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

This is the second of five excerpts from “Bo” by Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, co-authored with Free Press columnist Mitch Albom. Today’s excerpt, “Woody and Me,” deals with Bo’s relationship with Woody Hayes.

I loved Woody Hayes. I am not ashamed to say it. In the 37 years I knew him, he coached me, humbled me, employed me, angered me and taught me more about the game than anyone could. I guess I was about as close to him as anyone, but to the day he died, I never considered myself his equal.

Certainly not in the late 1950s, when I was working for him at Ohio State.

Back then, he was the very essence of discipline. He wore white shirts with ties all the time, except at practice, where he wore one gray T-shirt and no jacket. When November came, and it was freezing cold, maybe he would put on two gray T-shirts. Maybe.

“Woody, you’ll catch pneumonia,” I used to tell him.

“Bo,” he said, “if the players see you don’t think it’s cold, then they won’t think it’s cold.”

He was right. By the time he came in from those practices, his skin was frozen. He’d take a shower and stand under the hot water for a long time, just thawing out, until his skin turned lobster red. I can still see him right now, his whole body almost glowing under the water.

Believe me, none of us ever complained about the cold.

Not that you would complain too much to Woody about anything. At least not to his face. His temper was legendary. He would scream at coaches, officials, players, his arms flailing, his face turning crimson. But however tough he was on others, Woody was toughest on himself. There are accounts of him biting his hand so hard it would bleed. He would yank off his hat and rip it in half.

Once, I saw him punch himself in the face. We had a terrible scrimmage, and he got so mad he punched himself in the eye and split his eye open. The next morning I picked up the newspaper and read where Woody “was so excited at the scrimmage that his whistle flew up and cut him in the eye.” That, folks, is not what happened.

I guess I was as much Woody’s friend back then as I was his assistant. He loved to wake me up first thing in the morning with some request, or call me late at night to watch film. Sometimes he’d send me to the airport or out to find a player. Sometimes I would pick up the phone and hear him bark:

I never minded. During those years at Ohio State, I’d have done anything for him. Want proof? How about my very first night? I had just driven in from

Chicago. We were monitoring study table when, suddenly, Woody yelled, “Hey, where’s that damn Jim Marshall?”

You may remember Jim Marshall. Very big guy? Became an All- Pro lineman with the Minnesota Vikings?

“I hate to tell you this, Coach,” one of the assistants said. “He’s up at French Field House. He’s throwing the shot put in an intramural track meet.”

“WHAT?” Woody screamed. “And missing study table? —damn it, Bo, you go up and get him, and you get him down here now.”

I didn’t know Marshall. I’d never seen Marshall. I hadn’t even unpacked my bags yet. But I wandered into the track meet. There he was.

“Uh, Jim,” I said. “Come here a minute, will you?”

He stepped out of the ring.

“Jim, I’m Bo Schembechler. I’m the new coach here.”

“Oh, yeah? How you doing?”

“Well, I want you to know I just left Woody. You’re supposed to be in study table, and he’s ticked off. So you’re going to come with me now. OK?”

“—damn, SOB!” he screamed. And he slammed down the shot put and made a scene in front of all these people. Remember, I’ve just been on the job two hours. Everyone was staring. We left together, and Marshall didn’t say a word to me the entire way. I dropped him with Woody, who grabbed him, took him in a room — and began to tutor him. Not yell at him. Tutor him.

That was Woody.

People ask me all the time about our fights. First of all, they were arguments, not fights. As the years went on and I became more and more bold, they got pretty heated, sure, but Woody never really hit me and I never hit him. I wouldn’t dare. We did argue over just about everything. And we did take some of our frustrations out on furniture.

Chairs, for instance. We had this argument once in the staff room, and we’re kicking chairs around left and right. I would scream something and kick a chair at him. He would scream something and kick a chair at me.




And then he fired me.

Just like that.

Now, he had threatened to do that many times. He’d say, “If you don’t do this right I’m going to fire your butt!” But he’d never gone through with it before.

