Bo Schembechler's glorious 21-year coaching career at Michigan ended on a fitting note at the Rose Bowl late Monday afternoon. He lost. Ranting, raving, raging, he lost 17-10 to USC. The defeat ran his Rose Bowl record to a horrid 2-8 and extended his overall bowl record to an awful 5-12. Near the end of the game, he threw a classic, out-of-control, Bo temper tantrum that contributed mightily to the loss.
With 5:24 left to play and the score tied 10-10, Michigan had a fourth-and-two when Chris Stapleton ran a fake punt for 24 yards to the USC 30 and an apparent first down. But blocker Bobby Abrams was called for holding, thus nullifying the play and forcing Michigan to punt for real. Bo went bonkers, slamming his play sheet to the turf, and Michigan received a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The holding call and that memorable fit may have cost the Wolverines a chance to win. USC immediately began a 75-yard drive, which ended with tailback Ricky Ervins's 14-yard touchdown run.
Shortly before the game Schembechler said, "My bowl record is pathetic." Indeed, it would not have seemed right if Bo—with the most wins of any active major college coach with a 234-65-8 record—had gone out with a triumph at the scene of his most ignominious defeats. Bo just don't know bowls.
But Bo knows how to make a noisy exit. Since Dec. 13, when he made his surprise announcement that he did not feel he could push his twice-bypassed heart any further, Schembechler has been talking loud on a variety of issues. He complained bitterly when the presidents of the Big Ten universities voted to admit Penn State to the conference without discussing the matter with their athletic directors. "In the next five years the presidents will completely confuse the field of intercollegiate athletics," said Bo, who is, at least for now, Michigan's AD. About a possible national championship playoff, Schembechler warned, "It will kill the game." Of recruiting, he observed, "You start to feel like a pimp." It was as if Bo knew that he had to speak his mind fast, since the days during which he could command an audience were numbered.
January 8, 1990
Happily, though, Schembechler, 60, did know when to quit. And while some members of the public will remember him as the guy who threw childish tantrums on the sideline, his legacy is more positive. During Schembechler's tenure—a period rife with football scandals on other campuses—there was no scandal in Ann Arbor. And his teams invariably were solid winners: From 1970 to '74, Michigan was a remarkable 50-4-1.
In truth, Schembechler's final blowup was more like a curtain call: once more for old times' sake. Two days before the game, he said he wasn't sure how his resignation would affect the play of his Wolverines during the Rose Bowl. "Emotions can work both for you and against you," he mused. In the end, Bo's own emotional eruption worked against Michigan.