This week the Free Press will run exclusive excerpts from Bo Schembechler’s new autobiography, “Bo,” co-authored with Free Press sports columnist Mitch Albom. The book details Bo’s life, career and criticism of college football today. In the first excerpt from “It’s Not Temper, It’s Coaching,” Bo explains his reputation.
If you believed all stories about me, you’d think I was the toughest, meanest b—— that ever lived.
You’d think I had a temper made of lighter fluid. Not true.
You’d think I kicked trash cans, Coke trays and defensive lineman. Fired coaches, ruined locker rooms, hurled headsets. Made referees cringe, sports writers shake, and had players so frightened they wouldn’t breathe for fear of doing it the wrong way.
That part is true.
But I can explain.
There is a method to my madness. It’s not temper, it’s coaching. Like the time I made one of my Miami players run around the entire campus in his football uniform. Or the time I told Jim Brandstatter he was “the worst lineman in the history of intercollegiate sports!” Or the time I chased this stupid official up and down the sidelines in Minnesota while he ignored me, until I finally yelled “AND YOU KNOW SOMETHING ELSE? YOU RUN LIKE A FAT BROAD!” — and he hit me with a 15- yard penalty.
In each case, I knew exactly what I was doing. Let’s be honest. There’s something about a temper that affects people. Particularly in football. You can charge up a team, make the referees think, inspire your assistants — or just plain scare the hell out of somebody.
You know what I tell my players before the game? “Listen up, men. I don’t want anyone arguing with the officials out there, you got it? We only need one a– on this team — and I have designated myself.”
I live up to that role — but only when necessary.
The fact is, temper is part of my act. I use it when it accomplishes a purpose. It could be in game situations. It could be — and more often is — in practice situations.
Back at Miami of Ohio, one of my quarterbacks, Kent Thompson, had a bad habit of fumbling the football. Whenever he did, I exploded. “DO NOT DROP THE DAMN FOOTBALL! DO NOT DROP THE DAMN FOOTBALL!” I didn’t whisper. I screamed. You call that temper: I call it motivation. But eventually, Kent improved. And you know what he told me after the season was over? Every time he called the play in the huddle, he ended it with “Do not drop the damn football . . . break!”
See? It worked.
Now, if we’re going to talk about my temper, we’d better distinguish between the different types. There is sideline temper (heat-of-the-battle), practice temper (motivational), office temper (between me and a player), and staff meeting temper (you’re fired, you’re fired, you’re fired). Those are real.
And then there is my “legendary” temper.
We might as well clear that up right now.
I have had a temper since I was a kid. I used to fight with my sisters over who got to use the bicycle, or who got to ride in the front seat. And I was always very competitive in sports, which led to a temper when I lost. So much so, in fact, that once, in a high school basketball game, one of my teammates cursed at an official, and the official spun around and threw me out of the game. He just figured “it must be Schembechler.”
My good friends know this. Usually, they ignore it. Joe Hayden, my buddy for 30 years, once sat with me while I got so mad that I picked up a glass and threw it across the room. He didn’t even turn his head.
“You dropped your glass, Bo,” he said.
“You’re right, Joe, I guess I did.”
That much temper, I admit. But as I get older, I hear more and more stories about myself, almost all of them having to do with me exploding, losing my cool, ripping somebody to shreds. People imitate me. The imitations get wilder and wilder. The stories become incredible. Sure, my memory is sketchy. And I don’t always realize when I am raising my voice. But I still shake my head when someone says that:* Before a game in the early ’70s, I was going through our last-minute huddle drills with the team. Just as I was calling a play, an ABC-TV guy broke in to tell me that we had to clear the field because the band was ready to come on. “DON’T INTERRUPT MY HUDDLE!” I screamed, then I grabbed him and threw him to the sidelines.
* After a loss at Miami of Ohio, I was so upset, I went into a room and began kicking everything in sight, smashing chairs, knocking stuff off the shelves. My assistant coaches were outside the door, afraid to enter. Two reporters came in looking for me, but the coaches stopped them. “You don’t want to go in there,” they said.