So I stormed out, marched up and down the halls, and then I went to the bathroom. Man, I was hot. And suddenly he came marching in. I don’t think he was looking for me. I think he just had to use the bathroom. Anyhow, he saw me in there, and he said, “OK, you can come back.”

And I did.

Oh, don’t worry. I would have gone back anyhow. You don’t let a little thing like getting fired keep you from a meeting. The funny thing is, I can’t for the life of me remember what Woody and I were fighting about. It was football, I’m sure of that. It always was.

And he won every argument.

Just like I win every one at Michigan.

They call that “Being the Head Coach.”

Temper. As most of you know, that’s what finally did Woody Hayes in. A few weeks after our game in 1978, Ohio State was playing Clemson in the Gator Bowl. In the fourth quarter, a Clemson player intercepted a pass near the Ohio

State sideline. He shouted something, and in a single moment of madness, Woody grabbed him from behind, spun him around and punched him.

It was captured on national television. Once I saw the tape, I knew his coaching days were over. Still, I was stunned when the news actually arrived. I came into my staff meeting and couldn’t help it, I began to cry. “The old man’s gone,” I said. “They fired the old man.”

I know Woody Hayes did not believe he hit that guy. I know because we talked about it in one of the hardest discussions I ever had with my ex-coach.

It was several weeks after the incident. One of the team doctors at Ohio State called me and said, “Bo, you’ve got to talk to Woody. He’s not going out of the house. He’s feeling low.”

I called him up. “Look, Coach,” I said, “I’d like to come down and talk to you.”

“Don’t give me that stuff,” he barked. “You’re just coming down here to recruit.”

“I’m not coming down to recruit. Let’s just get together and talk.”

“I don’t want you going out of your way. Tell you what. Doyt Perry called me the other day. How about if I meet you halfway, at Doyt’s house in Bowling Green?”

And that’s what we did. I drove down from Ann Arbor. Woody drove up from Columbus in his pickup truck. It was the dead of winter. And there we were, the three of us, Woody, Doyt and me, in Doyt’s living room. We started to reminisce, and the old man was loosening up.

Suddenly, he said, “You know, I’m continuing to work on my book. You guys wouldn’t mind reading the first chapter, would you? I’ve got it out in the truck. It’s called ‘Let’s Set the Record Straight.’ “

“Well, I felt that right at the beginning, I better get that thing at the Gator Bowl cleared up.”

“What did you write?”

“First of all, I write that I have never seen the film of that game. And I have never watched any replays or news accounts on television.

“What I say happened is that we were driving for the winning touchdown, and the Clemson middle guard intercepted the ball and was knocked out of bounds on our sideline and that he got up and flaunted that ball in front of us, and all I tried to do was to wrestle that ball from his arms.”

I looked at him. “Woody,” I said, softly, “that’s not what it looked like.”

He started to get mad. “Well, by God. I know what was going through my mind, and I’m not a liar! I’m telling what went through my mind.”

I said, “Well, that is not the way it appeared on film.” I looked over at Doyt. “Furthermore, on the basis of what I saw, Woody, there’s a black cloud over your head right now and you’ve got to take care of it. You must publicly apologize.”

“Oh, yeah?” he said. “Let me ask you something: Should I apologize for all the good things I’ve done?”

“No, I’m not asking you to do that. And you don’t have to apologize to any of us who know you. But the people who don’t know you, I think you owe them an apology.”

“I don’t know about that!” he yelled. “Damn it! Don’t you tell me that.”

And that was that. I never could get him to understand me. But about one week later, he made his first public appearance in Columbus since the incident. It was a banquet speech that he’d committed to a long time before.

The room was packed. TV cameras everywhere. He got up, and he talked about the meeting we had in Bowling Green. And he said, “I’ll tell you right now, Bo thinks I ought to apologize for what happened down there in the Gator Bowl . . . but Bo isn’t always right!”

That was as close as he would ever come to saying “I’m sorry.” It’s a shame that one incident blemishes his otherwise incredible coaching career. Those in our business are able to separate the two. I wish I could say that for the general public. CUTLINE: Bo Schembechler (right) poses with Woody Hayes at a 1979 dinner honoring the former Ohio State coach.


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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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