Bo Schembechler lived his last days the way he lived all the others: on the go.
His most recent heart troubles started a month ago. On Oct. 20, he was taping the show “Big Ten Ticket” at WXYZ studios in Southfield when he collapsed on the set. Afterward, he spent several days at the University Hospital. Kim Eagle, his personal physician of five years, and a team of cardiologists implanted a new pacemaker and defibrillator in his chest. They hoped the new devices would shock his occasionally rapid heart rhythms back to a normal tempo.
He spent four days in the hospital, but it didn’t seem to dampen his spirits. English Prof. John Bacon, who was helping the coach write a book on leadership, said he often gave the nurses a hard time.
Two days after the operation, Bacon said, a nurse checked in on the man who had come to embody Michigan football. She asked him how much he weighed.
He responded firmly: “Young lady, I weigh 195 pounds of blue twisted steel.”
Schembechler carried that enthusiasm with him after leaving the hospital. His next three weeks were filled with media interviews, pep talks and public appearances.
As the team continued winning, it seemed everyone wanted to know what Schembechler thought. More than 14 news articles quoted him between Oct. 24 and yesterday.
The media barrage picked up speed this week as America readied itself for today’s game against Ohio State, which some call the rivalry’s biggest contest.
Schembechler made what would be his last stop on campus Monday, appearing at a press conference to discuss the game. Fervent as ever, the legend defended current coach Lloyd Carr’s poor record against Ohio State University coach Jim Tressel.
In front of a crowd of media personnel, he stood strong. When an athletic department official offered him a stool to lean on, he refused.
“I don’t need this,” he said.
Tuesday night, he visited longtime friend and former player Jim Brandstetter on the WXYT sports radio talk show, Michigan Sports Weekly. In the 11-minute interview with Brandstetter and co-hosts Doug Karsch and Art Regner, the coach did the usual – talked Wolverine football.
Thursday was supposed to be a doctor’s appointment. But Schembechler canceled to talk to the team, to pump them up before the game.
That morning was the last time Eagle spoke with the coach. They were supposed to reschedule the appointment before Schembechler joined his family for Thanksgiving.
“What was very clear to me in our conversation was, ‘When you give me an appointment, let’s make sure I get a chance to talk to the team,’ ” Eagle said in an interview.
At 11 a.m., the coach attended the funeral of his former quarterback Tom Slade, who died of leukemia Monday.
That night, Schembechler dined with former player David Brandon, now a University regent.
Schembechler woke early the next day and gave a radio interview before heading to the WXYZ studio to tape this week’s installation of “Big Ten Ticket.”
Here his perseverance finally faltered.
Schembechler collapsed at 9:25 a.m. in the studio. He was immediately rushed to Providence Hospital, six miles away. The coach was pronounced dead at 11:42 a.m.
He had planned to watch tomorrow’s game at home on his new 50-inch plasma-screen television.
Some say he might have pushed too hard in his last days, but Eagle said that’s just the way the coach lived.
“He’s the kind of man who really wanted to enjoy this moment with Michigan football like he did every fall,” the physician said. “He understood that there’s a part of that that is stressful, but he reveled in all of that.”
Eagle said Schembechler generally made good choices regarding his health, but that his heart condition was overdue to take his life.
“Considering the heart problems he had, he lived many, many years beyond what you might expect,” he said.
– Andrew Grossman, Drew Philip and Brian Tengel contributed to this report.