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Bo’s Bowl Victory Could Give Him a National Title

Michigan’s football squad of 1901 shut out every team it played. Its closest game was against Ohio State, 21-0. It beat Iowa by 50, Beloit by 89 and Buffalo by 128. It beat Stanford so badly in the very first Rose Bowl, the Stanford captain came over to Michigan’s bench with eight minutes remaining and said he and his teammates didn’t really feel like playing anymore, so could they go home now, please?

Michigan football gave us Gerald Ford and Tom Harmon, gave us Dan Dierdorf and Bubba Paris, gave us Anthony Carter and Ali Haji-Sheikh. It gave us the fabulous Wistert brothers--Whitey, Ox and Moose--who did what no three other brothers have done: Become first-team All-Americans.

Michigan football has given us 11 losing seasons since the turn of the century, none since 1967.

And Michigan football has given us Glenn E. (Bo) Schembechler, occasional prince of a fellow and occasional prince of darkness, who is stepping aside to let someone else do the recruiting and remodeling, do the ranting and raving, do the reinforcing and reassuring, do everything required of an eminent university’s equally eminent coach.

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His beaten, beatin’ heart cannot take much more of this coaching business, good or bad. So, it’s time for Bo to go.

“I’ve had my day in the sun,” he says. “Now I need to move over and give somebody else a chance.”

Schembechler has been busy in recent days taking care of some final obligations, occupying himself with the traditional social engagements of a Rose Bowl date, the Q&As; at Tournament House, the Kiwanis kickoff luncheon, the usual personal-appearance requests, that sort of thing. It’s a wonder nobody has asked him to be grand marshal of Monday’s parade.

For this Rose Bowl has become Bo’s Bowl.

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He might even get his only national championship out of it, although it’s the longest of longshots. Not only must Colorado and Miami lose, but Notre Dame--a team that defeated Michigan--must not look impressive in beating the Buffaloes in the Orange Bowl, while the Wolverines look absolutely stunning in their Rose Bowl run-in with USC. It’s a lot to ask.

Yet, special dispensations might be made, if all goes well, to make sure Bo Schembechler gets his championship. He is held in sufficient esteem around college football circles to guarantee that if there is any remotely possible way to send him out on top, t’will be done. Some voters will be more than willing to forget all about Michigan losing that Notre Dame game, figuring as long as everybody’s got at least one loss, why not go with Bo?

A more urgent matter at hand for Schembechler is winning his own game, not worrying about anybody else’s. He takes his coaching very seriously. When your home stadium holds more than 100,000 people and when you are trying to persuade some strapping Ohio high school lad to cross the border and betray Ohio State, perhaps being serious about your work is essential to success.

We can remember Schembechler’s first bowl games of the decade that ends today. He took part in two of them in 1981--one on the first day, one on the last day--and we saw him at his gladdest and maddest.

Never could we recall seeing the coach put on such a happy face as he did on Jan. 1, 1981, after Michigan’s 23-6 victory over Washington. He lit up an enormous cigar when the game was over, a cigar as long as a clarinet. When someone asked if it was Cuban, Schembechler puffed himself up, patriotically, and yelled: “Naw, it’s an American cigar!”

By the end of the next season, the Wolverines were back playing a power from the Pac-10 Conference, and players from both sides were looking forward to a trip to Pasadena. Trouble was, the game that involved Michigan and UCLA that New Year’s Eve was something called the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, and the place the players eagerly wanted to visit was Pasadena, Tex., home of the giant country-western nightclub called Gilley’s, made popular in a movie called “Urban Cowboy.”

UCLA’s players drove to Gilley’s and had a good time, but Schembechler refused his players permission to go, taking them to a Simonton rodeo instead.

“It’s a bar, ain’t it?” Schembechler barked. “We didn’t come to Houston to take our players to a bar.”

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Throughout his reign, Schembechler has been admired and adored by most of his players, and considers this his legacy. Tom Coyle, a big Irish kid born in Dublin who passed up Notre Dame for a chance to play for Schembechler, once recalled that the coach kept repeating the same message to his boys, that 10 years up the road they would not look back on the games or practices or disciplines, but at the people with whom they played.

Jim Mandich, who later played pro ball for the Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers, was part of Schembechler’s first Michigan team. “I knew from my first meeting with Bo that he was a special person--a man’s man, tough, energetic, hard-working and charismatic,” Mandich once said before a homecoming game.

The coach did not please every player every day in every way. One time he placed a gag order on his guys so that they couldn’t give interviews, but Butch Woolfolk defied it. Asked why, Woolfolk said: “Hey, nobody tells me when I can talk and when I can’t. I’m not 10 years old.”

All in all, though, Schembechler has made friends and influenced people. He has been everywhere and done everything, from coaching a quarterback named Elvis (Grbac) to chatting with the real Elvis (Presley), and he has been called everything from a born winner to a bowl loser. Now he is getting out while the getting is good and while his heart is intact.

Whether or not one wishes the man well in his last game of football, the least one can do is wish Bo Schembechler to be well, from this day forward. That, naturally, we do.


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