Big 10

How Bo Schembechler became a Michigan football icon

September 6, 2017

Posted September 06, 2017 at 07:07 AM | Updated September 06, 2017 at 07:11 AM

Michigan football’s greatest era

By Brendan Savage | bsavage@mlive.com

After some lean seasons under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, Jim Harbaugh appears to be on the road toward straightening out Michigan’s football program. Harbaugh led his alma mater to 10-3 records in each of his first two seasons while accomplishing something that hadn’t been done in more than 100 years. Not since the legendary Fielding Yost led the Wolverines to consecutive 11-0 records in 1901-02 has a Michigan head coach won at least 10 game in his first two seasons.

Lloyd Carr, who won the Michigan’s last national championship in 1997 didn’t do it. Fritz Crisler and Bennie Oosterbaan didn’t. Even the greatest Michigan football coach of them all, Bo Schembechler didn’t do it.

Bo did win more games than any Michigan coach in history, however, while roaming the Wolverines sideline from 1969-89. He won at least 10 games 11 times in his legendary career and one of those seasons with double-digit victories came in 1985, when the current Michigan coach was calling the signals at quarterback en route to an 10-1-1 season and a final ranking of No. 2 in The Associated Press poll.

With the Harbaugh looking for his third straight 10-win season – he has Michigan off to a 1-0 start this season after last week’s 33-17 romp over Florida – and the Wolverines preparing for their home opener Saturday against Cincinnati, this seems like the good time to look back at his mentor and the greatest era in Michigan’s storied 128-year football history. 

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Turning things around

Michigan’s football team had fallen on hard times when it sought a new head football coach after the 1968 season. During 10 years under Bump Elliott, Michigan had five losing seasons, won fewer than eight games eight times, captured the Big Ten title once and went to the Rose Bowl once. But things changed during the 1969 season after the arrival of a guy from Ohio with a funny last name. Meet Glenn E. “Bo” Schembechler, who quickly turned the Wolverines into a national power.

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America, meet Bo Schembechler

Bo came to Michigan after spending most of his early coaching career in that state with the four-letter name. During six seasons at Miami (Ohio), Schembechler’s teams compiled a 40-17-3 record for a .692 winning percentage. He never had a losing season but was still largely unknown in college football circles. After the 1968 season, however, that was about to change.

Barry Edmonds | MLive file photo

The 15-minute interview

When athletic director Don Canham (pictured) went looking for Michigan’s new football coach after Bump Elliott’s final team had an 8-2-0 record, he claims to have offered the job to only two men – Joe Paterno and Bo Schembechler. When Paterno passed to stay at Penn State, Canham said he needed only a 15-minute interview to decide Schembechler was the man to turn around a program that had had struggled to the point that sellouts at Michigan Stadium, even against Ohio State, were rare. But it wouldn’t be long until 100,000-plus fans were flocking to The Big House every Saturday, something that has continued for almost 50 years.

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Shocking the Buckeyes

Bo’s first season couldn’t have been a much bigger success. The only thing the Wolverines failed to do was finish it off with a victory in the Rose Bowl.

The 1969 Wolverines put together an 8-3 record but what everyone remembers most about that season is the beginning of The 10-Year War between Schembechler and his former boss, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. OSU entered the regular-season finale as the defending national champion and ranked No. 1 with an 8-0 record. They hadn’t lost since 1967, were riding a 22-game winning streak and some were calling them the greatest college football team of all-time. Yet when it was over, Michigan left the field with a stunning 24-12 victory and was on its way to the Rose Bowl while the Buckeyes were headed home for the winter.

In the Rose Bowl, however, Michigan lost 10-3 to USC without Schembechler on the sidelines. He watched from a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack the night before the game. 

Bill Gallagher | MLive file photo

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