to leave the school with a winning record.

When coach Bruce came to Columbus in 1979, he picked up right where Woody left off. The Buckeyes went undefeated in the regular season, only to come up one point short of a perfect year and national championship against No. 3 USC in the Rose Bowl. Bruce would capture four Big Ten titles during his tenure, but would never recapture the magic of that first season. The Buckeyes lost at least three games each season in his final eight years at the helm.

Bruce did know how to beat Michigan, posting a 5-4 record against the Wolverines. At that time, that was more wins against Michigan than any OSU coach not named Woody Hayes. One of the highlights of his tenure was his last game as Ohio State’s head coach against the Wolverines in 1987. OSU’s president fired Bruce after a home loss to Iowa a week earlier. Bruce would coach out the season finale against the Wolverines before moving on.

On game day, every Ohio State player wore a headband with “Earle” written on it to honor their outgoing coach. OSU walked away with a 23-20 win. Bruce’s ebullient Buckeyes carried him off the field in Ann Arbor.

Coach Bruce went out a winner against Michigan. The same could not be said about his successor: John Cooper.