Michigan Football: Twelve Wondrous Wolverines — #4 — Bo Schembechler — Michigan’s Magnificent Modern Wunderkind
Bo! Bo Schembechler! The very mention of his name brings to Michigan followers instant reverence, pride, veneration, devotion, joy, and near deity worship. And there is evidence to support all of the above descriptors. GBMWolverine proudly presents the number four Wondrous Wolverine, legendary coach Bo Schembechler.
Before plunging into the football and administrative accomplishments of this true Michigan Man, the article begins with a look at Coach Bo’s background and his personal traits that endeared him to the wolverine nation.
As many south of the border continue to point out, Bo Schembechler was born in Ohio and coached in Ohio. His hometown was Barberton, a small town in the middle of football rich northeast Ohio. In the enjoyable and superbly well-done documentary Michigan Football Memories, Bo talks about his father, a firefighter, taking the family on vacations in upper Michigan. Bo relates how he talked his father into coming back through Ann Arbor to catch a glimpse of football practice. He saw Fritz Crisler crossing to the stadium and this appeared to have an effect on the young, future coach.
Bo Schembechler attended Miami University, known then and to many still as Miami of Ohio. As a member of the football team, Bo was fortunate to play for two of football’s greatest coaching legends. The first was one of the greatest offense minds ever, Sid Gillman. When Gillman left to go to nearby Cincinnati, Woody Hayes became the head coach. For certain, the styles were contrasting, but the dichotomy must have been incredibly valuable for forming future philosophy and scheme. It seems though that the Hayes model won out.
Schembechler moved to Ohio State and served as a graduate assistant under Hayes while obtaining a Master’s degree. He next had short stints at many places including Northwestern under his Miami teammate Ara Parseghian. In the 1ate 1950’s Bo was hired as an assistant to Woody Hayes, continuing the fiery life-long “love affair.”
In 1963 Schembechler was named Miami Head Football Coach. During his short tenure, Miami had a very successful run with several MAC championships and runner-up finishes.
Then came about the events that would make Bo Schembechler noteworthy and Michigan Football a revived national force. It started with the new Michigan Director of Athletics, Don Canham. He was in a position of dealing with a declining Michigan football program, both attendance wise and concerning the level of competitiveness within the Big Ten Conference. Schembechler discussed in the documentary Michigan Football Memories how poor the locker room facilities were at Michigan compared to Miami. Bo informed his assistants that at Miami there was not a nail where Fielding H. Yost hung his hat.
Canham used intuitive, inner world judgment and made a quick decision to hire Schembechler on the spot. And so the path to legendary achievement began for both Michigan and Bo Schembechler.
As stated above, the traits that led to Schembechler’s success will now be discussed.
There is much to admire about what Schembechler stood for in his tenure as coach. Some would say he was rock-solid Middle America. Some would say he based everything he did on a core set of non-negotiable values. Bo spoke his mind in clear language with no smoke or sidestepping behavior. His work and ethos was based on integrity, hard work, and obvious intensity. There were no sacred political cows that Schembechler went out of his way to avoid. If he chose to speak, he simply spoke his position. Schembechler, by his actions and accomplishments, evoked an image of pure strength.
His firm mantra of core values started off with a simple and powerful statement that echoes to this day: “Those who stay will be champions.” Bo took charge immediately, putting into place his program and philosophy. Again, the intent and methods were clear and non-negotiable.
1969 started out rough with Michigan losing two of the first five games. The losses were to Missouri and Michigan State. Then, the offense and the defense continued to improve and Michigan rose from the early Big Ten loss to the Spartans. Four convincing wins with the defense giving up only 22 points and the offense scoring 178 points clearly demonstrated an improving Michigan team.
