Yet, too much is read into all this. As Don Canham, athletic director at Michigan, says, "Bo is oblivious to life." That, though, is his appeal. The world clearly would be a better place if more people cared as much about their pursuits as Bo does about his. Canham, who had the genius to hire Bo, stretched his feet across the desk the other day and reflected on his coach.
"Bo is a delightful guy with a heck of a sense of humor," said Canham. "He also has a heck of a temper. I guess a lot of people do think of him throwing his hat and kicking dirt and screaming at the officials. But I've found that when he gets mad, it's time to get mad. And while he has a short fuse, he also has a short memory. The only danger with his temper is that he will do something dumb. I don't think he will." Something dumb would be, to give a purely hypothetical illustration, for him to slug an opposing middle guard in the face during a bowl game. But nobody would do that.
Former Michigan President Robben Fleming once took Bo out to lunch and asked him, "Do you really have to get on the officials the way you do?" Schembechler had no real response. He says now, "I didn't try to justify it. I think he was right. But the only way I know to get their attention is to yell. How else do you do it? I'm open to ideas."
Canham, a huckster in all the best senses of the word (he has filled Michigan Stadium with an average of 104,186 fans the last 33 games in a row), says his relationship with Bo was established from the start. Just after he had hired Bo, Canham told him, "Schembechler, if we have any trouble, it's going to be your fault—and I'm going to win." Indeed, not long ago Bo appeared in Canham's office, pounding and popping off about some injustice. Canham listened to the ranting and then said, "Schembechler, this is all your fault," and got up and walked out. When Canham returned to his office, Bo was gone and nothing else ever was said about the subject.
But Canham also has one other technique he uses with Bo: "I give him everything he wants." Bo's salary is $60,000, and he earns another $50,000 or so from television and other appearances. But back in 1969 when he started coaching in Ann Arbor, Bo told Millie to buy as fancy a house as she wanted. Heck, go clear on up to $40,000 if need be, he said—a fortune to the Schembechlers then. Millie promptly bought a four-bedroom house for $58,000. Bo groused, "If I don't win, we're in deep and dire trouble." Unlike some coaches who want more than their prowess in the won-lost column warrants. Bo doesn't want much.
Except perfection. Perfection. Put Schembechler in the center of Camelot and he would spot a loose downspout. In 1975, the morning after an unthinkable tie with Baylor, he called in equipment manager Jon Falk. Bo was furious. "Why did Mike Kenn have a jersey with a bad number?" he steamed. A bad number in this case was one that was crinkled instead of smooth.
"I didn't think you would notice," said Falk.
"I notice everything" said Bo. "Now, if you want to manage the goddam equipment, get busy and manage the goddam equipment."
Defensive Coordinator Bill McCartney says of Bo, "Nobody calls to excellence more than he does. He forces every guy to measure up every time. He will never turn his head. I've got the feeling he's just reaching his peak." McCartney can even find a Biblical verse in defense of Bo's clamorous tongue. In a well-thumbed Bible, McCartney turns quickly to Proverbs 28:23 and reads, "He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue."
If that be true, Bo has gained enormous favor. That's because there's no satisfying the man. Walking past the practice field last summer, Schembechler spotted Defensive Lineman Dave Meredith working out.