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Bo Schembechler, 77; Michigan football coach loved beating Ohio State

November 18, 2006|Mike Kupper | Times Staff Writer

Bo Schembechler, an Ohio native who became the University of Michigan's winningest football coach and loved nothing more than beating Woody Hayes and Ohio State, died Friday, the day before the Wolverines' annual grudge battle with the Buckeyes. He was 77.

Schembechler, who had a history of heart trouble, collapsed after taping a TV show at a studio in Southfield, Mich., a Detroit suburb, and died at a hospital there. He had been retired from coaching since the 1990 Rose Bowl game.

"It's fair to say that Bo wanted to live his life with vigor," Dr. Kim Eagle, Schembechler's physician, said in a statement reported by the Associated Press. "Ironically, he and I were going to see each other yesterday, but he wanted to address the team."

Schembechler's death shocked the football community in Ann Arbor and Columbus.

"We have lost a giant at Michigan and in college football," Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr said in a statement. "There was never a greater ambassador for the University of Michigan, or college football, than Bo. Personally, I have lost a man I love."

Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said in a statement, "Bo Schembechler touched the lives of many people and made the game of football better in every way. He will always be a both a Buckeye and a Wolverine ... "

In his 21 seasons at Michigan, Schembechler compiled a 194-48-5 record -- in 26 seasons as a head coach, his record was 234-65-8 -- won or tied for 13 Big Ten championships and went to 17 postseason bowl games.

To his dismay, his Wolverines won only five of those games, going 2-8 in Rose Bowl appearances.

And, surprising to even hard-core followers of college football, Michigan, under Schembechler, never won a national championship.

Not that it mattered much to Schembechler.

"If you think my career has been a failure because I have never won a national title, you have another think coming," he said a few weeks before losing, 17-10, to USC in that '90 Rose Bowl.

"I have never played a game for the national title. Our goals always have been to win the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl. If we do that, then we consider it a successful season."

Said Wayne Duke, a former Big Ten commissioner: "What an unbelievable tragedy that Bo's passing comes on the eve of the very game on which he had such an incredible impact over the years. Bo played a vital role in not only the success of Big Ten football, but collegiate athletics as a whole."

A moment of silence will be observed before today's game at Columbus, Ohio, the 103rd in the series. Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in the nation, Michigan No. 2. The teams have been playing each other since 1897, but they've never before been ranked first and second at their meeting, and for the first time since 1973 they have perfect records, each 11-0.

At stake are an undefeated season, the Big Ten title and a shot at the Bowl Championship Series national championship game Jan. 8.

"I love this time of year," Schembechler said the other day. "I love to follow college football."

He probably wouldn't have loved it nearly as much had it not been for Hayes, his coach and mentor. In his autobiography "Bo," written with Mitch Albom, Schembechler said, "There was plenty to criticize about Woody Hayes. His methods were tough, his temper was, at times, unforgivable. And, unless you knew him or played for him, it is hard to explain why you liked being around the guy. But you didn't just like it, you loved it. He was simply fascinating."

According to Steve Snapp, Ohio State's longtime sports information director, Schembechler, who played for Hayes at Miami of Ohio and worked for him at Ohio State, was a carbon copy of the obstreperous Buckeye coach.

"He was just like the old man," Snapp said. "He was a disciple."

Snapp said Schembechler and Hayes frequently played handball together. Bo was better, but that didn't matter.

"Woody wouldn't let him leave until he won a game," Snapp said.

Schembechler, though, won the game that mattered, possibly the biggest victory of his coaching career.

In 1969, his first year at Michigan, he was charged with bringing the Wolverine program back from mediocrity. The year before, Ohio State had won the national championship, trouncing Michigan, 50-14, along the way. Worse, Hayes rubbed it in by going for a two-point conversion after the Buckeyes' last touchdown.

Schembechler, making immediate impact, had his team at 7-2 when Ohio State arrived in Ann Arbor in '69, carrying a 22-game winning streak, a No. 1 ranking and five first-team All-Americans.

The Wolverines beat the 17-point favorite Buckeyes, 24-12, winning the Big Ten title and Schembechler's first Rose Bowl bid. Michigan was a national power once again.

After that game, Schembechler and Hayes engaged in a fierce "Ten Year War," Schembechler holding a 5-4-1 advantage when Hayes was forced to retire after sucker-punching a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl. In 21 games against the Buckeyes, Schembechler's Wolverines went 11-9-1.

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