Few, except Schembechler and his team, paid attention to this trend on the eve of the 1969 Ohio State Michigan game. Ohio State had won the national championship in 1968 and there was universal acclimation, including from Woody Hayes, that the1969 team was even better. In fact, typical conversation centered on could the Minnesota Vikings beat Ohio State? For several weeks the national media set up the debate as to whether or not Ohio State was the greatest team of all time. Again, the consensus was indeed the Buckeyes were the greatest team ever. There was only one obstacle remaining since Ohio State could not go to the Rose Bowl: Michigan, under the young upstart Schembechler, at Michigan Stadium. No matter, most of the nation expected Ohio State to win by 14-21 points.
As an aside, young readers without the benefit of direct historical observation, may wonder was Ohio State really that good? Yes, that team was loaded from top to bottom with double digit draft choices, many in the top rounds.
The game started out even, but Ohio State messed up on two extra point opportunities and that somewhat threw the game a little out of whack for the Buckeyes. Michigan methodically took what yardage it could get against the great Ohio State defense and forged a lead. The Michigan defense then threw a shutout the rest of the way on an offense that routinely scored 35 points and up running three and four yard plays, disdaining the pass. Michigan won and sportswriters would proclaim the game the greatest upset in college football history, even though Michigan came into the game with a 6-2 record.
Woody Hayes, famously, in the Ten Year War television documentary related a story in which he told Schembechler …you will never win a bigger game. Bo agreed, but he survived the Ten Year War with a record of 5-4-1.
Not everything centered on the Ohio State rivalry during the 21 years of Schembechler’s coaching career. Bo’s accomplishments were many and significant, so significant in fact that it might be rightly stated they became the bar for Michigan football.
Thirteen outright or shared Big Ten titles stands out as perhaps Schembechler’s greatest accomplishment. His famous pledge “Those who stay will be champions” became real and not a part of the world of worthless rhetoric.
In any sport, a winning percentage of 80% is considered the platinum standard for a coach or team over an extended amount of time, and 75% could be considered a gold standard. Both bars are very tough to reach and beyond the vast majority of coaches. Coach Schembechler at Michigan ended up with a Michigan record of 194-48-5. This equates to a .796 winning percentage. Even more impressive was Schembechler’s Big Ten Conference record, which was 143-24-3, a splendid .850 winning percentage.
Wins are one thing, but how a program is conducted should always receive higher value. There was never any taint or tarnish to the Michigan name under Bo. And in the best Sinatra vein, Bo did it his way.
He was criticized for a losing record in bowl games, but many of the losses were against highly ranked PAC (8, 10, whatever) teams on home turf with home cooking.
Bo was sadly plagued with heart disease, but frankly championed onward, even in the wake of a heart attack before a Rose Bowl appearance. This condition eventually ended decades later with Bo’s death just before the now famous 2006 number one and number two match-up of Ohio State and Michigan at Ohio Stadium.
Texas A & M offered Coach Schembechler tons of money to leave Michigan. He responded with a declaration that there were things more important than money, a position obviously grounded in his root values and adherence to integrity.
Bo was Director of Athletics at Michigan for a short time and one incident perhaps defined his tenure at Michigan. Bill Frieder was coaching Michigan’s talented team heading into the NCAA basketball tournament and announced he had accepted the Arizona State job for the following season. Schembechler, not exactly enamored by this action, fired Frieder and placed assistant Steve Fisher in charge. Bo’s quote “A Michigan man is going to coach a Michigan team” became embedded in Michigan lore. Glen Rice got hotter than the Earth’s mantle and Michigan won a national title.
Simply put Bo Schembechler became the icon of the University of Michigan. To this day his status remains unchanged and Schembechler is still held in the highest of reverence by the Michigan community.
Taking the person, the legend, and the accomplishments into total account it may be stated that Michigan may never see a field general again in the same mold acquiring the same amount of success for decades, many decades. How Bo Schembechler went about his responsibilities while at Michigan may well outweigh his simple numerical winning results. He never suffered a losing season. In all regards Bo Schembechler was a winner and he is vastly deserving of his place at the top of Michigan legends.
The team, The Team, THE TEAM.
For those that want to hear the speech … here you go.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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