Bo Schembechler paced the Michigan sideline for two decades, and became a football and University icon and the embodiment of what “Michigan football” should be. Daily sports editor David Horn talked with Bo about Notre Dame’s resurgence, the Michigan State rivalry and what it takes to play at Michigan.
The Michigan Daily: What are your impressions of last week’s Iowa game?
Bo Schembechler: Those things happen. You play a game where nothing goes right, and that’s what happens. I can’t sit here and tell you it was a pretty game to watch. If Michigan doesn’t improve and do something, it could be bad.
TMD:What about this week against Michigan State? Is this a real rivalry?
BS: I’ve never seen a Michigan-Michigan State game where the teams are in such disarray. In 1969, my first year here, they didn’t have a very good team. And we had just knocked off a very good Purdue team. There were three good teams that year – Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue. We went up to Michigan State and lost, and later on beat Ohio State. The talk after that was that “Bo doesn’t understand the Michigan State game.” So after that we made it a point to win it, and won it 17 out of the next 20 times. This year it’s big, coming out of a tough loss.
TMD: A lot of people are anticipating another 6-2 season for Michigan in the Big Ten, or an eight-win season overall. Is that good enough?
BS: Six wins in this conference … In 1984, I had to struggle with a 6-6 season. That was the worst team I had here, record-wise. But if you went around the country and asked if teams would take eight wins in a 12 game schedule, you’ll find a lot of happy people. Any time you play in a league like this and win two-thirds of your games, you have nothing to gripe about.
TMD: Last week Michigan played an Iowa team that featured a tailback from Michigan in Fred Russell. What are the challenges involved in keeping athletes from Michigan in-state?
BS: There’s some players you just can’t keep. They just can’t get in here. We don’t have Prop-48 in here. With academics, there are kids here you just can’t touch.
TMD: Some people say that Michigan has gone soft. Has it?
BS: All across the country, the quality of play on both offense and defense is that they don’t block or tackle as well. That’s because there are not enough people in practice for you to practice tough. In my day we could hit hard in practice, and yeah, guys got hurt. But if a player or a star went down, there were enough players to play someone else instead. Today, with 85, you don’t have enough guys.
TMD: Does that mean that guys coming out of the Big Ten, or anywhere in the nation for that matter, aren’t ready for the NFL?
BS: Even at pro football the tackling is one facet of the game that has declined.
TMD: What are your thoughts on the transition to artificial turf for Michigan Stadium?
BS: I think it’s good. It appears that in this climate, we’ve found, we can’t get good grass to grow. The coaches like it, the players like it. I like it.
TMD: Talk about scheduling for Michigan.
BS: I’ve said it before that I’m not interested in the 10-year contract with Notre Dame. Everyone will make that game out as a really important game, but Michigan plays a whole Big Ten season of really important games. My feeling was when they went to the 12th game it should have been in conference. That Iowa doesn’t play Ohio State this year is ridiculous. The 12th game doesn’t affect Michigan, or teams like Michigan. I think it’s those other people that want to make sure they get those six wins and are bowl eligible.
TMD: What about the BCS?
BS: I don’t like the BCS. There will always be one year out of four that someone not in the Big Ten will go to the Rose Bowl. That’s not right. We used to joke that if Michigan won the Big Ten and got invited to play in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship, we’d say no and go play in the Rose Bowl. I always liked the old system. Let everyone vote on the best team in the country. The BCS didn’t present two clear teams to play in the game last year and it likely won’t this year.
TMD: What are your thoughts on (new Notre Dame coach) Ty Willingham? Are the Fighting Irish for real?
BS: They’ve done a good job defensively, not offensively. If you get a few breaks and play well, you can be really good. But unless Miami and Oklahoma turn out to be great teams, there are no great teams in the country …
TMD: What separates a good team from a great team?
BS: Great teams go out and win without any problems.
TMD: So Notre Dame?
BS: Notre Dame has a shot, but they’ll face a tough USC team out west.
TMD: How does television and television revenue affect the game today?
BS: If both Michigan and Michigan State were on top of their game and had championship aspirations, do you honestly believe we’d be playing on ESPN2? (Television) dictates everything. Did you watch ESPN during the Purdue game …
TMD: I was there.
BS: Well get this – right in the middle of the game they switched to commercial! When you get to ESPN and ESPN2 and some others, they may send you somebody – a director – that doesn’t know anything about football.
TMD: What do you think of (Ohio State tailback) Maurice
Clarett looking to turn pro before his junior year?
BS: If he wants to go, he should go. If you’re down there and
he says he doesn’t want to be there, you don’t want him!
I don’t care if he’s the greatest thing since peanut butter. Honestly though, I think he’s just talking. He’s a freshman who has had too much success, too quickly.
TMD: Going back to this year’s Michigan team, how would you evaluate John Navarre, compared to Michigan quarterbacks of the past? Compared to the guys you had at quarterback?
BS: He’s different than any QB I had. My QBs were pretty mobile guys. We did go to the pocket game with Jim Harbaugh and Elvis Grbac. When you talk about Steve Smith and Rick Leach, though, you talk about guys who could move around out of the pocket.
TMD: What do you think of (new Michigan offensive coordinator) Terry Malone’s new offense? It’s a little different from …
BS: There are people who think football has evolved to a short passing game; that the running game is secondary. All you have to do is look at that Iowa game. If I was coaching, I can tell you there’d be two backs in the backfield. If (Michigan) had a little better running game, they’d give the quarterback more time. If the quarterback has more time, he completes more passes …
TMD: Some people say that this Michigan team lacks the toughness of Michigan teams of the past.
BS: I hope it’s not true. I hope every Michigan player knows he should be tough. You have to have that physical toughness if you’re going to play at Michigan. If you don’t have it, you shouldn’t be here.