They don't know what to do with the old man.

"He's so recognizable that if he came to the game, he'd be swarmed by people," said a man in the Ohio State University publicity department.

It is a problem what to do with Woody Hayes.

"You couldn't put him in the press box," the man said.

Of course not. Can't trust those pencils. What about the president's box? Doesn't the president have a private box?

"But it's on the press-box level and people would be drifting over."

It is a problem when you fire Woody Hayes after 28 seasons and he still works for the university in an office about a quarter-mile from the stadium where his football teams drew 83,000 people every Saturday.

"Besides," the man in the publicity department said, "what would we do about Hugh Hindman? What would happen with him and Woody?"

Hindman is the Ohio State athletic director. He fired Hayes last January after the coach punched a player from Clemson in the Gator Bowl. It is a problem when you open a new season here this Saturday against Syracuse, and Woody Hayes, who made the place famous, can't sit in the bleachers and can't sit in the press box and can't sit with the president because the man who fired him might be there.

The secretary in Hayes' office says it is no problem.

"Woody's going to be out of town," she said.

Life After Woody begins Saturday in Columbus.

Earle Bruce is ready. "I'm not nervous at all -- I am excited," said the new Ohio State coach. This is Bruce's 27th season coaching football. Every job he has had, he was hired with the recommendation of Woody Hayes. A little halfback from Allegheny High School in Cumberland, Md., Bruce played for Hayes at Ohio State 28 years ago.

After 13 seasons in Ohio high school football, Bruce was hired by Hayes as an assistant coach. Six years later, he went to Tampa University as the boss, moving after a season to Iowa State, where in six years his teams were 36-30.

At 48, Bruce has the open, friendly face of your kindly uncle and the sort of physique that marks him a budding Santa Claus. The tiny cubbyhole office-dressing room that Woody Hayes made into a philosopher's garrett, Bruce is content with as a place to change his socks and talk football.

"I don't know it will be any different here," he said to the inevitable question of what happens to Ohio State football without Hayes, "I certainly hope we block and tackle as well. I hope we run the ball as well. I hope we play defense the way Woody's teams did. And I hope we throw the ball well."

Ah, hah. That magid word, "throw." With a freshman passing sensation at quarterback, Art Schlichter, Ohio State yet threw an average of only 15 passes a game last season. The people of Columbus hope that Life After Woody includes a bomb or two.

"I think what the people are saying," Bruce said, "is that they'd like to see the ball thrown on first down instead of third down. But let me ask you something."

Fire away.

"If you've got big, strong people who knock the other people down when you run with the ball, what's wrong with that? Michigan does it and they have 104,000 people there every Saturday. If the fans don't like all that running, they sure aren't staying away. What's wrong with running, if you've got the people to do it, and wearing the other team down in the fourth quarter?"

Nothing.

"Not that I intend to do that," Bruce added quickly.

A newspaper story about the Syracuse team is pinned to a bulletin board outside Bruce's office. Someone from Syracuse wrote a note on the clipping: "About halfway through the third quarter, you will hear 'Bring Woody Back.'"

"I've got two big earplugs for that," Bruce said with a smile. "I'm a football coach. I've been through that. When Barry Switzer can get it, when Woody Hayes gets it, when Bo Schembechler is criticized after winning 96 games in 10 years, then anybody can get it. If you stay in coaching, you get it."

Men come and go; institutions are eternal. Tom Waugh, the Ohio State center, grew up in Norwalk, Ohio, dreaming of the day he would play for Woody Hayes, yet he is still happy with the old man gone.

"The tradition goes on," Waugh said. "When you walk into Ohio Stadium, you're playing for Ohio State. Playing for Ohio State is fantastic."

"It's more relaxed around here now," said Schlichter, the quarterback. "Coach Hayes was always looking for every mistake. He was always tense -- which is good and which is bad. People think we're going to pass more, so they're excited about that. We'll be more diversified offensively all around. We'll benefit from that."

Hayes is at work on a book on the similarities of military and football strategy. He has written 800 pages. This fall, work is to begin on a movie of his life. He lectures coaches. He gives an occasional interview with one proviso: no talk about football. An interview in the local newspaper the other day carried two quotes. Did he miss football? "Sure." Would he go to any games? "I don't know."

Bruce said he has talked casually with his old mentor and patron. "About the job, the personnel. He has been very helpful, very supportive. He loves Ohio State, you know, and he loves Ohio State football."

Out there in the high schools for 13 years, back to his alma mater for six and then out of Ohio for seven years, did Earle Bruce ever allow himself to think he might become the Ohio State coach some day?

"Not at all," Bruce said. "I never thought that Woody Hayes would retire. I thought he would die on the sidelines with a heart attack. I never thought he would go out the conventional way. I really thought he would die out there.He'd been coaching so long and he never slowed down."