Bo Schembechler

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 game.

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 in 1973.

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.

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