Earle Bruce’s passion for football has not waned at the age of 82.
His passion for the game originated at the high school level in the state of Ohio, and that is where he directed it Thursday in one of three visits to the Wapakoneta area, as the former Ohio State Buckeyes head football coach spoke Thursday afternoon to two area high school football teams. He also stopped by The Gardens at Wapakoneta on Walnut Street and at the Cridersville Healthcare Center.
Bruce addressed the Wapakoneta Redskins and the Allen East Mustangs on Thursday inside the Wapakoneta Middle School, ahead of the two teams’ 7-on-7 passing scrimmage at Harmon Field.
His core message — yelling it with enthusiasm at times — centered on developing toughness, leadership and teamwork in order to win football games.
Bruce said being tough is necessary in football, especially in order to beat opponents in the fourth quarter.
“Toughness is what the game of football is all about,” Bruce said. “You can be faster and stronger than my team, but I might have all the kids that are tough, and if have all of the kids who are tough, in the fourth quarter, I’m going to kick your ass.
“If you don’t have toughness, you’re not going to win many games,” he said.
The coach also said leadership is crucial for a team, regardless of whom it comes from.
“Without leadership, you can’t possibly win football games,” Bruce said.
Talking leadership, Bruce drew from his background as a history teacher, citing the example of the United States’ first president and general of the Revolutionary forces, George Washington.
Bruce said he admired Washington for how when the chore of defeating the best trained, most organized world military power, England, presented itself against this country’s untrained and unorganized militia, Washington, a general, was out in front of his men in battle leading them to victory.
Bruce then moved on to emphasizing teamwork.
“If you never become a team, you’re not going to win football games,” Bruce said. “If you want to be a team, that means you all like one another, you want to be around one another.
“Work together to become a team,” he said. “You’ve got to share the good and the bad. If you don’t share the hurt when you lose, you’re not part of a team.”
Bruce said mixing toughness, leadership and teamwork equals winning.
“Winning is the name of the game. That’s what it’s all about,” Bruce said. “Winning is fun. That’s what the fun is in football. Spending energy, desire and motivation to win the game, that’s what it’s all about. If you don’t want to win, what the hell do you play for?”
Bruce’s final message to the teams was to take advantage of the opportunity to play football and do the things necessary in order to win.
“Don’t let this time go to waste,” Bruce said. “Make yourself a better person and better football player. Good luck to you, play hard, do the job and win.”
Following his speech, Bruce discussed why he has such a strong passion for high school football.
“High school coaches do a great job coaching football to kids. They develop good football players, and colleges come in and take the good ones,” Bruce said. “I think you get a real exposure to what coaching really is when you can’t recruit kids in your (school) district. You’ve got accept the students you have and build them. That makes you a coach.”
Bruce said he thinks a good football coach is a great teacher, adding he thought he was a great history teacher.
He also explained why he believes toughness, leadership and teamwork are his core beliefs for success in football.
“I think there’s other things, but to me, those are the most important things when you can say I’ve got a team,” Bruce said. “When you do have a team, it’s got to be together. It’s gotta be tight.”
Bruce was a running back for Massillon High School in the late 1940s.
He went to Ohio State to play under the legendary Woody Hayes, but an injury abruptly ended his career. Hayes invited Bruce to be an assistant coach while still a student until he graduated in 1953.
Bruce was an established high school coach in Ohio, making stops at Salem, Sandusky and Massillon, compiling an 82-12-3 record with those three schools. In two seasons as coach at Massillon, his teams went undefeated each year and won back-to-back Associated Press poll championships.
His first bit of college coaching was at his alma mater, Ohio State, from 1966-71. From there, Bruce spent one season as head coach of the University of Tampa, which concluded with a Tangerine Bowl win over Kent State.
Bruce then coached six seasons at Iowa State University and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2000.
Upon Hayes’ firing in 1978, Bruce was offered and accepted the head coaching position at Ohio State. He led the Buckeyes for nine seasons, compiling a 81-26-1 record.
Bruce never had a losing in the Big Ten Conference while at Ohio State. Bruce’s teams also won at least nine games his first eight seasons.
Bruce was fired in the 1987 season on the Monday prior to the Michigan game.
He then coached Northern Iowa for one season.
Bruce then spent five seasons coaching at Colorado State, giving the school its first-ever bowl win. He was fired at CSU for a list of school and NCAA infractions.
In 2002, Bruce was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
His final coaching stops were in the Arena Football League, with the Iowa Barnstormers and Columbus Destroyers for one season each.