Ohio State University President Edward Jennings received a vote of confidence from Board of Trustees members yesterday after fired football coach Earle Bruce filed a $7.44 million lawsuit against Jennings and the school claiming wrongful dismissal and slander.

In a brief statement yesterday, Jennings said he had referred the matter to counsel and would not respond to "personal attacks" in the lawsuit. Bruce was fired last week despite an 80-26-1 record -- 81-26-1 after Saturday's emotional 23-20 victory at Michigan -- and Rick Bay resigned as athletic director in protest.

In the suit, filed Friday by attorney John Zonak of Columbus, Ohio, Bruce asked for $440,000 in breach of contract damages and other financial losses, $2 million for being denied due process, and $5 million in punitive damages. The suit states that Jennings and others "made slanderous and libelous untrue statements to others regarding the good reputation of the plaintiff."

Following Jennings' brief news conference, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Edmund Redman, read a statement supporting Jennings and the decision to fire Bruce in the second year of a three-year contract. Redman said he consulted with other board members, who wanted to assert publicly their backing of Jennings.

Zonak said Bruce filed the suit because of anguish suffered by his family, and in reaction to statements from Jennings and board members. Jennings has refused to discuss publicly his reasons for firing Bruce, but declared yesterday, "My decision was made in accordance with governance structure of the university, and in my judgment was the right thing to do . . . I steadfastly refused to state the reasons for my action. I have not attacked anyone personally, nor . . . slandered anyone."