Earle Bruce, who coached 21 college seasons, dies at age 87

Hall of Fame coach Earle Bruce, who won 81 games with the Ohio State Buckeyes over nine seasons, died early Friday morning at the age of 87 in Powell, Ohio, his family announced.

"He was a great man, a wonderful husband, father and grandfather, and a respected coach to many," his four daughters said in a statement.

Current Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, whose first collegiate job was as a graduate assistant under Bruce during the 1986 and 1987 seasons, joined the university in remembering his "mentor and friend" in a Twitter post on Friday.

Bruce was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He had 17 former assistants go on to become head coaches, including Meyer, Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, Nick Saban, Mark Dantonio, Dom Capers and Joe Bugel.

Bruce, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2017, coached the Buckeyes from 1979 to 1987. He succeeded legendary coach Woody Hayes and guided Ohio State to an 11-1 record in his first season, suffering only a one-point loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

Hayes encouraged Bruce to get into coaching after his Ohio State playing career was cut short by injury.

Bruce won two outright Big Ten titles and a share of it on two more occasions, and he had a 5-3 record in bowl games with Ohio State.

"You don't want to lose in Columbus, Ohio," Bruce once told The Associated Press. "A football loss? That's terrible. You want to win all your home games. You're only as good as your last game here."

He visited Meyer to watch the Buckeyes practice on March 8, and he had the honor of dotting the "i" during the halftime performance in 2016 -- one of only six times that honor has gone to a non-band member.

"I've made it clear many times that, other than my father, Coach Bruce was the most influential man in my life," Meyer said in a statement. "Every significant decision I've made growing up in this profession was with him involved in it. His wife [Jean] and he were the role models for Shelley and me. They did everything with class. He was not afraid to show how much he loved his family and cared for his family."

Former Buckeyes linebacker Chris Spielman was recruited to Ohio State by Bruce and played for him from 1984-87. One of 10 All-Americans coached by Bruce, he played eight seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.

"I think coach always exuded passion for football and passion for his university," Spielman said. "The one thing that set him apart as a coach was that he was an equal distributor of criticism and praise.

"If you screwed up you were held accountable. If you did well he'd let you know you did well. I thought that was really how my dad was as a coach, which I really admired."

During his 21 seasons on the college sidelines, Bruce also coached at Tampa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Colorado State, compiling an overall record of 154-90-2 before retiring in 1995.

He returned to Columbus in retirement and again becoming an integral part of Buckeyes football. He worked for years as a radio analyst on Ohio State football and was well known for saying how he "bled scarlet and gray."

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Cumberland, Maryland, Bruce started as a high school coach in Ohio. He served as an assistant coach in Mansfield, and then became a head coach in 1956 at Salem where his teams went 28-9. He moved on to Sandusky High School in 1960 and in four years had a record of 34-3-3 and then took over at Massillon, one of the most renowned prep jobs in the country. In two seasons, Bruce went 20-0.

Bruce was preceded in death by his wife, Jean. Survivors include four daughters, nine grandchildren -- including Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith -- and three great grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.