8B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday--December 7, 1998
By Mark Snyder U Daily Sports Editor
Imagine this: Every day your trip to work is but a few
miles. The destination is a building that bears your
name and inside rests a beautiful office - for you -
with a view of S. State Street. As offices go, it is of
average size, but when adorned with your awards and
honors, cramped is a generous description.
There's a framed photo of the game-turning, phantom
touchdown that cost Michigan the 1979 Rose Bowl near the
wall, definitely not your proudest moment, but memorable
nonetheless. A bronze bust of your head - when both your
hair and patience were shorter - rests conspicuously in the
far corner of the room.
Photos with some of the world's most famous citizens
dominate the wooden desk under the window. But despite
this, despite your status as the state's resident legend, just
five years ago the woman who is now your wife didn't know
you from the pope.
"She was not a football fan," said Bo Schembechler, the
winningest football coach from the winningest college foot-
ball school in the nation. "So when I met her, everybody told
her I was a coach and she said, 'What did you coach? Did
you coach basketball?' I said, 'No, I was a football coach.'
And then she said, 'Is that all you did?'
"I said, 'Lady, it's a full-time job."'
While fans across the nation planned 20 years of fall
Saturdays around Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines, his
future wife had no idea what she was missing.
"When she came (to Ann Arbor) for the first time and I
took her to a game, it overwhelmed her because everybody
yelled, 'Hey Bo,"' he said. "She couldn't believe it."
On her first trip to Michigan Stadium, the future Cathy
Schembechler found out about the frenzy. Fans, alumni,
media, administrators, vendors and friends would offer a
"What's up, Bo?" or a "How ya doin'?" And the visitor was
awed. In the time it took to travel to the stadium, she went
from June Cleaver to Hillary Clinton - an attention magnet
traveling with a rock star.
Michigan Stadium is commonly referred to as the hole
dug by Yost, built by Crisler and filled by Bo. That's right,
this guy packed the Biggest House in the country with
100,000 fans for two decades, and every Saturday they still
enter thinking about him.
It wasn't always that way, though.
ONE1 FN ¢ DAY
When Bo first came to visit Michigan in the early winter
of 1969, the stadium was empty. Of course, that's because it
was the off-season, but on game days, it wasn't much better.
As Michigan's head coach Bo never realized it, but 70,000
fans in the Medium-Sized House was a minor victory for the
disheveled Athletic Department in 1968. And as the busi-
nessman hired to revamp the Athletic Department, Don
Canham was determined to make his first decision the one
that would alter the program forever.
"We needed a coach who was a Big Ten guy," Canham
says today. "Nothing against those good ole boys from the
south, but we needed a guy who knew the league. Bo had
been around (at Ohio State and Northwestern), so he knew."
What Bo knew extended far beyond Canham's imagina-
Bo was smuggled into Ann Arbor under cover of night to
stay at a local hotel under an assumed name. Only Canham
knew he was coming, and secrecy proved to be the key in
securing the man with the unforgettable moniker.
Bo remembers the meeting as if it were yesterday.
"I came into town and talked to Don Canham for hours
down in the coffee shop," he recalled. "And Canham says,
'Look, I want you to meet one other guy.' So he goes to get
Mark Plant, who teaches in the law school - a long-time
faculty representative in the Big Ten. His daughter was in
school at Miami (Ohio), where I was coaching. I talked to
Canham and Mark Plant up in the lounge of Crisler Arena
and then got on the plane to Cincinnati."
On the flight home to southern Ohio, Schembechler
assessed his situation - he was a successful coach at a
smaller midwestern school, but had been for five years, and
jobs like this were rare - and convinced himself of his
"I met with my staff and said, 'You're looking at the new
head football coach of the University of Michigan.' One guy
said, 'Did they offer you the job?' And I said, 'No, but they
will,"' Bo reminisced, as if opening the vault of history.
"Imagine today if someone only talked to the athletic direc-
tor and the faculty. That's all I talked to. When I came here
and took the job, at the (hiring) press conference, I met the
Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics. No one knew
who I was, or where I came from."
It wouldn't take them long to find out. In his first season
- with players left over from previous coach Bump Elliott's
tenure - Bo's boys toppled undefeated Ohio State in the
final game of the season. The 24-12 victory remains one of
college football's greatest upsets but was just the eighth of
the 194 victories Bo would compile at Michigan.
At that point, Schembechler won games through fury,
intimidation and intensity. Today, the deliberate sentences of
a man reflecting on his past - and looking to his future -
still contain the twinkle of that fiery passion.
'NOT A ID-BACK C0ACH~
When he was coaching, containing Bo's energy was
impossible. He would storm up and down the sidelines,
throwing his hat, tripping over headset cords and generally
make a scene. That intensity came from a love for his play-
ers and staff that is unparalleled.
"What I came to love and be impressed with Bo was he
pursued excellence in everything he did. He wanted to do
things with integrity and he wanted to do things with the best
interests of the people he coached," said Lloyd Carr,
Michigan's current head coach who was one of Bo's assis-
tants from 1980-89. "1 don't think there's a guy out there
that played for Bo, or coached for him, that if they had a
problem, he'd be there. I've seen him do that literally hun-
dreds of times."
The Catch-22 is that the passion that drove him to success
also became his undoing. On two separate occasions, each
time just before a bowl game (the 1970 Rose Bowl and the
1988 Hall of Fame Bowl), Bo had a heart attack from the
stress of coaching. Finally, eight years ago, his ticker robbed
him of his life's work.
