My story about Bo Schembechler begins
with my own personal history growing up in Ann Arbor following
the Michigan football team. I was born in 1952, and some of my
earliest memories involve Michigan football. As a 7 year old boy,
my first experience in Michigan stadium was entering the stadium
during the 4th quarter of a Michigan State game on October 3,
1959. My mother had given me a $5 or $10 bill to get in, but it
couldn't buy a ticket as the game was sold out; the gate keeper
took my cash and let me in. When I entered, I was astonished at
the visual of the huge crowd, and how the scoreboard showed Michigan
State 34 Michigan 0 and the size difference of the players. The
Michigan State players looked like "Goliaths" compared
to the much smaller Michigan players. The final score that day
was Michigan State 34 Michigan 8.
I start with this story because
most fans today do not know that at one time the Michigan football
program was floundering, and its rivals were beating up on us
regularly. The 1959 season, Bump Elliot's first, ended up 3-4
in the Big Ten which was good for 7th place of 10 teams and 4-5
overall. We lost to Michigan State and Ohio State plus lost our
homecoming to Wisconsin, but defeated Minnesota for the Brown
Jug. It seemed it was that way every year, we lost a lot of games,
but had one or two positives to point to. In 1960, we improved
to 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten with losses to Michigan
State, Ohio State and Minnesota although the games were closer.
I can distinctly remember when Bump beat his brother Pete, 8-7,
in the battle of the Elliots when we played Illinois. In 1961,
we stared 2-0 with big non-conference wins over UCLA and Army,
and then Michigan State humbled us 28-0. We also lost to Minnesota
and Ohio State; in fact, Woody Hayes piled on 50 points on us
in Michigan stadium with a 50-20 win. I believe this was the most
points scored on a Michigan team in Michigan stadium until Florida
State layed on 51 points until September 28, 1991 when #1 vs.
#3 teams played. Hayes did this after we had just won 3 in a row.
Ohio State won the NCAA title in 1961. In 1962, we started with
a home loss to Nebraska, and lost 28-0 to both Michigan State
and Ohio State finishing 2-7 and in 10th place in the Big Ten
with a 1-6 record. This was one of the lowest points ever in Michigan
football. Of course, at this time, I was a 10 year old kid.
In 1963, this was the year, I became
a "die-hard" Michigan football fan. I can remember attending
the October 12, 1963 Michigan versus Michigan State game that
ended in a 7-7 tie. As the 1959 game, the Spartans were huge and
the Wolverines were much smaller by comparison, and much "scrappier."
I was so impressed by the effort of the Michigan players in not
giving up, and fighting a bigger, better team to a draw. Michigan
finished that season 3-4-2 tied for 5th in the Big Ten. That was
the year that Roger Staubuch came to Ann Arbor to defeat the Wolverines.
We also lost close games to Minnesota. 0-6, and Ohio State, 10-14.
One of the images I'll never forget was the old Michigra when
they introduced the Turbine car which was supposed to be the "wave
of the future" and the humiliation of weathercaster, Sonny
Elliot, who was in the parade.
1964 was the year that Bump Elliot
finally succeeded at Michigan with a Big Ten championship and
Rose Bowl victory finishing #4 in the national polls. We beat
Michigan State and Ohio State on the road, and Minnesota for the
Brown Jug. Our only loss that kept us from winning the national
title was at home against Purdue and Bob Griese, we went for 2
and it was unsuccessful so we lost 20-21. That year, we had a
great quarterback in Bob Timberlake leading the offense, and another
All-American, Bill Yearby, anchoring the defense. Timberlake threw
often to ends, John Henderson and Jim Conley, and our running
game had three stalwarts, Mel Anthony, Jim Detwiler and Carl Ward.
Our defensive backfield had Rich Volk, and we had a small, but
"scrappy" middle guard in Tom Cecchini. You'd think
after a great season, we'd follow with another; however, in 1965,
we floundered back to a 4-6 finish and 7th in the Big Ten. I'll
never forget that after going 2-0 against North Carolina and California
that we came up with an unusual number of injuries against the
Golden Bears, and simply weren't the same team losing several
close games that year to Purdue, Minnesota and Ohio State.
In 1966, we improved to 6-4 and
finished in a 3rd place tie in the Big Ten. We were competitive
as we beat Ohio State, but lost to the National Champion Spartans,
and Bob Griese's Boilermakers made a 2 point conversion to beat
us three years in a row in close games, 21-22. In 1967, we followed
with another 4-6 effort with losses to all our chief rivals including
one of our only losses to Indiana on homecoming. I don't know
when the decision was made by Don Canham to fire Bump Elliot,
but when he was hired in 1968, that decision was made. Actually,
the 1968 season was the second best season that Bump had as he
finished 8-2 and was 2nd in the Big Ten with an opening loss to
the California Golden Bears and a season ending loss to the Buckeyes,
14-50. This was the game that Woody went for two after being ahead
50-14 late in the 4th quarter, we were ranked #4 and the Bucks
#2 going into that game. Ohio State went on the win the Rose Bowl
and National title. Bump Elliot went on to become one of the nation's
outstanding athletic directors at Iowa, and the former Michigan
All-American turned their athletic program into one of the most
respected in the nation. He was a great organizer and administrator,
but not an outstanding field general like Bo.
