Sunday, November 19, 2006

Remembering Bo Schembechler

I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan when Bo Schembechler replaced Bump Eliot as head football coach. The closest I ever got to Bo was Astronomy 101. You see back then, in order to graduate with a BA, you needed things like science, math and foreign language credits. The toughest of these was science and we had an Astronomy 101 Professor named Doc Losh. She was a crusty old critter, but loved Michigan football. The rumor, and as it turned out reality, was that her grading scheme was "A" for Athletes, "B" for Boys, and normal grades according to merit for everyone else.

Accordingly, the entire Michigan football team took Astronomy 101 from Doc Losh, along with yours truly. I got a B.

Below are some memories of students who actually met the man.



Remembering Bo
Stories from lives the longtime Michigan coach touched

The first time I was ever in Michigan Stadium, I was carrying a bass drum as part of Band Day. We had to try to fill the stadium with high school kids wearing band uniforms to make it look filled. And all that changed in 1969, and it changed because of a guy named Bo.

I've heard a lot of people pontificate about what their view of Michigan tradition is, but Bo is the Michigan tradition. The reason we're able to fight over how big the stadium should be and how many people we can pack in it is all about Coach Bo Schembechler. I had dinner with him last night, and we met with the team twice this week, and he's still coaching. I don't know what's going on right now and where he is, but I'm sure he's still coaching.

David Brandon
David Brandon played football for Michigan under Schembechler. He is CEO of Domino's Pizza and a member of the University Board of Regents. He made these remarks at yesterday's meeting of the Board of Regents, shortly after hearing that Schembechler had collapsed.

When I was in fourth grade, few things were more important to me than Michigan football. Although Bo Schembechler coached well before I was actively following football, the legacy he left at Michigan was undeniable.

When I was 10, his book "Michigan Memories" came out, and he went on a book-signing tour that made a stop in my hometown. I was ecstatic to find out that this coaching legend would grace my humble town with his presence. Unfortunately, his tour stopped at our Barnes & Noble on a Wednesday.

Much to my surprise, my dad let me skip school to go. After more than an hour, I timidly made my way to the table where he sat. A wave a terror hit me as I became star-struck by the man before me.

He could see I was nervous. He shook my hand and boldly said, "You look a little young to not be in school. Hopefully this is a one-time thing?"

I laughed and promised him I wouldn't miss any more school - unless Lloyd Carr decided to come to town. Bo grabbed my shoulder and smiled, asking my dad if he wanted to get a picture of his son with the old coach. In that second, I could honestly envision myself as a grandson of Bo.

Although my time with Bo was short, I can tell you he has one of the most vivid and caring personalities I have ever encountered. Bo Schembechler, you'll be missed.

Andy Reid
Reid is an LSA freshman and a Daily sports writer.

Although we knew Bo had cheated death for years, we all seemed to think he'd live forever. So, as I write this, I'm still a little stunned.

Bo was the greatest man I ever met. He had more energy, more passion, more heart than anyone I have ever known. He had tremendous pride, but little ego; he hated talking about himself, and loved talking about you. He was inspiring just to be around.

Of course, he'll be remembered for restoring Michigan's tradition. When Bo took the job at Michigan in 1969, the Athletic Department was deep in the red. They didn't have much back then, and they had to get dressed on the second floor of Yost Field House. They sat in rusty, folding chairs and hung their clothes on bent bolts in the wall.

Bo's assistants started complaining. "What the hell is this?" they said. "We had better stuff at Miami!" Bo cut that off right away. "No, we didn't," he said. "See this chair? Fielding Yost sat in this chair. See this spike? Fielding Yost hung his hat on this spike. And you're telling me we had better stuff at Miami? No, men, we didn't. We have tradition here, Michigan tradition, and that's something no one else has!"

Thanks to Bo, that tradition is the best in the nation.

As for me, I have lost a great friend, someone I will never, ever forget. Amazingly, thousands of people can say the same. He was that big.

John U. Bacon
Bacon is finishing a book he wrote with Bo Schembechler, "Bo's Lasting Lessons: Schembechler Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership," due out by Warner Books in August of 2007.

The first day in class, our professor stood up and said we had a special guest, a friend of the public policy program: Bo Schembechler. I turned around in amazement; it was an honor to be in the same classroom as him.

The first time I really approached him was the first time he was in class after he was hospitalized. I asked how he was doing, and he told me about his new pacemaker and told me how he was going to start taking it easier.

This past Tuesday was his last lecture, and I sat next to his wife. I asked if he was going to the game, and he said he would be watching from home.

When I heard the news today, I didn't feel like I lost Bo Schembechler, the legend. I really thought that I had lost a friend.

Kyle Grubman
Grubman is a Kinesiology student enrolled in Public Policy 201, which Schembechler had been attending this semester.

During one our first winter workouts after Bo came to Michigan, he delivered an edict: no mustaches. This was at a time when there was social unrest on college campuses around the country. It was at the height of Afros, goatees, mutton-chop sideburns and, of course, mustaches. Bo said if we were worried about the way we looked, we'd be too vain to play as a team.

Now, once the mandate was delivered, I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep my mustache. I had been growing this thing since high school, and it had just started to darken enough so you could see it. So the next day I went to Bo's office to plead my case. "Bo," I said, "I have to bring something to your attention."

Bo said, "Yeah, what's that?"

"It's a black man's heritage to have a mustache, and you can't ask us to deny our heritage, especially after all the indignities we've endured from slavery right up until today. Bo, you will not find a black man anywhere today that doesn't have one."