"I never thought I'd live this long," Bo says now. "I mean,
I had a heart attack at 39. I don't have the pressure of coach-
ing. When I think back and look at Joe (Paterno) still coach-
ing (at Penn State), if I had a good heart, he'd still be chas-
ing me. The doctors didn't think I could do it. I'd had two
open hearts." t
But "I'm feeling good. Next year, I'll be 70. Imagine hav-
The chance to play In the Rose Bowl was the ultimate goal for Bo Schembechler's Michigan teams, so v
finally won the game under Bo in 1981, the thrill of victory was even more special.
ing a heart attack, coaching for 20 years and having another
one. I had open heart surgery twice and coached right on
through it. They thought I was pushing it. Because, you
know, I was not a laid-back coach.
"I couldn't keep going."
A MCHUGN MAN
For a man who claims to "live and die" with the current
Michigan team, he is still going, just not on the sidelines.
Every day, he enters Schembechler Hall - the Michigan
football facility - and ascends to a large office on the sec-
ond floor, fittingly just a few feet from the program's trophy
room. It's a room, and a building, that
emerged from Bo's efforts - and so it
bears his name.
"That was not my intent," he con-
tends. "My intent was to build this
building for all the things over a 20-year
period that Michigan gets done. Why
shouldn't they have it? I told people
when I went out to get it for them that
I'm not doing this to get my name on
the building - I didn't want my name
on the building."
As a tradition-maker at Michigan,
such honors follow, as Bo knows all too
well. When he arrived at Michigan, the
tradition aspect was in a lull and he was
determined to re-establish Michigan as
the nation's premier college football pro-
"When I came to Michigan, I knew
the caliber of the school," Bo said. "I
wanted to build a program that would
last. I wasn't here to get a national
championship and get out, go to the next
round and make the next buck. That's
why I never went to pro ball. I enjoyed
it here, I like the community, I like the
school. There's not many better jobs in
There aren't better jobs because of the
path Bo forged. Michigan had been to
the Rose Bowl just twice in the 20 sea-
sons before he took the job. Michigan
had slipped beyond the point of
respectability when Bo took over and he
was determined to let everyone - from
the top on down -know what
Michigan was and what it was going to
The coaches "used to dress over at
Yost Fieldhouse," he said, recalling his
first days on the job. "We used to dress
in a room (the) size (of his current
office) and we put our clothes on spikes
that were nailed to the wall. We sat in
folding chairs that were rusted. And I
always play for the dramatic. The guys
said, 'We had better facilities than this at
Miami!' I said, 'Wait a minute. Fielding
Yost hung his clothes on that goddamn
RICK FREEMAN/Daily spike right there. He sat in that chair.
untry to play In "'Miami doesn't have that. Fritz
Crisler was here - Do you know who
Fritz Crisler is?' So I played on that."
And today, telling the stories of the early days, Bo gets
excited, bringing back flashes of the days when the only
coach louder was his buddy Woody. In his new book, a
compilation of pictures and stories from the program's histo-
ry, the evolution of the modern program emerges.
For now, those days are in the past. But according to Carr,
coming to work everyday in Schembechler Hall and interact-
ing with the man himself is a privilege few can imagine.
"I appreciate Bo every dayI see him," Carr said. "Ilapps
ciate him as my mentor, my friend and as an example of
what a football coach should be."
ON TUE RUN
Sitting through a half-hour interview, Bo can hardly con-
tain his energy. When he married Cathy just a few years ago,
Bo told her he was past his active days, that "I was retired"
and the grind was behind him. But one look at his planner
and it's hard to believe that his primary working life con-
cluded in 1989.
"I'm signing books today and doing interviews, and
tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock, I'm going to do a commer-
cial. (Then), I'm going to catch a plane at 9 p.m. to New
York, because the next morning, I've got a Ridell (helmet
manufacturer) board meeting in New York," he said one
Wednesday in mid-October. "Then I'll catch a plane at four
in the afternoon to come back because (WJR radio announc-
er) Jim Brandstatter played for me, I've got to do the Brandy
and Bo show on Thursday night. On Friday at noon, I've got
to tape the Big Ten ticket show that comes on before the
game. Then I'll go over to the Marriott where we're kicking
off the book (Michigan Memories).
"Hey, I go all the time."
But aside from his stints in the rredia - which Carr jok-
ingly says make Bo "unwelcome around" the building
named for him - his primary focus remains undeterred.
The Millie Schembechler Adrenal Cancer Research Fund
is Bo's tribute to his first wife, who died of the disease in
Since 1993, a golf tournament in her memory is hosted by
Bo every July to raise money for the charity. When the char-
ity began, the plan was to raise $3.5 million by 2000 with
the celebrity-laden tournament being the primary method@
Currently, $2.5 million has been raised to combat the
Fundraising is the reason for the new book, it's the cause
of many of Bo's speaking engagements and often, it's why
he's on the run. But he maintains that once the goal is
reached, the tournament will not continue, but fundraising
"The problem that I have is that I'll be over 70 and
Howard Wikel, who helps me, is over 75," he said. "There's
a lot of work involved."
Despite his accessibility now, as soon as the season's c4,
circling the globe becomes his No. 1 priority. He has jour-
neyed all over the world since he "retired" and the experi-
ence is just the way he likes it.
"I like to travel," he says. "I like to go places where
nobody knows me. Where I'm (just) an old guy that nobody
This off-season, the Hawaiian islands and New Zealand
are on the itinerary.
"My life is good, because when I'm busy, I'm really
busy," Bo said. "But when I'm not, you can't find me."
Every July, it's under Bo's direction that the Millie Schembechler Classic comes to fruition. Celebrities come from across the cot
theytoumament - all while heupIng raise money for adrenal cancer research.