by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The car rolled toward the hotel exit. Bo Schembechler, squinting in the morning sun, pointed a finger at it, like a traffic cop, and it quickly came to a halt.

“What?” asked senior lineman Mike Teeter, the driver, rolling down his window. “Am I doing something wrong, Coach?”

Bo grinned. “Hey,” he said, “I’m not your coach anymore, Mike. I’m just your friend.”

Teeter smiled and slowly drove away.

What is that expression? The first day of the rest of your life? For the occasion, Bo Schembechler wore a blue warm-up suit and a white T-shirt. No Michigan insignia. No whistles. Football-wise, he was a civilian now. He dug his hands in his pockets and tried to act casual.

Not that he had stopped thinking about football. The Rose Bowl disaster was still fresh in his mind. He had come back to the hotel Monday night and immediately popped in the film of the game. He fast-forwarded to the controversial play, the holding penalty on a fourth-quarter fake punt, and watched it over and over. Even when his wife, Millie, persuaded him to watch a movie on TV — “Lassiter,” starring Tom Selleck — he kept the little projector near him. On commercials, he watched the play again.

“Still a ridiculous call,” he insisted Tuesday morning. “That call will go down in history along with The Phantom Touchdown by Charles White and all the others. It should never have been made. The man they say was held wound up making the tackle 30 yards downfield.”

He shook his head. Never mind that ABC-TV showed a close-up replay of Bobby Abrams. Never mind that the TV announcers said, “Oh, he was definitely holding.” The coach had seen it. He had made up his mind.

“I slept better knowing I was right, too.”

Bo. You are a piece of work. Saturday’s hero will mosey on

What will Saturdays be like without him? What will Michigan be like without him? And make no mistake, he will be gone. There is no way Bo will keep the athletic director’s job, it’s not him, he was never a paper pusher, and he knows his legend would shadow his successor and friend, Gary Moeller.

“People only listened to me because I was Coach Bo, not Athletic Director Bo,” he admitted Tuesday.

He’ll quit the AD’s job, I’m guessing, within a week or two. And he’ll have something else already lined up. That’s Bo’s way. While he denies any plans, I suspect the Tigers — which means friend and Bo-fanatic Tom Monaghan
— will hire him to succeed Jim Campbell as president.

Why? It makes sense. Bo wants to work. Bo wants to stay in sports. He just needs, at age 60, to take it a little easier.

“I gotta get in shape, I gotta lose 20 pounds,” he said, laughing, tugging at his warm-ups. “I gotta lead a reasonable life. I’ve never done that, you know.”

No. He was always flying to Milwaukee or Denver or Ft. Lauderdale looking for that one extra recruit who could help the team. He was always rushing to another meeting or another charity event, stuffing a sandwich in his mouth as he ran. He was always taking five calls, six meetings, seven rolls of film, eight play sheets, nine stacks of mail.

Now, on the first day of the rest of his life, he looked 100 pounds lighter. Funny how much that whistle weighs, isn’t it?

“What will you do today?” he was asked.

“Welllll,” he said, like an old cowboy, “I’m gonna go back and see this girl, Millie, see?

“You know her?”

He shuffled his feet, dug his hands in his pockets and gave that mile-long grin. “I slept with her last night,” he said.

The crowd cracked up. Good or bad, people react to Bo

You know the first thing Bo did in 1963, the day he became a head coach at Miami of Ohio? He moved into the players’ dorm. Ground floor. Left his door open at night. The message was clear: “I am part of your lives. For better or worse. I am your coach.”

And Monday night, 27 years later, he was still part of their lives. So much so that Alex Marshall, a big, hulking linebacker, was sobbing like a baby after the game. “I want to apologize . . . to Bo Schembechler . . . for the way we played. . . . He deserved . . . to go out . . . better than this. .
. .”

Alex, you were crying for the man. What could be better than that?

This is the magic of Schembechler: He makes you feel something toward him, anger, frustration, usually affection. He is not just the coach on the football field, he is the coach with his family, his friends, with people he meets on the street. He barks, he slaps, he laughs, he takes charge. You half expect him to enter a department store, blow a whistle and say, “Clothes shoppers over here! Appliances over there!” And people would do it.

He is, in one word, magnetic.

And he is history. Our loss. Millie’s gain. He leaves behind a team that should contend for the Big Ten title next season and a landscape full of former assistants who would like, one day, to be as good as he.

You want to know what Bo’s final words were to his team after Monday’s Rose Bowl? “Men, I’m sorry I couldn’t win it for you. . . . I love you all. .
. .

“Now get dressed!”

Like I said. He’s a piece of work.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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