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Short On Style, But Plenty Long On Substance
Hank Hersch
December 01, 1986
Earle Bruce is not flashy and he did not defeat Michigan, but give the Buckeye coach credit
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December 01, 1986

Short On Style, But Plenty Long On Substance

Earle Bruce is not flashy and he did not defeat Michigan, but give the Buckeye coach credit

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Citizens of Ohio, do not forget:

?That the normally low-key Jim Harbaugh guaranteed a Michigan victory in Columbus over an Ohio State team that had won nine games in a row. "We don't care where we play the game," said the senior quarterback early in the week. "I hate to say it, but we could play it in the parking lot. We could play the game at 12 noon or midnight. We're going to be jacked up."

?That on Saturday Harbaugh made good on his willful word by silencing 90,674 equally jacked-up partisans in Ohio Stadium. He threw for 261 yards, steered an offense that rolled up 529 yards (306 in a come-from-behind second half) and guided the Wolverines to a 26-24 triumph, which earned them a Rose Bowl date with Arizona State.

?That Michigan's Jamie Morris, the 5'7" scat cat, cut back against a hot-pursuit Buckeye defense for two chilling touchdowns and gained more ground—216 yards—than any other back in the rivalry's 89-year history. In doing so, Morris hooked up telepathically with his brother Joe of the NFL Giants. "I could feel Joe going through me saying, 'C'mon Jamie, run hard, run hard,' " said Morris.

?That Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who will be making his eighth trip to Pasadena in 18 seasons at Michigan, called this game the wildest of his many wars for the Roses with Ohio State. He also said, of Harbaugh's pledge, "I'd a said it myself if I had any guts."

Instead, Buckeye fans, recall in vivid color all those maize-and-blue highlights of how the game was won before you assign blame for how it was blown. Please resist, good people, the temptation to heap abuse on the oft-abused coach of the Buckeyes, Earle Bruce. Try to gain a little perspective.

Bruce left Iowa State to accept the top job at his alma mater eight years ago. He succeeded the controversial but charismatic Woody Hayes. While other candidates professed a preference to succeed Hayes's successor, Bruce wasn't afraid to follow a legend. (Note that Iowa State has had no success replacing Bruce, having recently canned his successor's successor.) Bruce, arguably under as much pressure as any college football coach ever, took a team that had finished 7-4-1 in Hayes's last year to within two points of 12-0. Since then he has put together six straight 9-3 seasons and a 4-2 record in bowl games. He also has won half his games with Michigan.

Such success would please most rational fans (and you know who you are). But Bruce has had a debilitating problem—his personality. He doesn't bother to sell the steak or the sizzle; he just cooks. "Despite the kind of record he has, people just don't rush to his support," says Dan Heinlen, director of alumni affairs for the Ohio State Alumni Association. Bruce is easily caricatured (along the lines of both Crazy Guggenham and Elmer Fudd), is hardly debonair and has never had a knack for the clever quote that disarms a confrontational press. Not that Bruce, 55, hasn't tried. At downtown smokers he would attempt to crack wise, but his repertoire was so thin that his assistants would keep track of how many times he told the same old jokes.

Although Bruce may lack style he holds his own in substance. After three of his players missed a game last season, Bruce mistakenly said that they were injured or sick, when in fact they had been disciplined. Two hours later Bruce had a letter of apology hand-delivered to The Columbus Dispatch. Such behavior doesn't earn a lot of ink. So why not be a little more jazzy, Coach, like, say, Jackie Sherrill?

"I don't want to be a Jackie Sherrill," he says. "I'll be an Earle Bruce, but I don't ever want to be a Jackie Sherrill. You can tell him I said that, because I'd tell it to his face. I can go look in the mirror and feel good about myself."

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