It was not justa man who died last Friday in Michigan, but another piece of a college footballinstitution whose time is nearly gone. The sport was once ruled by giants,larger-than-life figures whose names were synonymous with the schools theycoached and whose presence towered over games and players. Knute Rockne atNotre Dame. Earl (Red) Blaik at Army. Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma. Paul (Bear)Bryant at Alabama. Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Florida State's Bobby Bowden andPenn State's Joe Paterno are the last of the breed still working thesideline.
The modern coach is part strategist, part salesman, part mercenary. The nextjob awaits, be it in coaching, broadcasting or something else altogether. Soonthere will be no more giants.
Glenn (Bo) Schembechler, who died at 77 on the eve of the annual game that hehelped transform into one of the most passionate rivalries in sport, was thesoul of Michigan football and, in a larger sense, the face of a great and vastuniversity. "We will never see the likes of Bo again, I can promise youthat," said former Michigan State coach George Perles, who coached againstSchembechler from 1983 to '89.
Don Nehlen, whoworked under Schembechler from 1977 to '79 before becoming head coach at WestVirginia, recalled that he would sit in his Ann Arbor office hoping thatSchembechler would not accompany him on recruiting trips. "He was such agiant, and such a celebrity, that when the word got out that Bo was coming,you'd have the house filled with grandma and grandpa and every little kid onthe street," says Nehlen. "Of course, once Bo got in the house, hedidn't lose many recruits."
Born a Buckeyein Barberton, Ohio, Schembechler was recruited by passing-game guru Sid Gillmanand played tackle for ball-control disciplinarian Hayes at Miami (Ohio). Afterfive seasons working under Hayes at Ohio State, Schembechler first became ahead coach at his alma mater in 1963 and went 40-17-3 in six seasons beforesucceeding Bump Elliott at Michigan in '69. In that first year Schembechlerengineered a 24--12 upset of Hayes's defending national champion Buckeyes, whohad won 22 straight. The clash started a decade that came to be called the TenYear War, in which Michigan went 5-4--1 in a decade of fierce battles,elevating the rivalry.
Schembechlerwill not be remembered for his innovations. His teams played simple,remorseless football. "His teams were disciplined and tough," saysPerles. "If you weren't ready to play, you were going to get your blockknocked off."
November 27, 2006
In 21 seasons atMichigan, Schembechler was 194-48-5; his teams won or shared 13 Big Ten titlesand only four times lost more than one conference game. His bowl record wasless impressive: losses in his first seven bowls and a 5--12 postseason record.His Wolverines never played for a national title.
Televisionaudiences saw a cantankerous, short-tempered man patrolling the sideline in ablue baseball cap and oversized spectacles. His players and assistant coachessaw something else. "He was a teddy bear," says Nehlen. "Sure, hewas tough, but he loved his players and they loved him back."
He lovedMichigan almost as much. On the eve of the 1989 NCAA basketballtournament--when Schembechler was not only the school's football coach but alsoits athletic director--Wolverines basketball coach Bill Frieder accepted anoffer to jump to Arizona State the following season. Schembechler immediatelyreplaced Frieder with assistant Steve Fisher, announcing in a news conferencethat he wanted "a Michigan man to coach Michigan."
Fisher guidedthe Wolverines to the national title and was named head coach. Last weekend herecalled spending a long day with Schembechler in Chicago in the springfollowing the championship. "Bo was such an icon," said Fisher, now thecoach at San Diego State. "People who had the resources to buy and sell allof us would stand in line to shake his hand. But on that trip Bo went out ofhis way to get to know me. He asked about my wife and my family and my life. Hedid it because he wanted to, not because he had to."
Deep intoretirement, Schembechler remained a touchstone for his former underlings. Inthe spring of 1997, after losing eight games in his first two seasons as headcoach, Lloyd Carr felt he was on the verge of a meltdown. "The pressure candestroy you," he told SI. "It was breaking me." Carr went toSchembechler, who told him, "Stop listening to the bull----. You've gotthis thing going in the right direction." The message gave Carr thestrength to continue, and the Wolverines won a national title that fall.
When I heard ofSchembechler's death, I was transported back to another Bo Moment. On Nov. 25,1995, Michigan upset unbeaten Ohio State 31--23 in Ann Arbor, ruining theBuckeyes' shot at a national championship. Schembechler watched the game fromhis customary box at the top of Michigan Stadium, and long after it wasfinished, he wandered into the virtually empty home locker room after a gamefor the first time since his retirement six years earlier. He sat in a foldingchair next to the dressing cubicle that had been his for more than two decades,before two heart attacks drove him from the sideline.
Schembechlershoved back the bill of his cap. "I was into this game more than any onesince I left," he said, his eyes twinkling. "Think of how much thatteam lost today." Carr walked into the room. Schembechler stood and grabbedCarr in a bear hug, each man banging mitts against the other's back.Schembechler was 66 years old, and for just one day he was back in his element,basking in another conquest. There was an image worth holding.
Schembechler (after his first Rose Bowl victory, in 1981) never won it all, butno man loomed larger in Ann Arbor.
The former OSU student and coach was remembered in Columbus, where for yearshe'd been the archenemy.