SI Vault
Douglas S. Looney
September 14, 1981
Schembechler's the name. Football's his game. Brash. Curmudgeon. Know-it-all. Ranter. Raver. Hates sportswriters. Don't talk to him when he loses. Or when he wins. This year his Michigan team will win a whole bunch. May even be national champs. You'd love him. They do in Ann Arbor.
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September 14, 1981

M Bo

Schembechler's the name. Football's his game. Brash. Curmudgeon. Know-it-all. Ranter. Raver. Hates sportswriters. Don't talk to him when he loses. Or when he wins. This year his Michigan team will win a whole bunch. May even be national champs. You'd love him. They do in Ann Arbor.

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"Good. Goodby."

Schembechler will on rare occasions make an attack on relaxing and watch a video cassette of a movie on his television at home, sometimes with Falk. One night this summer was typical of the way things generally go. Falk picked up a selection of films for Bo's approval. Over dinner at Bimbo's Casa Di Roma—where for a guy who makes important snap decisions on everything, Bo sure had a helluva time trying to decide whether to have meatballs or Italian sausage on his spaghetti—he also was deciding which film they would watch that evening. Caddyshack was a candidate because it lasted less than two hours. Urban Cowboy was out because it had that Travolta character in it. Heaven Can Wait involved football, so that was nixed—this was to be relaxation. Falk lobbied for Being There. The clerk at the tape store had made a sneering reference to Michigan's sometimes less than exciting brand of football when he said of Being There, "It's kind of dull for the first 15 minutes, but Bo ought to be used to that." Being There was selected. Bo promptly went to sleep in his recliner during the first five minutes of the film, awoke at its end, and said "That is the worst movie I've ever seen." Got it?

Yet—in this bit of an example of the new Bo—he felt he should watch the movie, though not so deep down inside that he wouldn't much rather have watched game films. By himself. Still, he wanted to be hospitable, and he knew that's what he should do. But he couldn't resist asking a visitor at one point, "How long are you going to stay around here?" The visitor said, "About three months, and then I'll go home and get clean clothes and be back." Schembechler doubled over in laughter. He's trying to be more human, honest, but damn, it's hard. Millie does give him pretty good marks in this endeavor. She says, "He has had so much success that now he knows what he has to get done and that he can do it by being nice to people."

So much success. Ahhhhh, yes. "Schembechler," says Bobby Knight, "is the best coach coaching anything in college sports." Southern California Coach John Robinson, a Bo buddy, says, "I'd love to have a son play for him. He'd come out of there a much better person." Jerry Ford says, "He's a helluva man, isn't he? The two things I think of with Bo are strength and success. And then, underneath the surface is a very, very compassionate man." Woody Hayes professes great admiration, although he does add softly, "Bo is the second best in the country. I have to say the first is that old man down at Alabama."

Bo wins, wins, wins, 88.8% of the time in the Big Ten. Eleven of his 12 Michigan teams have ended the season ranked in the nation's Top 10. During the 1970s, the Wolverines were 96-10-3 in the regular season, best of any team in the country. For the same decade, the Wolverines were also first in rushing defense, first in total defense, first in scoring defense. Indeed, bringing the story up to date, nobody has scored a touchdown against the Michigan defense in 22 quarters. Schembechler's record of 154-38-6 in 18 years as a head coach, including-five at Miami of Ohio, gives him the fourth-best winning percentage among all active coaches, behind Barry Switzer, Robinson and Joe Paterno.

One oft-repeated knock on Bo is that he doesn't pass. In truth, he has, and for sure he will this year with Anthony Carter, a certified game-breaker at wide receiver, on the loose. But Quarterback Coach Gary Moeller explains the Bo philosophy thusly: "You run the ball first, and if you are successful, you keep running it." Michigan has been successful running, and as Robinson notes, "Passing teams generally don't win." Further, Dan Devine says, accurately, "Every winning coach has been called too conservative."

Probably contributing most to this year's sunny outlook is the fact that Michigan at last won a Rose Bowl, whipping Washington last January, 23-6, after seven straight bowl losses. Former Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian thinks the notion that Bo couldn't win the big one was a bum rap. "Most guys don't ever get in position to play in the big one," says Parseghian. "Just getting there is a big accomplishment." Still, not winning The Big One cast a pall over Bo—you can ignore the fact he says it didn't, got it?—all these years. Defensive coordinator McCartney says, "Bo's solution to everything is to work harder. We worked harder, but we kept losing the bowl games, and the people of Michigan became so exasperated with us."

There were always reasons and excuses, but Michigan kept getting beat. "How I feel about losing depends on how I lose," says Schembechler. "If we were just not good enough, fine." But Bo can think of only one time his team wasn't good enough—in the 1976 Orange Bowl, when the Wolverines lost to Oklahoma 14-6. And he thinks he should have won that game. "Anytime you get within a touchdown, you're good enough to win," he says. Perhaps the importance of the 1981 Rose win is best illustrated by the positioning of a team picture celebrating the win. It's right by the door of Bo's office. You can't leave without seeing it, unless you choose to go out the window. And Bo can have that effect on people.

Now Bo has won everything in coaching—conference titles, a bowl game, Coach of the Year (1969)—except a national championship. You can ignore the fact that Bo says it's not important, got it? Parseghian, who goes way back with Bo and had him on his staff at Northwestern, says, "Sure it bothers him, just as it bothers Paterno. They have both been so close, but it has escaped them."

That's why the Sept. 19 game against Notre Dame in Ann Arbor looms so big. "It's the biggest non-conference game on our schedule," says Bo, which, taken at face value, means that later games with Northwestern and Illinois are bigger. And bears don't live in the woods. What the Notre Dame game really is, is the biggest game of Bo's career. Indeed, Schembechler is at the helm of an extremely talented team, and this would seem to be the year. But Notre Dame is a tough nut, with outstanding players recruited by former coach Devine and guided by the new, fiery Gerry Faust. At his ease during the summer, Bo laughed about a conversation he'd had with the irrepressibly religious Faust. "He even God-blessed me," said Bo.

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