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Jim Murray

Still Rosy, in Spite of the Thorns

September 11, 1987|Jim Murray

ANN ARBOR — He might be the last of a tough breed. Cantankerous and short tempered, I'm-in-charge-here-and-don't-you-forget-it.

The German General Staff used to breed people like this.

He wears a baseball cap instead of a spiked helmet; he's as American as pumpkin pie, as midwestern as corn on the cob, but his approach to life is, if you want a democracy on the football field, you've joined the wrong army. Try Harvard. He gives the orders here.

He's the best there is at what he does, which is coach football. No one does it any better, few do it anywhere near as well.

The numbers are there, the records can be read. He wins 8 out of every 10 games he plays and more games than any other coach in the business today.

He's the logical successor to guys named The Bear, or The Head Man, Woody or even The Rock. He's one of the few persons identifiable by only one name--"Bo" can only mean Glenn E. Schembechler.

His teams are like he is--smart, direct, not given to frills. They win often, but not always big. They are as hard to beat as a week-old egg.

You can always tell a Schembechler team because they are like a smart old fighter who never wastes a motion. They are mechanical but relentless. They don't dazzle you, they just knock you down and step over you. They play black-eye, nosebleed football.

Bo Schembechler doesn't coddle anybody. The press, faculty, public and football players get the same one-dimensional approach.

Bo Schembechler is not running for anything. Bo Schembechler doesn't care if you don't like him. He doesn't even care if you respect him. He kind of hopes you don't.

He doesn't carry a briefcase full of one-liners. If you want a laugh, try the comedy hour, the Carson show. If you want a win, try the Schembechler one.

"With Bo, you always know you have been in a fight," arch-rival Woody Hayes once admitted in a rare burst of generosity for an annual foe.

Even when a Michigan team would come back bloody and bowed, it could say sincerely, "Yeah, but you should see the other guy."

He gets the players he wants. Nobody gets a scholarship to the University of Michigan before he gets a final personal interview with Bo.

If Bo doesn't like the cut of his his jib, or the way he follows orders, he can go to Ohio State for all Bo cares. It doesn't matter how fast he runs or how hard he blocks or how sure he tackles.

But, of course, football, like life itself, as John Kennedy used to say, is not fair.

Bo comes into focus not as one of the winningest coaches who ever lived, but as the-guy-who-couldn't-win-the-Rose-Bowl. He's been to eight. He came off carried on the shoulders of his players in only one.

It's not only unfair, it's baffling.

Sam Snead never won a U.S. Open. Lots of great jockeys have never won a Kentucky Derby. Fine drivers didn't win Indy.

But for Bo Schembechler to be 1-7 in Pasadena on New Year's Day is as historic an injustice as any of them.

Michigan used to own the Rose Bowl.

The first two games the Wolverines played there, they were 98-0 over the West Coast.

They played in the very first Rose Bowl game so one-sidedly it had to be stopped in the third quarter.

Michigan has a tradition of great coaches. Fielding (Hurry Up) Yost and Fritz Crisler were legendary winners. But so is Schembechler.

He came on the scene after a predecessor lost to Ohio State, 50-14. Schembechler took the same team to the Rose Bowl the very next season and beat Ohio State, 24-12.

He later had a heart attack, which he said surprised a lot of people because they didn't think he had one.

Schembechler has always known precisely his function.

The University of Michigan has 101,701 seats in its stadium and it has sold out 72 straight times. If you don't have season tickets, you can't go.

It is the most successful marketing operation in sports history and it requires a winning team for perpetuation.

This is where Schembechler comes in.

Like all successful college coaches--coaching is coaching--he has been approached by the pros. That's not Bo's style. "How do you tell a guy who is making 10 times as much money as you are what to do?" Bo demands.

Bo is not taking any job where he can't tell the help what to do.

His sideline temper is not calculated. Bo's choler is very tight, his temper short-wicked. His cap has more air time than the Luftwaffe and crash-lands just about as often as he dashes it to the ground when his team makes a mistake.

But a Schembechler team has never had a recruiting scandal, agents are not passing out money to wide receivers. Bo and his team play by the rules.

The pros are not overflowing with Michigan players, which doesn't mean Bo's team can't see without glasses, but when you ask Bo Schembechler about his favorite all-time players, he doesn't mention the ones who made the Rams or Bears but centers on under-publicized, over-achievers.

Like Don Warner who was a 195-pound linebacker and a walk-on (a nonscholarship player).

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