U-M community mourns coaching legend
The University is mourning the loss of former Head Football Coach Glenn “Bo” Schembechler, 77, who died Nov. 17 at Providence Hospital, where he was rushed after experiencing a medical problem while taping a television program in Southfield, Mich.
|Courtesy Bentley Historical Library
“This is a tremendous shock and an irreplaceable loss for the University of Michigan family,” said President Mary Sue Coleman at a press conference that afternoon. “Bo Schembechler embodied all that is best about Michigan—loyalty, dedication and the drive for ever-greater excellence. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who loved him, a number as great as the Michigan community in every corner of the world. This University’s deep tradition is our immense pride and our common ground. No one represented Michigan tradition better than Bo.”
“This is a profoundly sad day for Michigan athletics, for the University of Michigan, and for all of college football. I find it difficult to express what Bo has meant to this program for close to 40 years,” said Athletic Director Bill Martin. “He was a giant of a coach and giant of a man. His life touched generations of players, families, staff, students and alumni. His energy fueled not only athletic success but the incredible pride of all Michigan fans. His impact was immeasurable. On behalf of the athletic department, I express our deep sadness at his loss, and extend our sympathies to his wife, Cathy, and their sons.”
Although Schembechler retired from his coaching position in 1989, he continued his strong relationship with the University and remained an icon of Michigan athletics. He served 21 years as the winningest head coach in the team’s history—racking up 194 wins, 13 Big Ten Championships and two Rose Bowl victories during his tenure at Michigan—and he continued to be actively involved with the team. Until his death he supported current coach Lloyd Carr, who served as his assistant, and was mentor to a number of the staff and players. He also hosted a pregame show on WXYZ-TV7, “Big Ten Ticket,” devoted to his analysis of the Wolverines, the Michigan State University Spartans and other Big Ten teams.
Schembechler’s death came on the eve of one of the biggest match-ups with perennial rival, the Ohio State University Buckeyes, and on the same day the Board of Regents met to approve designs to renovate Michigan Stadium.
Regent David Brandon, who played defensive end in the early 1970s under Schembechler, announced during the board meeting that the coach had been rushed to the hospital for a heart problem for the second time in less than a month.
Brandon recalled the day he was ushered into Michigan Stadium to watch a game because high school students were recruited to come and fill the stands so it “looked like there was a big crowd.”
“All that changed because of a guy named Bo,” Brandon said. “The reason we are able to fight over how big the stadium will be is all about Bo,” Brandon said of the debate that resulted in a 6-2 vote to approve stadium renovation designs. “Bo is the Michigan tradition.”
In the book “Tradition” that Schembechler co-authored with Dan Ewald, former President Gerald R. Ford, an alumnus and football player, wrote the forward in praise of the former football coach.
“Bo’s accomplishments elevate him to the highest rung of coaching excellence,” wrote Ford. “The essence of Bo’s legacy ... transcends all the numbers and individual honors that fill the record books. That’s because it’s impossible to attach numerical significance to the virtues of honesty, dignity and integrity that have served as the hallmarks in Bo’s life, both on and off the field.”
Schembechler, whose ability to connect with people was legendary, got a rousing ovation from the graduates when he received an honorary degree from U-M in 2005. One among the many ways he gave back to the University was the establishment of a named professorship in the Medical School, the Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer, named after his wife who died in 1992 of the rare form of cancer that strikes about 200 Americans each year.
Schembechler has been inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Michigan Hall of Honor, the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. After retirement, he began a career as a motivational speaker and co-wrote his autobiography with longtime friend and Detroit Free Press sports columnist and author Mitch Albom.
“Bo was the icon of Michigan football. But he was connected with this University far beyond athletics,” Coleman said. “We watched with pride as he received an honorary degree. We watched with gratitude as he extended his considerable talents to the University of Michigan cancer center and so many other worthwhile programs. And even this semester we watched with a smile as he enjoyed becoming a student again in the Ford School of Public Policy.
“Bo had an unmistakable twinkle in his eye, and I will miss that spirit and so much more,” Coleman said. “I am grateful for this remarkable man and all his contributions that made Michigan Michigan.”
Schembechler suffered from serious heart disease and diabetes, and experienced an episode Oct. 24 while taping his TV program. He was taken to the hospital where he was outfitted with a defibrillator to work alongside a previously-implanted pacemaker to regulate his heart. He suffered his first heart attack in 1969 just prior to the Rose Bowl.
The rivalry with Ohio State always has been intense. This year both teams were heading into the Nov. 18 game with perfect 11-0 records—and perhaps no one was looking forward to the match-up more than Schembechler.
Former Buckeye coach Woody Hayes and Schembechler took turns dominating the conference, splitting 10 titles and finishing second eight times. The rivalry was intensified by the fact that Schembechler played for Hayes at Miami University of Ohio and served as an Ohio State assistant coach as well.
Prior to coming to Michigan, Schembechler served as coach at Miami of Ohio from 1963-68. His overall coaching record of 234-65-8 placed him fifth on the all-time list behind legends Paul “Bear” Bryant, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Glen “Pop” Warner and Woody Hayes. After leaving U-M he served as president of the Detroit Tigers from 1990-92.
For a timeline of Schembechler's tenure at U-M, go to www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=1072.