It has taken me five paragraphs
to begin my story on how important Bo Schembechler has been to
Michigan because I'm hoping that readers will understand just
what a sorry state of affairs the Michigan football was in when
Bo Schembechler began his career here. I apologize to readers,
but I think it is necessary to convey the story. Michigan fans
were expecting mediocrity practically every year, and our chief
rivals, Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota were beating
up on us and laughing at us. Woody Hayes was the classic schoolyard
bully, and kicking dirt right in our faces and getting away with
it. He was the type of man who relished kicking you when you were
out cold, and never wanted his opponents to leave with any self-respect.
This is pretty much the same attitude that Michigan fans hate
about Ohio State historically and today as the attitude is still
present in Columbus. When Bo started, he had talent, but the players
were certainly skeptical about him; that is well-documented. He
had a hard time convincing his own players that his "system"
would work. Early losses to Missouri and an upset to Michigan
State gave Michigan fans cause to doubt Mr. Schembechler's methods
as well. I can remember working on the Saturday afternoon on October
18, 1969 during my senior year in high school for extra spending
money as a janitor cleaning factory lights and checking the radio
when I could to find out what was happening when the Spartans
upset us 12-23 after we'd risen to the #13 ranked team in the
country. We finished the season with resounding victories over
all our opponents including Ohio State in one of the greatest
upsets in NCAA football history. The players and the fans were
disciples of Bo Schembechler from November 22, 1969 until present.
There is no doubt in my mind or anyone else's other than perhaps
some USC fans that Michigan would have won that first Rose Bowl
for Bo had he not had his first heart attack just prior to the
The rest of the history on Bo is
well documented. He went on the lead a legacy at Michigan becoming
the winningest football coach in Michigan football history from
1969-89. While Bo is loved by his players, fans and respected
by our opponents; his methods were not always considered the best.
I can remember when Michigan was the only team who hit twice a
week, and players were getting injured and as the season wore
on, we weren't peaking in November as we were too beat up. Another
huge flaw pointed out by fans was his reluctance to recruit placekickers
or punters, they would always have to walk on and earn a scholarship.
Keep in mind, this is back in the era when we had 95 rather than
85 scholarships and Bo was too stubborn and stingy to give what
he considered a non-football player a full scholarship that he
could give to an offensive lineman or a running back. Bo also
had a tenuous relationship with the press, and would close practices
and give minimal information about injuries. He was considered
by many as a cantancterous, stubborn man who was "old school"
and refused to change and adapt to the modern era of football.
Ohio State got their revenge in
1970, and went on to win the Rose Bowl and national title. I think
the "darkest times" in the Bo Schembechler coaching
era at Michigan were when we were three time Big Ten Champions
in 1972-74, but were 0-2-1 against Ohio State with losses of 11-14,
10-10 tie and 10-12. We were stopped at the goal line way too
often by a determined Buckeye defense led by Randy
Gradishar, and the vote sending Ohio State to the Rose Bowl
I'll never forget that in 1979,
Bo brought in Don Nehlan to help Michigan in the passing game.
This was after Bo had a horrid 0-6 record in Bowl games, and teams,
like Ohio State, would simply gear up to stop the run because
they knew Michigan couldn't throw. Nehlan became the offensive
coordinator, but left to take the head job at West Virginia after
one year. Bo did get his first Bowl win on January 1, 1981 over
Washington 23-6 in the Rose Bowl.
Bo had many former assistant coaches
go on to become great head coaches elsewhere: Don James-Washington,
Jim Young-Army, Frank Maloney-Syracuse, Gary Moeller-Illinois/Michigan/NFL,
Dick Hunter-Miami-OH, Larry Smith-Missouri, USC, Bill McCartney-Colorado,
Jack Harbaugh, Les Miles-Oklahoma State/LSU, Lloyd Carr-Michigan,
Cam Cameron-Indiana/NFL, Elliott Uzelac-Maryland, Ron Vanderlinden-Penn
State, etc. Many of his former players have been successful NCAA,
NFL and/or high school football coaches, some of these include:
Erik Campbell-Michigan, Jim Harbaugh-San Diego, Jim Hermann-Michigan/NFL,
Les Miles-Oklahoma State/LSU, Andy Moeller-Michigan, Mike Trgovac-Carolina
Panthers, Dave Brown-Texas Tech, Corwin Brown-New York Jets, Mike
Hankwitz-Wisconsin/Colorado, Chuck Heather-Florida/Washington,
Curt-Doug-Mike Mallory, Ron Simpkins-Detroit Western, etc. I think
his coaching legacy is similar to Dan Gable in Iowa wrestling
folklore as he has also sent many former wrestlers to successful
coaching positions throughout the nation.
One of Bo's incredible legacy was
his ability to maintain positive relationships with Ohio State
and Michigan State, our biggest rivals. The fans and players at
both schools loved him even though they may have, at times, hated
him. He maintained positive relationships with Woody Hayes, Archie
Griffin, George Perles, etc. It was interesting to hear Jim Tressel
say in his condelence speech that Bo was both a Buckeye and a
Wolverine. He was revered by all, and it is incredible to see
the nationwide tributes to a great coach and an outstanding person.
He is the reason that the Michigan football program is the greatest
in NCAA football history, and he continued to monitor and supervise
the football program with an office in the football building after
resigning as athletic director. People can say all they want about
Fielding Yost, Fritz Crisler, Bennie Oosterbaain, Tom Harmon and
others in the Michigan football folklore as they built the tradition;
however, it was Bo Schembechler who took this floundering program,
re-built it and maintained it into what it is today in 2006.