Zach Smith gives moving tribute to grandfather Earle Bruce during celebration of life

Zach Smith speaks at his grandfather, Earle Bruce's Celebration of Life at Saint John Arena Wednesday (WBNS)

Zach Smith, coach Earl Bruce’s oldest grandson, gave a moving tribute to his grandfather Wednesday morning at Saint John Arena on the campus of Ohio State.

Smith, who caught himself emotionally more than a few times, connected the dots between the family man and the coach for those who watched and attended Bruce’s celebration of life.

Smith currently is the wide receivers coach for Ohio State under head coach Urban Meyer.

Below are the remarks Smith made about his beloved grandfather:

“We shared a great man with a lot of you … We appreciate the support because the last five days has been unbelievable. The stories on social media, the texts, the phone calls … it’s been a little overwhelming and it’s been awesome.

“The majority of people knew him as coach Earle Bruce. My role here today is to connect the man we know as a grandfather, father and brother with the man you knew as a football coach.

“I knew a loyal husband, a loving father and an unbelievable grandfather. The coincidental thing about him was those two roles he played -- as a coach and as a family man -- they were the same man in a different venue. He loved his players, the coaches that coached for him just like he loved his daughters and his grandchildren. It was the same to him. Believe me I can tell you. Be a teenage grandson of his and not renew your license plate … he reacted about the how I image, Tony, he would react if you fumbled,” Smith said as he looked at current OSU assistant coach Tony Alford, who played for Bruce at Colorado State. Alford gave remarks earlier in the celebration.

Earle Bruce acknowledges the crowd after dotting the i with the Ohio State University marching band before a football game between Ohio State and Rutgers in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 1, 2016. (Eric Albrecht/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

“He was the same man: passionate and with energy. He was a coach who prided his teams on being tough, rugged, well-coached football teams.

“Make no mistake about it. When his grandson decided to get into football and told him he was going to coach wide receivers, there was a sigh of disgust, I think. Being an offensive-line tough guy. I’ll never forget the advice he gave me ‘coach ‘em like linemen. That’s what Urban did. That’s why he’s the best coach on my staff.’ So I’ve tried to do that every day of my career.

“Another funny aspect in my career interacting with him: when coach Meyer gave me the opportunity to come back to Ohio State, (Bruce would) come into my meetings, and he’d only last about 10 minutes and we’d talk about a curl route or something and he’d get bored and go down to the O-line meeting.

“But I think a level of respect where, like, (WTVN radio host) Matt McCoy was talking about where he would have opinions and I think there was a level of respect for coach Meyer he realized, you don't need to cross the line, he's the head coach. There was no level of respect in my meeting room. He’d walk in and tell me what he thought. Tell me what we needed to do on defense. I'm the wide-out coach. What do you want me to do?” Smith said with a laugh.

“It was an unbelievable experience being back here with him and the place that he so loved. If I had to share the personal values that he encompassed and taught in our family that I believe carried over to his career, I would say loyalty was his greatest asset. At times, even to a fault. If he had your back, he had your back no matter what, forever.

Zach Smith speaks at grandfather Earle Bruce's celebration of Life (WBNS)

“I saw it when lived with him in the summer in college. Players that would call, ‘coach, I need this.’ He would spend a whole day trying to help. I saw it within our own family. There's no one here that he would not help until his last day. Growing up, if we did anything if he was buying a car, he got it from a former player. Everything he did -- that's why he had to be in Columbus. He wanted to support his players. He was the same way with our family. He also firmly believed that’s what you should do -- so much so, saying thank you often ended the conversation. He just believed that doing things for people he cared about was simply what you should do. I'll never forget several times a phone call, a ‘thank you for doing that, I love you.’ ‘All right, talk to you later, bye, bye.’ Hang up. He didn't need thanks. He felt like that's what you should do.

“But that was him. He was born to impact people. His children, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, players. Everyone he cared for. That's what a coach is. That's what he taught me and taught a lot of people here. The last piece of advice he gave me, I think should share, was when his wife, love of my life and his life, passed away.

“It hit him hard. As a coach, you're away from families a lot. It's only validated and worth it if you do truly coach the way he coached and care about your players like your own children.

But he gave me advice when my grandmother passed away. Coach Meyer got the same message.

“’Let me tell you something, buddy,’ as he began to tear up, a rare occurrence, ‘you make sure you give the people you love one entire day every month and treat them like the royalty that they are. You hear me?’ With the same infamous finger in my chest. He said, ‘you treat them like your top recruit, most valuable player. Let me tell you something -- they are.’

Boy, is he right. Time is the greatest asset we have. He made sure I knew to allocate equally among the people I love. A very short and small depiction of who he was to my family I thought I would share.

“I want to talk about the lover and undying passion he had for this amazing place. Make no mistake, every school wants to be like us.

“My grandfather is another example of why there's only one Buckeye Nation. I have seen other places. This place is different because of people like my grandfather. That's what makes it different: The amazing people that have come through here and loved this place.

“Alzheimer's, like other diseases, within the body and society, they always attack the weak first. The weak parts of your mind. They don't attack the strong memories. Two things he loved more than anything was Buckeye Nation and his family. Even when he could no longer drive, couldn't verbalize thoughts like what his favorite food was, the strength of his love for those two specific things stood far too powerful for that disease to prey on.

“His extreme passion for his family and his love for the Ohio State Buckeyes was far too strong for Alzheimer's to touch. Until the very end, he never lost the ability to recognize or remember his family. Trying to kiss my kids his final day when he heard their voice.

“Almost until the end, he never lost the ability to ask ‘hey, how's number 21 doing? The kid from Akron.’ He couldn't remember an apple was his favorite fruit, he would tell me ‘16 was tough.’ His love for this place was way too strong. When he had heart complications a few months back, his heart was low. We would see medical proof of his love for this place.

“His love for this place would keep him alive and his heart rate would achieve normal levels. It's hard when your hero has a celebration of this magnitude.

“I'll end with this, which I believe is what makes Earle Bruce a legend and someone I aspire to be like. The greatest testimony to his life, the greatest gift he would give this world was the generational impact he had, by impacting a lot of people here who will then impact more people. So his legacy will never end.

“I remember growing up as a kid running into a lot of former players. It was countless. Hundreds would look at me and say, this man right here is the reason why I am where I am today.

“I didn't know what a football coach was. I didn't really care. I just knew I want to do that for people. I want someone to say that about me. That's why I decided to get into this.

“The number of people he impacted, I experienced as a kid growing up, was unbelievable. So though my grandfather is gone now, no longer present on Earth, I'll tell you two things. He's residing over us in heaven with my amazing grandmother. He made thousands better. He did what I and all of us should aspire to do. He changed the lives of people for the better because he cared about them and would do anything for them. His impact will be felt for generations. All of Buckeye Nation, my family thanks you for being a love our family has been fortunate to enjoy. Or for loving my grandfather.

I'd be remiss to not share the advice. He said, ‘Llisten to me, you work hard, be loyal to Urban Meyer, love your players and hate no one -- except Michigan.’

“Go Bucks. Thank you.”

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