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A Michigan Man
Douglas S. Looney
August 20, 2008
Bo Schembechler was a curmudgeon of a coach but, as strange as it sounds, a really good guy. Got it?
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August 20, 2008

A Michigan Man

Bo Schembechler was a curmudgeon of a coach but, as strange as it sounds, a really good guy. Got it?

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Canham has a technique he uses with Bo: "I give him everything he wants." Bo's salary is $60,000, and he earns another $50,000 from television and other appearances. But back in 1969 when he started 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.

"Why don't I ever see you here?" Bo asked.

"I'm here four hours a day. What do you want?"

"Oh, six hours, maybe eight."

And Schembechler strolled on. Actually, he would prefer not eight hours, but maybe 10 or 12 or 14. Or, ideally, 24. Just after Schembechler arrived in Ann Arbor, Joe Falls, a Detroit sports columnist, wrote that the coach's idea of a perfect day would be "eight hours of meetings, eight hours of movies and eight hours of practice." Everything Bo does is precise, correct—which is why the prospect of overcooked chicken will worry him so much more than it does the rest of us. These days, for example, when he leaves the office, he goes home; when he leaves home, he goes to the office. At other times of the year, he leaves home, goes recruiting and then comes home. Bo doesn't stop at bars for drinks with the boys.

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