Texas A&M; made a move on University of Michigan football Coach Bo Schembechler a few years back, offering him a whole bunch of money. Bo said no.
But first, he thought it over. He considered what was best for himself and for his family. Michigan sweetened Schembechler’s pot to help him make up his mind, and the owner of the Detroit Tigers even forked over the deed to a pizza franchise in, of all places, Columbus, Ohio.
Had Schembechler left, it wouldn’t have been the first time a coach ever abandoned a university for a better offer. Were that not true, Schembechler would still be coaching Miami of Ohio.
Bill Frieder found himself in a delicate situation last week. Arizona State wanted a new basketball coach--and wanted him now. ASU officials offered the job to the Michigan coach but said they needed his answer immediately. Now or never.
Frieder said now.
He expected to hop right back on a jet and return to his Michigan team, which had an appointment to play Xavier a couple of days later in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament. Frieder’s Wolverines were given, by some, a shot at winning the national championship.
The self-righteous Schembechler promptly decided that if they were to take the championship, they would have to take it without Frieder. From his seat as athletic director, Schembechler stripped Frieder of his command, like Eisenhower taking the Third Army away from Patton.
“A Michigan man is going to coach Michigan,” decreed Gen. Schembechler, who put assistant coach Steve Fisher in charge for postseason play.
Schembechler has had heart problems in recent years, and now you can see why. It’s hard for doctors to find.
Schembechler says he wants “a Michigan man” to coach Michigan. Bill Frieder attended the University of Michigan, which is more than Bo Schembechler can say.
Schembechler presumably wants his adopted school’s basketball squad to have the best possible shot at the national championship, because such shots do not come along very often. Then he refuses to allow the team’s head coach to run the team in the tournament.
Schembechler insinuates that Frieder deserted or even betrayed his basketball players. Michigan has those basketball players because Frieder is the kind of guy who goes recruiting night and day, day and night, until these kids see more of him than they do of their relatives.
The least Schembechler might have done is consider the players’ feelings. He should have asked them if they felt seduced and abandoned. He would have gotten responses like the one from Loy Vaught, who said that Frieder did not get a fair shake.
Contrary to public opinion, college basketball players can think. And most of them know that Frieder was not exactly slapping them across the face by leaving for what he believed to be a better job. They respected the right of an individual to choose a new life for himself--geographically, economically, whatever.
If you follow Schembechler’s reasoning, Frieder should have risked losing a position that appealed greatly to him by demanding that his new employers make their decision when he wanted it made.
See, that’s how Schembechler thinks, because this is a man to whom no one ever talks back. Schembechler is a professional bully. Nobody can tell him what to do, and everybody must do what he says. He is entrenched. He is popular on campus and off--as popular as Frieder was not--because being victorious on the field makes him appear both formidable and indispensable.
Our favorite Schembechler-related moment occurred after the coach had ordered his football players to stop talking to the press. One day, running back Butch Woolfolk granted an interview but first was asked if it might get him into trouble.
“Hey,” Woolfolk said, “I’m not 8 years old. Nobody tells me when and where I can talk.”
Bill Frieder gave his heart and soul to his basketball players. While other Big Ten schools labored to land quality athletes, Frieder lassoed them into Ann Arbor, provided Michigan audiences with winning records, first-division finishes and regular tournament appearances.
As a reward, some of Michigan’s own fans this season jeered him and unfurled crude, cruel banners insulting him. Do you know what Michigan’s home record under Frieder was? Ninety-four victories and 10 defeats.
Some flop this guy was.
Those very Michigan followers who abused and criticized him probably are among those today who are knocking him for not demonstrating to them any loyalty.
Frieder is taking most of the heat in his home state this week, and probably would have gotten the blame if Xavier had defeated Michigan Friday, even though the coach had to purchase a ticket just to get into the gym.
We will continue to wish Michigan well in its endeavors, including interim coach Steve Fisher, a swell fellow who we happen to have known for more than 20 years.
What amuses us most is the scuttlebutt that Bo Schembechler intends to--in his own words--"seek the greatest basketball coach in America to coach this team,” including a call on Indiana’s Bob Knight for recommendations.
We have this adorable scenario in mind in which the greatest coach in America leaves his current university for Ann Arbor, whereupon Schembechler tries to explain to the coach’s former employers that business is strictly business.