The press conference was held in a conservative little room, with the principals leaning forward on a sofa, a smattering of microphones on stands, propped up on the coffee table. A far cry from the made-for-TV events of today.
They bunched together on the couch: the athletic director and the new coach.
Doubtless that the press folks were rolling their eyes, now charged with learning how to spell a new, lonnng name.
The first name was easy enough: Bo.
A nightmare for the writers and the headline guys—unless they chose to get on a first-name basis with the new coach, and right quick.
One of the local papers in Detroit eschewed the last name entirely, upon learning who would coach the football players at tradition-rich University of Michigan.
That was the headline, when Michigan reached into the Mid-American Conference and hired Glenn E. “Bo” Schembechler from Miami of Ohio to run their football program.
Bo was 40 years old, and soon it was revealed that his resume included some time as a disciple of an already-established coaching legend. But that legend was Woody Hayes of Ohio State, and you can imagine how that news went over in Ann Arbor.
Yeah, Bo coached for Woody at a time when neither of them had an inkling that they would go on to author one of the greatest 10-year stretches of any sports rivalry anywhere, college or pro.
But before that Ten-Year War, as it’s been called, Bo had to sit on a couch and appear fit to take over Michigan, which had fallen on some hard times under his predecessor, Bump Elliott.
Bo was 40, but he looked older, with a receding hairline and already with that weathered, grizzled look that befalls all coaches. A little over a year later, Bo got even older when he had a heart attack on the eve of the Rose Bowl—an opportunity made possible by Michigan’s grand upset of Ohio State.
In 1969, when Bo took over a stumbling U-M program—Michigan had lost to Ohio State 50-14 in 1968—the only baggage he had was that no one knew who the hell he was.
The current coach, Rich Rodriguez, has the opposite problem. Everyone seems to have a Rodriguez story, and few of them are very flattering these days.
Rodriguez needs a personal bellhop with all the baggage he has brought to the school of Yost and Crisler and Oosterbaan and Harmon and, of course, Schembechler.
More on that a little later.
Bo Schembechler coached Michigan for 21 years, and except for a blip here and there—Bo would occasionally blow up at a reporter—there wasn’t much news about the program that wasn’t directly related to the football on the field.
Oh, the people at Texas A&M tried to get Bo to bolt in the late '70s—he was thinking about it—but the Aggies' effort failed and that story quickly faded.
Then Bo retired in 1989, and offensive coordinator Gary Moeller—Mo, they called him, so we had a nice little Bo-to-Mo thing—took over, and it was still all about the football until Mo had a few too many drinks at the Excalibur restaurant in Southfield and was caught by a bootlegged recording device as he was in the midst of a tearful, maudlin, drunken diatribe, alleging an affair between his wife and then-U-M assistant Les Miles.
That ended Mo’s time at Ann Arbor after five years, and another loyal assistant, defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr, took the reins.
Lloyd Carr—a Michigan man, both in terms of the school and the state.
He was a high school coach at Westland John Glenn, then moved into the college ranks as an assistant at Eastern Michigan. From EMU, Carr moved out of state for a couple of years at Illinois, then returned to Michigan as an assistant under Bo. And that’s where he stayed, until Mo had his disorderly conduct incident and resigned.
Carr did a wonderful job putting the pieces of the program back together after Gary Moeller shamed it. The Moeller incident was soon forgotten in Ann Arbor because Lloyd did the best thing possible to induce amnesia in fans and boosters: he won football games. Lots of them.
There was a co-national title in 1997, and everything was about the football, still.
If you’re one who’s prone to believe everything you read and hear, then you might be a lost cause, but I’m going to try this anyway.
Perhaps you’ve heard a real dandy that started almost two years ago—a doggone knee-slapper. But only if you’re an independent thinker, that is. So if you’re not, pay close attention here.
Here’s the punch line: Coaching Michigan isn’t the football job it once was.
I know you’ve heard it. I know you’ve read it. I know you have, because once it took hold, it almost became a mantra—chanted by anti-Michigan and pro-Michigan people alike. It pervaded talk radio, was virulent on the Internet, and even infested the water coolers at work on Monday mornings.
“Coaching Michigan isn’t the football job it once was.”
That statement is purely false in direct proportion to its ad nauseam repeating, and is so full of excrement, that if you believe such horsepucky, then I feel for your loss of brain matter.
Rich Rodriguez, lugging all those bags from West Virginia, is supposed to be proof of this falsehood.
Michigan had to settle for Rodriguez, the school’s third choice. That much I will grant you. RichRod, indeed, wasn’t the first person Athletic Director Bill Martin had in mind, nor called, when Lloyd Carr announced he would retire following the 2007 season.
But the fact that Michigan hired Rodriguez doesn’t make true the assertion that the job isn’t what it used to be.
In Carr’s final season, Michigan went 9-4, culminating in a thrilling upset over Florida in the Capital One Bowl. The school was still the possessor of the winningest program in college football history.
More wins than Notre Dame. More wins than Nebraska. More wins than USC, or Alabama, or Ohio State, or LSU. More than Florida, or Texas, or Oklahoma, or Penn State. More than Ole Miss, or Arizona State, or Arkansas.
All that, and a 9-4 2007 season under Lloyd Carr, plus a bowl win.
And, all of a sudden, the coaching job at Michigan isn’t what it once was?
Martin and, to a lesser degree, President Mary Sue Coleman, screwed everything up with their clumsy, pathetic little patty cake attempt to bring Miles back home from LSU. Martin made the school look so bad that it couldn’t even get Greg Schiano to leave tiny Rutgers, where it takes two home games, at least, to get the amount of fans Michigan gets into its stadium every Saturday.
If Michigan hires Miles, then we’re talking about how many national championships they’re going to win in Ann Arbor—not about NCAA violations and rebounding from 3-9 and waxing nostalgic about the good old days.
But this doesn’t mean the job at Michigan isn’t what it once was. It means the people making the decisions at Michigan aren’t who they used to be.
The old AD, Don Canham—the man who brought Bo in from the cold of Miami (OH)—would never have let Miles, a U-M guy, slip through his fingers, number one.
Michigan is stuck, at least for the time being, with Rodriguez, who’s in the papers far more often about stuff that’s not football than stuff that is. The latest is something about Rodriguez and a banned booster and some real estate hanky-panky. Terrific.
But U-M is stuck with him, though not because the coaching job isn’t what it used to be. If the right people were in place upstairs, you’d have to beat the candidates off with a stick. Who wouldn’t want to coach Michigan and put them back on the map, with the recruiting tool of, “Where else can you play in front of 110,000 fans every Saturday?”
Rodriguez has, in just one season and two offseasons, soiled the Michigan program—shamed it as Gary Moeller did in a drunken fit, 14 years ago. But the fact that he did so has nothing to do with the waning quality of the job itself. It has everything to do with the bozos running the show in the halls of the administration.
Boot Bill Martin and then see if the Greg Schianos of the world ever say no to Michigan again—if they’re ever to be so honored to be asked, that is.