Published November 17, 2016
We all have those “I remember where I was when I heard the news” moments.
Some are deeply personal, while others are shared by the general populace—sometimes the whole world over.
Ten years ago I had one of those moments.
It was when I got the phone call from my boss at Motor City Sports Magazine, where I was the editor-in-chief. The call was 10 years ago today as I write this.
“Did you hear about Bo?” The voice on the other end of the line was tinged with anxiety and urgency.
This, I thought, can’t possibly be good.
“No…” I said, in a tone that was expecting bad news immediately.
The day before the biggest Michigan-Ohio State football game in recent years, Glenn “Bo” Schembechler had collapsed at the WXYZ-TV (ch. 7) studios in Southfield. He passed away at the hospital soon thereafter, from a heart attack.
Bo always had a weak heart, and that’s a sentence awash with irony.
But this isn’t all about getting the news of Bo’s death. Rather, it’s about a moment that is turning out to be quite rare these days.
Bo was as Midwestern as they come. He grew up in Ohio, played and coached football there, and that’s where he came from when he took the job at Ann Arbor in 1969, replacing the stale Bump Elliott.
“BO WHO?” screamed the headlines in one of the local papers after Michigan announced Schembechler as its new head football coach.
It was hard to blame the papers, for Bo was little known and seemed perhaps too little known to take over a program as steeped in tradition as Michigan’s.
About 13 years later, “BO WHO?” was replaced by chants of “BO DON’T GO!” on campus and from alumni all over.
Like I said, Bo was Mr. Midwest, but some good ole boys from Texas tried to shanghai him from Michigan in early 1982.
Texas A&M came calling, and they went after Bo hard.
Michigan was coming off a calendar year in 1981 in which the Wolverines won two bowl games: the Rose Bowl on New Years Day and the old Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl on New Year’s Eve, some 364 days later.
Texas A&M wanted Bo—badly. They not only dangled lots of money, they told him that he could be athletic director, too.
The money was obscene for the times: $3 million for 10 years. Seems like chump change now, but in 1982 those were big dollars for a college coach and administrator.
The reasoned folks with no U-M ties and the worried students and alumni who clung to hope that Bo would stay simply couldn’t imagine that he’d trade his block “M” baseball cap for a Stetson.
Bo in Texas? That was like Sinatra in a punk rock band.
But the Aggies didn’t care how “fish out of water” it seemed. Bo was one of the best in the business and to get him, they knew they’d have to come with a deep pocketbook.
Texas A&M was banking—literally—that their big Lone Star State money would overcome Bo’s loyalty for Michigan, where he’d been the head coach for 13 years at the time.
The Aggies were wrong.
The offer, made public in January, hung out there for several days. Certainly long enough to create stress for Michigan supporters.
Would Bo actually take the big bucks, the fancy title and flee to Texas?
It wasn’t fun times in Ann Arbor, while Bo mulled over the A&M offer.
Finally, Bo emerged and talked to the press.
“Frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are things more important in this world than money,” Schembechler said. “For that reason, I’ve decided to stay at Michigan.”
You could hear the noisemakers and the beer flowing from Ann Arbor, across the entire state.
The students frolicked in the streets. They hung from lamp posts. They hugged each other, including complete strangers. You’d think a World War had just ended.
Bo was staying!
Now, I said earlier that this isn’t so much about Bo’s passing as it is about a moment that is becoming increasingly rare these days.
Today’s coaches are quick to abscond and leave their programs to chase the dollars. That’s OK. This is a capitalistic society and all. A guy’s gotta make a living.
Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with career advancement. It’s why a fellow like Jimmy Harbaugh has jumped from San Diego to Ann Arbor, via Stanford and the 49ers, like a checker on a board.
But isn’t it refreshing—and, like I said, rare—to see someone who’s already at the top of his profession eschew money in the name of loyalty?
Don’t get me wrong. Michigan wasn’t paying Bo like a pauper. Texas A&M wasn’t going to make him a rich man out of a poor one.
And Michigan did indeed bump Bo’s salary while he mulled over the Aggies’ offer, though not nearly to 10 years, $3 million.
But the Aggies were going to fatten Bo’s bank account, for sure. And the whole idea was to lure Bo with cash and a title, his Midwestern roots and affinity for Michigan be damned.
It didn’t work.
You could be a cynic and say that it was easy for a man like Bo, who was already being paid handsomely, to turn down bigger money.
But couldn’t you also say that about the dozens of college coaches who’ve left their already lofty positions in seemingly lateral moves—yet took the big bucks anyway?
Publicly, no other school ever made a run for Bo after the Texas A&M failed bid. But I’ve been told that privately, others sniffed around, including at least one NFL team. But that’s true of lots of other big name college coaches. It comes with the territory. You win, and instead of finding the next you, they’d rather skip that step and just make a play for you yourself.
Bo Schembechler died ten years ago today. It sure doesn’t seem that long.
But one thing didn’t die with Bo, even if it seemed like it did.
“There are more important things in this world than money.”