- Published on Nov 21, 2006
ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan is mourning the loss of former head football coach Bo Schembechler, 77, the winningest head coach in the team's history, who died today (Nov. 17) at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich.
"This is a tremendous shock and an irreplaceable loss for the University of Michigan family," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. " Bo Schembechler embodied all that is best about Michigan" loyalty, dedication and the drive for ever-greater excellence. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who loved him, a number as great as the Michigan community in every corner of the world.
"This University's deep tradition is our immense pride and our common ground. No one represented Michigan tradition better than Bo."
Schembechler's death came on the eve of one of the biggest match-ups with perennial rivals, the Ohio State Buckeyes, and on the same day the Board of Regents approved designs to the renovation of Michigan Stadium.
"This is a profoundly sad day for Michigan athletics, for the University of Michigan, and for all of college football. I find it difficult to express what Bo has meant to this program for close to 40 years," said Bill Martin, director of athletics. "He was a giant of a coach and giant of a man. His life touched generations of players, families, staff, students and alumni. His energy fueled not only athletic success but the incredible pride of all Michigan fans.
"His impact was immeasurable. On behalf of the athletic department, I express our deep sadness at his loss, and extend our sympathies to his wife Cathy and their sons."
Schembechler retired from his coaching position in 1989, though he continued his strong relationship with the University and remained an icon of Michigan athletics. He racked up 194 wins, 13 Big Ten Championships and two Rose Bowl victories during his tenure at Michigan, and he continued to be actively involved with the team.
Until his death he supported current coach Lloyd Carr" who served as his assistant" and was mentor to some of the staff and players. He also hosted a pre-game show on WXYZ TV, " Big Ten Ticket," devoted to his analysis of the Wolverines, the Michigan State University Spartans and other Big Ten teams.
Regent David Brandon, who played defensive end in the early 1970s under Schembechler, recalled the day he was ushered in to Michigan Stadium to watch a game because high school students were recruited to come and fill the stands so it " looked like there was a big crowd."
"All that changed because of a guy named Bo," Brandon said. "The reason we are able to fight over how big the stadium will be is all about Bo," Brandon said of the debate that resulted in a 6-2 vote to approve stadium renovation designs. "Bo is the Michigan tradition."
In " radition" that Schembechler co-authored with Dan Ewald, former President Gerald R. Ford, a U-M alumnus and football player, wrote the forward in praise of the former football coach.
"Bo's accomplishments elevate him to the highest rung of coaching excellence," wrote Ford. "The essence of Bo's legacy ... transcends all the numbers and individual honors that fill the record books. That's because it's impossible to attach numerical significance to the virtues of honesty, dignity and integrity that have served as the hallmarks in Bo's life, both on and off the field."
Schembechler, whose ability to connect with people was legendary, got a rousing ovation from the graduates when he received an honorary degree from U-M in 2005. One among the many ways he gave back to the University was the establishment of a named professorship in the Medical School, the Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer, named after his wife who died in 1992 of the rare form of cancer that strikes about 200 Americans each year.
Schembechler has been inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Michigan Hall of Honor, the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. Schembechler Hall, a training and administration building on the athletic campus, is named for him. After retirement, he began a career as a motivational speaker and co-wrote his autobiography with longtime friend and Detroit Free Press Sports columnist and author Mitch Albom.
"Bo was the icon of Michigan football. But he was connected with this University far beyond athletics," Coleman said. "We watched with pride as he received an honorary degree. We watched with gratitude as he extended his considerable talents to the University of Michigan cancer center and so many other worthwhile programs. And even this semester we watched with a smile as he enjoyed becoming a student again in the Ford School of Public Policy.
"Bo had an unmistakable twinkle in his eye, and I will miss that spirit and so much more," Coleman said. " I am grateful for this remarkable man and all his contributions that made Michigan Michigan."
This year Michigan and Ohio State were going into the Nov. 18 game with perfect 11-0 records" and perhaps no one was looking forward to the match-up more than Schembechler.
Former Buckeye coach Woody Hayes and Schembechler took turns dominating the conference, splitting ten titles and finishing second eight times. The rivalry was intensified by the fact that Schembechler played for Hayes at Miami University of Ohio and served as an Ohio State assistant coach as well.
Schembechler had suffered from serious heart disease, and experienced an episode Oct. 20 while taping his TV program. He was outfitted with both a defibrillator to work alongside a previously implanted pacemaker to regulate his heart. He first suffered a heart attack in 1969 just prior to the Rose Bowl.
Prior to his years at Michigan, Schembechler served as coach at Miami of Ohio University. His overall record coaching record included 234 wins. After retiring from U-M he served as president of the Detroit Tigers from 1990-92.