Michigan Football: Bo, Jim Harbaugh and the Spirit of Christmas Past

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor IDecember 24, 2013

Bo always had a way with referees.
Bo always had a way with referees.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

This time of year always stirs memories of the first time I met Bo.

For those not raised in Big Ten country—Bo refers to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.

The year was 1987, and Michigan would invite high school coaches along with their top players to a team practice before heading out for their annual (pre-RichRod era) bowl trip.

Bo would stand in the middle of the indoor practice field as the various position groups swarmed around him, and the top recruits would get an audience and a gruff pitch to become a Wolverine.

1 Jan 1987: Jim Harbaugh #4 of Michigan during their 22-15 loss to Arizona State at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell  /Allsport
Mike Powell/Getty Images

In one corner of the field was quarterback (and future NFL player and coach) Jim Harbaugh firing passes to receivers. On the other side was running back Jamie Morris practicing kick returns, dashing through the defenders practically untouched with no blockers, one on 11 and dominating every time.

To a kid raised on Michigan football for whom “…football was a religion and Saturday the holy day of obligation,” there was nothing more incredible than standing on that field.

To this day, I can’t imagine how anyone turned Bo down under those circumstances.

I was a decent high school player but hardly a top recruit. I waited on the sidelines until Bo finished with the blue-chip players and dutifully stood in line to meet him.

When it was time for my photo, I brazenly told him that I was ready to commit.

Bo grinned and said, “Son, we have kickers bigger than you!”

So my dreams of playing football for the Wolverines were (not surprisingly) crushed that day.

Note to Brady Hoke—coaches wear headsets.
Note to Brady Hoke—coaches wear headsets.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

I graduated from the University of Michigan and watched Michigan football from the stands. My graduation ceremony was held at Michigan Stadium, and after the ceremony I finally got an opportunity to be on the field and exit Michigan Stadium through the tunnel.

Years later I met Bo and had the opportunity to have him autograph the photo from that long ago visit to Michigan football practice. I reminded him of the “kicker” comment, and he smiled.

I told him that while my high school team wore uniforms identical to those worn by Ohio State, I protected myself by wearing a Michigan shirt underneath my shoulder pads.

I also told him about how growing up, people told me that I would never attend Michigan.

Too expensive, too elite, never gonna happen.

I told him how I constantly reminded myself of one his key coaching lessons, “what the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve,” until one day I had my University of Michigan degree.

A few years later, I had the honor of bumping into him during a tour of Michigan Stadium that I arranged for a few visiting VIPs. Bo was there filming an HBO segment on the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

He looked tired and frail but seeing visitors, he graciously shook hands and posed for photos with our group.

Gone, but not forgotten.
Gone, but not forgotten.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I gave him the following introduction, “This is Bo Schembechler—he’s a legend around here.”

The next day, on the eve of the 2006 Michigan-Ohio State game, Bo passed away.

Many may scoff at the phrase “Michigan Man” and debate exactly what it means, but Bo Schembechler more than just talked about it; he lived it.

He had an impact far beyond the game; years after his passing his spirit continues to inspire his fans and former players.

Harbaugh has a way with referees just like his old coach.
Harbaugh has a way with referees just like his old coach.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Someday when Jim Harbaugh finishes in the NFL, I believe that he will return to the collegiate ranks. The NFL may be the highest level of football competition, but coaches have the greatest impact on their players at the collegiate level. It probably won’t be at Michigan, but Harbaugh is a “Michigan Man” and someday he will inspire people just as he was inspired by Schembechler.

Rumors continue to swirl that Harbaugh is a candidate to replace Mack Brown, but Harbaugh denied the rumors to csnbayarea.com.

But after being spurned by Nick Saban, Texas needs a candidate who not only is qualified, but someone who won’t be dismayed by being its second choice.

Harbaugh fits the bill—he’s tough and stubborn. He has butted heads as a player with legendary coaches Bo Schembechler and Mike Ditka while feuding as a coach with Pete Carroll.

Harbaugh and Ditka "communicating."
Harbaugh and Ditka "communicating."Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Comparisons to Saban won’t faze him at all.

Harbaugh may deny interest, but he’s the ideal candidate for the job.

Once long ago, a school in Texas wooed Schembechler with an offer of riches to leave Michigan. He passed saying, “Frankly, I've come to the conclusion that there are things more important in this world than money, for that reason, I've decided to stay at Michigan.”

Texas needs to convince Harbaugh that he can have a bigger impact there than in the NFL. Recruiting at Stanford was hampered by the university’s elite academic requirements—a problem Texas doesn't have. Texas is also reaping the windfall from having its own television network.

The makings for a collegiate dynasty exist for the right coach.

Now, Texas just needs to convince Harbaugh that he—and he alone— is the right candidate.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.


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