* During our first team meeting of the season, Mike Husar, our offensive lineman, showed up wearing a tank top, in clear violation of our dress policy. I made him stand up in front of everybody, and yelled about how “THIS IS NOT THE WAY A MICHIGAN MAN DRESSES!” I then tried to rip the shirt right off his body. It didn’t work. I tried again. No luck. Finally I screamed at the equipment man to get him a different shirt and told him to sit down.
Are they true stories? God, I hope not. But I suppose I could spend this whole book rebutting stories about my temper. It’s not nearly what it’s cracked up to be, especially as I get older. I learned a lot of great things from Woody Hayes, but one of the not-so-great things was that if you don’t control your temper, it will control you.
So I pick my spots. Guys on the team will tell you I’ll let them get away with one or two things, but if they keep it up, I’ll come down hard. And when I do, I won’t sit around thinking about it. I can’t. If a kid is messing up or breaking the rules, I don’t sleep until I talk to him. I get antsy. Despite my
passion about football, I’m worried about those kids under the helmets. There are lives we’re dealing with here.
That’s why I always take action immediately when I hear something. “Get me such-and-such in this office in the next five minutes!” You may call it temper; I call it taking care of business. I did that with Leroy Hoard, when I found he’d cut several classes. I did that with Jim Harbaugh when I got a report he’d been involved in a disorderly conduct incident.
“YOU ARE OFF THIS TEAM!” I told him as soon as he walked in.
“What?” he gulped.
“IS YOUR NAME JAMES JOSEPH HARBAUGH?” I said, holding the police report that had him listed with several other students.
“THEN YOU ARE OFF THIS TEAM!”
“Bo,” he said, rising, holding back the tears, “it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me!”
“WELL YOU BETTER GET THIS STRAIGHTENED OUT, BECAUSE UNTIL YOU DO, YOU DO NOT PLAY FOOTBALL HERE ANYMORE!”
Eventually, we learned he had been around the scene but hadn’t done anything wrong. Fine. Jim was back with the team. But if he was ever contemplating making trouble, I think we nipped it in the bud right there.
That’s office temper, by the way. Behind closed doors. Practice temper is something else. Understand that practice is the time when you motivate your players to concentrate, to execute and not to make mistakes. I will not yell at a player if he fouls up during a game. What’s the point? He already feels bad enough. It’s like Mike Lantry, our placekicker in the
’70s who missed the field goal that would have won the Ohio State game. That poor guy has had to drag that kick around for years. Why? What does it accomplish? You still don’t get the win.
Now, there are some coaches who never raise their voice in practice. I can’t do it. I coach from the heart and from the throat. The kids from my program know that when they come to practice they had better be 100 percent ready or they’re going to hear about it. Literally.
“NO MISTAKES, WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?”
“IF YOU BLOW YOUR COVERAGE ONE MORE TIME YOU CAN JUST KEEP RUNNING OUT THAT TUNNEL!”
“YOU ARE THE LOUSIEST BLEEPING PLAYER TO HAVE PLAY YOUR POSITION.”
We call that the language of practice. It goes back to Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant and back even beyond them. It is not used all the time, but it is used during drills — hard, sweaty, undesirable drills. It motivates. And it isn’t always fire and brimstone, either.
Back in the 1969 season, I told the team we would not tolerate any racial unrest. “I don’t care if you’re black, white or purple,” I hollered, “you will all get along. The only group we have to worry about . . . is the Italians. Hey, Caldarazzo, Zuccarelli, isn’t that right?”
And Brandstatter — who probably took more abuse from me than any other single player — once heard me tell him, “Damn you, Brandstatter! I’d kick you
in the butt, but I’m afraid I’d lose my foot!” Let’s talk about sideline temper. What an image I have! The TV broadcasters like to say, “Well, if the officiating is bad today, old Bo will surely let us know about it.” And then they keep a camera ready, just in case. I must look pretty bad, because whenever people meet me, they always say, “Oh, you look much younger than on TV. On TV you look like Attila the Hun.”
Hey. Sorry, folks. When you’re on the sidelines, you don’t have time to worry about being polite.
