Short On Style, But Plenty Long On Substance

Dec. 01, 1986
Dec. 01, 1986

Table of Contents
Dec. 1, 1986

Mike Tyson
College Football
The Hawks
Water Polo
Indoor Soccer
The Sport Of Sheikhs
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

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

Citizens of Ohio, do not forget:

This is an article from the Dec. 1, 1986 issue Original Layout

•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."

"Why Earle has a problem with popularity I have never quite understood, because everybody who knows him likes him," says Ohio State athletic director Rick Bay. "Maybe he needs to get out more. I always hate coming to work on Wednesdays because the letters that were written at halftime on Saturday get to me about then."

Mail was particularly heavy after the Buckeyes went 0-2 this season for the first time since 1894. Following the opener, a 16-10 loss to Alabama in the Kickoff Classic, Mike Harden, a columnist on The Dispatch, snidely contrasted the Tide's trim coach, Ray Perkins, to Bruce, who was 55 pounds heavier than he was as a 155-pound halfback in 1950. Harden's mail ran in favor of his appeal for a slimmer Bruce. When the Buckeyes lost again, Bruce took heat for the game plan. When they won, he got flak for running up the score. After one victory, Mayor Dana G. Rinehart referred to Columbus as a city that some might call "the future former home of Earle Bruce." No books entitled Earle Bruce: Beyond the Headset or anything of the sort are about to roll off the presses.

Somehow, though (call it coaching), Bruce got some momentum going. Entering the Michigan game he had a shot at his second 11-win season, his third outright Big Ten championship and his second Big Ten Coach of the Year award. But.... Trailing by two points with 1:32 remaining, the Buckeyes faced third-and-10 on the Michigan 36. Quarterback Jim Karsatos teamed up with all-world wideout Cris Carter on an eight-yard buttonhook. "The play depends on the coverage," said Bruce softly afterward. "It could go 10 yards."

On fourth-and-two, Bruce called on Matt Frantz to try a 45-yard field goal, which would be the longest of his career, into a 10-mile-an-hour wind. Maybe Bruce should have gone for the first down, run down the clock and given Frantz a more makable kick. The Buckeye kicking coach, Randy Hart, said that Frantz was capable of converting the 45-yarder. The boot was strong enough, but tailed to the left. Ohio State, now Cotton Bowl-bound, came up two points shy of the Roses.

Bruce knows only too well that it might as well have been a million.

PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONPHOTOJOHN D. HANLONFrantz's kick cleared Garland Rivers (13), but the potential game-winner sailed wide.PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONGerald White, a backup fullback, picked up some of his rushing yardage through the air.