Bo Schembechler, who took the University of Michigan to 13 Big Ten championships and a host of bowl appearances in becoming one of college football’s most renowned coaches, died today after collapsing during the taping of a television show. He was 77.Enlarge This Image Eric Risberg/Associated Press
Bo Schembechler, who died Friday, compiled a 194-48-5 record at Michigan from 1969-89 and was seven-time Big Ten coach of the year. More Photos »Multimedia Slide Show Bo Schembechler, 1929-2006
His death was confirmed by Mike Dowd, chief investigator with the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office in Michigan. WXYZ-TV in Southfield, Mich., said Schembechler became ill and collapsed at 11:42 a.m. while taping a show at that station and was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died.
Schembechler’s death came a day before the second-ranked University of Michigan Wolverines were to play the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio — the latest showdown in the century-old rivalry between the teams.
When Schembechler became Michigan’s head coach in 1969, its glory years under Fielding Yost and Fritz Crisler were long gone. The 100,000-seat Michigan Stadium had seldom been filled in recent seasons, and the Michigan band was finding fewer occasions to hail the maize and blue with the marching song “The Victors.” The Wolverines had gone to the Rose Bowl only once in the previous 18 years.
But on Nov. 22, 1969, Schembechler put his stamp on a new day for Michigan with its 24-12 upset over top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State and Coach Woody Hayes, his former mentor.
Schembechler coached at Michigan for 21 seasons, taking his teams to 17 bowl games, including 10 Rose Bowls, with stars like quarterbacks Jim Harbaugh and Rick Leach, running backs Butch Woolfolk, Jamie Morris, Rob Lytle and Leroy Hoard, wide receiver Anthony Carter and offensive linemen Dan Dierdorf and Reggie McKenzie.
Usually emphasizing the ground game and always preaching strong defense, Schembechler had a record of 194-48-5 at Michigan. He was the winningest coach in school history. When he retired after the 1989 season with a record of 234-65-8 — encompassing 6 seasons at Miami of Ohio and the 21 years at Michigan — he had more career victories than any Division I coach then active.
There were, however, some setbacks. Schembechler’s Michigan teams were only 2-8 in the Rose Bowl, and he never took Michigan to a national championship.
Schembechler was the epitome of blazing intensity. He paced the sidelines, waving his arms and sometimes smashing headsets when the referees incurred his ire. He had a heart attack hours before Michigan’s 1970 Rose Bowl game against Southern California and underwent heart-bypass surgery. He had open-heart surgery again in 1987. But his combativeness barely dimmed, and to his players he was always an imposing presence.
“It’s like this big balloon walking behind you,” Hoard, the star fullback, told The New York Times during Schembechler’s last season. “Sometimes I have this dream. You know those big balloons they have on the floats in the Thanksgiving Day parades? It’s like one of those balloons is the head of Bo and it’s following me.”
Glenn Edward Schembechler was born and reared in Barberton, Ohio, the son of a firefighter. He gained his nickname when his sister Marge could say only “Bobo” while trying to call him “brother.”
Schembechler was an offensive lineman at Miami of Ohio when Hayes was the head coach, and he was an assistant to Hayes at Ohio State for five seasons before returning to Miami of Ohio as its head coach in 1963.
Schembechler was especially remembered for The Ten Year War — his Michigan teams’ battles against Hayes and Ohio State from 1969 to 1978 in one of the game’s biggest rivalries. Schembechler gained a slight edge, 5-4-1.
Schembechler spoke of those games between the Big Ten’s perennial powerhouses in “Bo” (Warner, 1989), an autobiography written with Mitch Albom. “It was everything I lived for,” he wrote. “Win, and you were in heaven. Buckeyes against Wolverines. Woody against me.”
But Schembechler told also of his debt to Hayes. “His temper was, at times, inexcusable,” Schembechler said in the book. “But he shaped me and everything I do with a stamp of passion and strength.”
Schembechler was also athletic director at Michigan from July 1988 to January 1990. Just before the 1989 N.C.A.A. basketball tournament, he removed Bill Frieder as the basketball coach after learning that Frieder had agreed to become the Arizona State coach the following season. Steve Fisher, an assistant coach, guided Michigan to the tournament championship, then was named by Schembechler as the new head coach.
After retiring from Michigan in 1990, Schembechler, a left-hander pitcher in college, was named president and chief operating officer of the Detroit Tigers, a post given to him by the owner, Tom Monaghan, a longtime supporter of Michigan athletics. But Monaghan fired Schembechler in August 1992, together with Jim Campbell, the Tigers’ chairman, a week after agreeing to sell the team to Mike Ilitch.
At the height of his fame, Schembechler was the state of Michigan’s pre-eminent sports figure. He also became something of a philosopher.
“Football is the American game that typifies the old American spirit,” he said. “It’s physical. It’s hard work. It’s aggressive. It’s kind of a swashbuckling American sport. Football is not going to die. It is our American heritage.”