After succeeding the legendary Woody Hayes as football coach at Ohio State and leading the Buckeyes to eight bowl games, Earle Bruce says he'll be happy coaching Northern Iowa in NCAA Division I-AA.

"That doesn't bother me in the least," Bruce said Wednesday as he took the UNI job. "I think UNI is on the way up, and it's nice to be a part of something that's growing and getting better."But Bruce says he cannot guarantee he won't jump at a chance to get back into coaching at a major college. He was fired last season after nine years at Ohio State.

"I was looking for an opening, because I want to coach," said Bruce, who was openly bitter after his firing late last season. He compiled an 81-26-1 record at Ohio State.

"I don't want to talk about that. That's in the past. That's gone," Bruce said at a news conference when asked about his feelings on the firing.

But he noted he will not bring a win-at-all-cost philosophy to Northern Iowa.

"I think the experience at Ohio State will make me a better football coach - a much better football coach," he said.

Bruce, 57, said a return to Division I coaching is not his foremost concern.

"I'm living for the 1988 football season," he said. "Every job I've ever taken, I've anticipated this is the job where I'm going to end my career at."

Bruce was head coach at Iowa State for six seasons before returning to his alma mater to succeed Hayes as Ohio State coach in 1979.

He said his years in Iowa were a major reason he became interested in the job, which was left vacant by Darrell Mudra's abrupt retirement in May.

He said Bruce signed a four-year contract with a base salary of $64,000 annually.

Bruce's settlement with Ohio State stipulated that if he got another job before July 1, 1989, he must repay Ohio State an amount equal to what he earns. Thus, he'll owe Ohio State $64,000.