Bo didn't say anything but just stared at me for a minute, trying to figure out if I was serious or not. And finally, he said, "Get the (expletive) out of my office." At that point I didn't know if he bought my story or not.

The next day at practice he called the team together and started out by saying, "It has been brought to my attention that it's a black man's heritage to have a mustache, but you white guys don't have any heritage, and I want all mustaches, goatees and mutton-chop sideburns shaved off."

It would be 20 years before I told him the truth.

Jim Betts
Betts played quarterback and safety under Schembechler in 1969 and 1970.

The first time I sat with Bo, in 1998, he asked me what I thought of how messy his office was, filled floor to ceiling in trophies and papers. The last time I sat with Bo, in the Michigan Stadium press box two weeks ago, he asked me to feel his new pacemaker - "this thing they're making me wear" - and to get him an apple cider. I gladly complied with both.

By the time I met Bo, the fire-breathing coach was gone, given way to a more realistic life.

But he was all human, all the time. The stories remained, and in his office, he'd get three or four calls from former players in just an hour. He'd pick up the phone and start talking - then realize you were still sitting there, make a joke and start up with you again.

He just loved making people happy, because that made him happy.

When I touched that pacemaker, I literally could feel what made him tick.

And I can't imagine anything will ever feel like that again.

Mark Snyder
Snyder is a sports writer for the Detroit Free Press and a former Daily sports writer.

For members of the Michigan Marching Band, the return to Ann Arbor in the fall is accompanied by a grueling two weeks of nonstop rehearsals known as "band week." By the end of band week my freshman year, we were exhausted physically and mentally.

On the last night, our drum major led us to the outer entrance of the tunnel. Surviving band week had earned us the privilege of running through the tunnel for the first time. When we reached the end of the tunnel, the returning members greeted us with "The Victors."

Once we had joined the rest of the band, band director Jamie Nix announced that he had one more surprise for us. As he said this, Bo Schembechler walked out of the tunnel.

Bo spoke to us about how important the band is to Michigan football. He told us how much he appreciated the band during his coaching career at Michigan. Bo told us how much pride we should have for being able to play "The Victors" and wear our maize and blue uniforms.

I'll never forget the night that Bo Schembechler taught me what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine.

Katie Garlinghouse
Garlinghouse is a Daily editorial cartoonist and a member of the Michigan Marching Band.

Bo Schembechler was the most intimidating guy any young sports writer ever met. If you asked him a stupid question, you got treated like one of his players; you did not want to commit the sin of being unprepared.

That said, Bo was about a lot more than football. In 1983, at the press lunch after the Ohio State game, Bo was relaxed and animated. He broke out a fistful of cigars and started offering them around the room.

I'm thinking, "I'll get one for my Dad. He'll think that's cool."

But when the guy to my right - a Daily writer Bo didn't much like - got ripped for his age and audacity, I kept my mouth shut and passed on the stogie.

My father had come to his first college football game that season - I wrote a column in the Daily titled "Michigan fans, please make room for Daddy" - but days after OSU, he had his second heart attack. In the hospital, he saw Bo on the Donohue show and called to say how impressed he was.

On my return to Ann Arbor, I dropped Bo a note, rehashing the whole story and asking if he'd send my dad a cigar. I expected nothing; Bo never seemed to like Daily sports writers, and he certainly didn't owe us any favors.

A week later, I'm entering the athletic office for an interview, just as Bo is walking out. He grabs my hand, claps my shoulder and says, "Jaffer, I just sent your old man one of my best five-dollar cigars."

There was a handwritten note, too.

But what truly stands out with me is what happened next, because every time I ran into Bo - and we did cross paths a few times - he always asked first about my dad.

Chuck Jaffe
Jaffe is a senior columnist for and was a Daily senior
sports editor in 1984.


Mark said...


I am a Michigan grad (living in Ann Arbor still), having attended UM during the 80's. At that time Bo was already legendary. Even though I didn't play football, and although he did not know me personally, I still considered him my coach. If he would have shown up at my dorm room and asked me to get out of bed and do 100 pushups, I would have done 101.

He was simply just bigger than life, an amazing guy.

Allan said...

Mark, you pretty much captured my sentiments and why I posted this Blog on Bo. Bigger then life, he touched us all in a spiritual way and in the same way, we all feel the loss. I thought the collection of memories, which I took from the Michigan Daily, said what I wanted to say, but without my having to do a spellcheck.


Barry Garelick said...

Like Allan, I too graduated from Mumford in 1967 (maybe Allan knows me; dunno) and was at U of Michigan in 1968 when Bo took over from Bump.

I never met him except literally "in passing" in the tunnel underneath the stadium when I was in the Michigan Marching Band. Bump Elliot had been the mainstay of the Wolverines for the past few years and had led them to victory in the Rose Bowl in 1965. A band tradition was to cheer the team as it ran through the tunnel onto the field, and when the coach followed we had a special cheer for him. In 1967, my first year in the band, the cheer when "Yayyyyyy, BUMP. Yayyyyyyy BUMP."

But that first game of the 1968 season, we changed it, and it went "Yayyyyyy BO. Yayyyyyy BO." It just didn't sound right, and many of us were wondering about this "new guy" Bo. As I recall, we won all the games that season except the big OSU game at the end. Bo fixed that up in 1969, and life at U of M has never been the same since.

I'm priveleged to have cheered him on his first season.

Yayyyyyy BO. I'm still with you.

Barry Garelick

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any stats on how Bo did in investing his money?

JK in DC