COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce, who compiled the best winning percentage in the Big Ten during his nine seasons but drew the ire of fans after three consecutive losses, was fired Monday. Athletic Director Rick Bay quit in protest.
News of Bruce's dismissal by the university administration came only hours after he had steadfastly refused to step down in the face of mounting media and fan criticism.
Bay said Bruce's firing was effective after Saturday's regular-season final at Michigan. Bay said the Buckeyes would not accept a bowl bid if one were offered.
"Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with (Ohio State President Edward Jennings), who asked me to meet with him and informed me he was under pressure to make a coaching change and that we had to do that," Bay told a news conference.
Because of what he called "philosophical differences with the administration," Bay said, "I have resigned as athletic director."
Bruce, interviewed as he left the university practice facility Monday night, said he thought the timing was unfair.
"I guess they've got a right to fire a guy," Bruce said. "I think it's very poor timing, right before the Michigan game, the most important game on our schedule.
"It's unfair to do it now. They can do it anytime, but not before the Michigan game."
Bruce then entered his car and drove away.
Bay said Jennings told him late Monday morning of his decision to fire Bruce. Bay said he told Bruce of the school's decision about 2:30 p.m., and Bruce met with the team a short time later.
"It's a shame. It's a dark day for Ohio State," said Bay, athletic director at Ohio State since July 1984. "I have loved being here. It's a great institution. . . . But now I have to look elsewhere, and I will do that."
Of Bruce, Bay said: "I think he's done a whale of a job. His record is among the very, very best in the country."
Bruce, in the second year of a three-year contract, has coached Ohio State to a 5-4-1 record this season, including three straight losses by a total of 10 points.
In his nine seasons at Ohio State, Bruce owns the best league record among Big Ten coaches: 56-17. His teams won or shared four Big Ten titles in nine seasons. His teams twice appeared in the Rose Bowl, losing to USC, 17-16, in 1980, and 20-17, in 1985. Bruce is 80-26-1 in all games at Ohio State and 126-60-1 in his career. He coached previously at Tampa and Iowa State. In a statement, Jennings said he had named James L. Jones, senior associate director of athletics, to replace Bay. Jennings said he would recommend Jones' name to the board of trustees.
Jennings also said he would recommend trustees fulfill the terms of Bruce's contract.
Bay described Bruce as "very disillusioned" by the turn of events.
"In some ways, I have to tell you that as far as the program is concerned, perhaps if it had to happen, it should happen now," Bay said.
But the athletic director said the experience had left a bad taste in his mouth.
"I don't know if I even want to stay in this business right now," Bay said.
At his weekly media luncheon Monday, Bruce, flanked by his wife, had said he would not quit.
"I am staying at Ohio State," Bruce said. "I like my job. I'm going to prepare hard for (Saturday's game at) Michigan. . . . I'll stay and prepare through the winter and summer so we can have a Big Ten championship next year."
Early this year, Bruce had contemplated a move to the University of Arizona after his team defeated Texas A&M, 28-12, in the Cotton Bowl last Jan. 1 to finish 10-3.
"After the Cotton Bowl win, I decided to stay a Buckeye, because of the team coming back, the coaching staff and the fact that I think Rick Bay is the strongest athletic director in the country," Bruce said.
EARL BRUCE'S RECORD at OHIO STATE
Year Record Big Ten Finish 1979 11-1 1 1980 9-3 2 1981 9-3 1* 1982 9-3 2 1983 9-3 4 1984 9-3 1 1985 9-3 4 1986 10-3 1* 1987 5-4-1 ?
1979 Rose Lost to USC, 17-16 1980 Fiesta Lost to Penn St., 31-19 1981 Liberty Beat Navy, 31-29 1982 Holiday Beat BYU, 47-17 1983 Fiesta Beat Pitt, 28-23 1984 Rose Lost to USC, 20-17 1985 Citrus Beat BYU, 10-7 1986 Cotton Beat Texas A&M, 28-12
* (Tied for first)