It was not just
a man who died last Friday in Michigan, but another piece of a college football
institution whose time is nearly gone. The sport was once ruled by giants,
larger-than-life figures whose names were synonymous with the schools they
coached and whose presence towered over games and players. Knute Rockne at
Notre 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 and
Penn State's Joe Paterno are the last of the breed still working the
The modern coach is part strategist, part salesman, part mercenary. The next
job awaits, be it in coaching, broadcasting or something else altogether. Soon
there will be no more giants.
Glenn (Bo) Schembechler, who died at 77 on the eve of the annual game that he
helped transform into one of the most passionate rivalries in sport, was the
soul of Michigan football and, in a larger sense, the face of a great and vast
university. "We will never see the likes of Bo again, I can promise you
that," said former Michigan State coach George Perles, who coached against
Schembechler from 1983 to '89.
Don Nehlen, who
worked under Schembechler from 1977 to '79 before becoming head coach at West
Virginia, recalled that he would sit in his Ann Arbor office hoping that
Schembechler would not accompany him on recruiting trips. "He was such a
giant, 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 on
the street," says Nehlen. "Of course, once Bo got in the house, he
didn't lose many recruits."
Born a Buckeye
in Barberton, Ohio, Schembechler was recruited by passing-game guru Sid Gillman
and played tackle for ball-control disciplinarian Hayes at Miami ( Ohio). After
five seasons working under Hayes at Ohio State, Schembechler first became a
head coach at his alma mater in 1963 and went 40-17-3 in six seasons before
succeeding Bump Elliott at Michigan in '69. In that first year Schembechler
engineered a 24--12 upset of Hayes's defending national champion Buckeyes, who
had won 22 straight. The clash started a decade that came to be called the Ten
Year War, in which Michigan went 5-4--1 in a decade of fierce battles,
elevating the rivalry.
will not be remembered for his innovations. His teams played simple,
remorseless football. "His teams were disciplined and tough," says
Perles. "If you weren't ready to play, you were going to get your block
In 21 seasons at
Michigan, Schembechler was 194-48-5; his teams won or shared 13 Big Ten titles
and only four times lost more than one conference game. His bowl record was
less impressive: losses in his first seven bowls and a 5--12 postseason record.
His Wolverines never played for a national title.
audiences saw a cantankerous, short-tempered man patrolling the sideline in a
blue baseball cap and oversized spectacles. His players and assistant coaches
saw something else. "He was a teddy bear," says Nehlen. "Sure, he
was tough, but he loved his players and they loved him back."
Michigan almost as much. On the eve of the 1989 NCAA basketball
tournament--when Schembechler was not only the school's football coach but also
its athletic director--Wolverines basketball coach Bill Frieder accepted an
offer to jump to Arizona State the following season. Schembechler immediately
replaced Frieder with assistant Steve Fisher, announcing in a news conference
that he wanted "a Michigan man to coach Michigan."
the Wolverines to the national title and was named head coach. Last weekend he
recalled spending a long day with Schembechler in Chicago in the spring
following the championship. "Bo was such an icon," said Fisher, now the
coach at San Diego State. "People who had the resources to buy and sell all
of us would stand in line to shake his hand. But on that trip Bo went out of
his way to get to know me. He asked about my wife and my family and my life. He
did it because he wanted to, not because he had to."
retirement, Schembechler remained a touchstone for his former underlings. In
the spring of 1997, after losing eight games in his first two seasons as head
coach, Lloyd Carr felt he was on the verge of a meltdown. "The pressure can
destroy you," he told SI. "It was breaking me." Carr went to
Schembechler, who told him, "Stop listening to the bull----. You've got
this thing going in the right direction." The message gave Carr the
strength to continue, and the Wolverines won a national title that fall.
When I heard of
Schembechler'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 the
Buckeyes' shot at a national championship. Schembechler watched the game from
his customary box at the top of Michigan Stadium, and long after it was
finished, he wandered into the virtually empty home locker room after a game
for the first time since his retirement six years earlier. He sat in a folding
chair next to the dressing cubicle that had been his for more than two decades,
before two heart attacks drove him from the sideline.