Picture this: You are wearing a headset, and in your ears you can hear all
the coaches in the press box, plus all the people on the sidelines who have that same headset. The crowd around you is roaring, so you have to scream to be heard. Your heart is pounding. Your pulse is racing. You are so locked into your strategy of the game that a bomb could go off in your underwear and you wouldn’t notice. You can feel when things are going your way. You can see the mistakes you made and wish to hell you hadn’t. You’re thinking about tendencies and formations and personnel and play-calling and what down it is, and what yard line it is, and which way the wind is blowing, and who’s your hot running back, and all the time you’re doing this, there’s a 25-second clock going tick, tick, tick.
Now, this is not the place to take aside one of your players and calmly say, “Tommy, tell me how you are feeling. Is everything OK? Do you think you’ll be able to catch this screen pass if we throw it to you?” We are not in a negotiating position here. We are not here to discuss the theory. Damn it, man. We’re at war out there.
So I make no apologies for being abrupt. Purpose. Everything is for a purpose. Usually sideline temper will get a referee’s attention. It’ll let him know I’m there. It’ll show my players that I am 100 percent into that game and they had better be the same.
And then sometimes, I’m just mad as hell.
Last season, down in Iowa, we were trying to run a play and the crowd was just brutal. You couldn’t hear a thing. Our quarterback, Michael Taylor, came to the line, called the team back, returned to the line, and it was worse. The linemen set, the backs set, but Taylor stood there.
“HE CAN’T HEAR, REF!” we yelled.
And all of a sudden — can you believe it? — the ref called us for delay of game, five-yard penalty! He said that Taylor had failed to put his hands under center before stepping back from the line and, therefore, the clock had continued running.
I went nuts! The situation was so obvious! Why were we getting the penalty? “COME ON, REF, THAT WAS A HORSEBLEEP CALL! COME ON, REF!”
And he threw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on me.
So we ended up losing 20 yards in that fiasco. I was furious. I threw the headphones. I stomped up and down the sideline. “YOU’RE BLIND! YOU’RE INCOMPETENT! YOU STINK!”
I don’t call that calculated temper.
I call that rage. Finally, let’s talk about staff-meeting temper. This is something altogether different. For one thing, nobody throws a flag. So the sky is the limit. I always joke that if someone walked by one of our staff meetings, not knowing anything about how football coaches talked, they would think there was a riot going on. They’d think this ship was in deep and dire trouble.
“Only an idiot would block that play that way!”
“You’re crazy! If we do it your way, we won’t gain two feet!”
“What the hell do you know about anything else?”
“Both of you guys are wrong!”
“Who asked you?”
It is true, I get so mad during some of these meetings, I have nothing left to yell but “You’re fired!” Not that I ever mean it. What I really mean is damn it, I’m tired of talking about this and we’re not going to debate it anymore. But what I say is “You’re fired!” And sometimes the guy walks out and goes down the hall and gets a drink of water and then he comes back. Deep down, he loves it. We all love it. Football coaches screaming in smoke-filled rooms are like little kids playing in the mud. The joy is in getting dirty.
So you really can’t make anything out of staff-meeting temper. Woody and I used to have some beautiful arguments, as you know. Many is a room that was not the same once we were finished with it. And he threatened to fire me (and once did) the same way I do with the guys on my staff. Over and over.
After a while, guys just develop a defense. Jerry Hanlon has been with me since the Miami of Ohio days. There’s not much I can fool him with anymore. When we get into an argument, he’ll pull out a crossword puzzle and start doing it.
“DAMN IT, JERRY. PUT DOWN THAT CROSSWORD PUZZLE OR YOU’RE FIRED.”
“Bo,” he’ll say, glancing up over his glasses, “you fired me last week.”
Now that’s the best way to handle temper I’ve ever seen. CUTLINE I have had a temper since I was a kid. I used to fight with my sisters over who got to use the bicycle, or who got to ride in the front seat. And I was always very competitive in sports, which led to a temper when I lost. So much so, in fact, that once, in a high school basketball game, one of my teammates cursed at an official, and the official spun around and threw me out of the game. He just figured “it must be Schembechler.” Hey. Sorry, folks. When you’re on the sidelines, you don’t have time to worry about being polite.