In nearly 21 years as a sports fan in New Jersey, I learned that Bo Schembechler was a great coach.
But in just 12 hours as an editor at the Daily Friday, I learned that Bo Schembechler was a great man.
When I woke up on Friday, I heard that Schembechler had been rushed to the hospital after he collapsed while taping his weekly TV show. And judging by the reaction of the media, it appeared as though this situation was much more serious than the one that forced him to get a pacemaker just a few weeks ago.
By the time I arrived at the Daily, the 77-year-old Schembechler had passed away. A number of e-mails and voice messages awaited me, all from people volunteering to work on a special section that we hadn’t even announced.
Many reporters rushed to the Daily. Old staffers called to voice their support. One member of the Board of Student Publications – which handles the purse strings at the Daily – told us in an e-mail not to worry about the cost of producing the paper, because this was “an event as big as the JFK assassination for anyone connected with the University, and it certainly requires first-rate coverage.”
Some writers forgot about class. Others missed meetings. Our hockey writers even skipped Friday night’s game in Big Rapids.
Most of us were too young to remember Bo on the sidelines, but we knew he was an extraordinary man who deserved an extraordinary tribute.
We weren’t quite sure where to go or who to call, but we soon discovered how small a hurdle that was. It seemed as if it didn’t matter where we went or who we talked to, Bo had an impact on nearly everyone.
One Daily writer recounted the time he skipped school to attend a Schembechler book signing. Bo made the then-10-year old promise that the truancy would be a one-time occasion before offering to take a picture with the young Wolverine. The writer said that at that point, he could imagine the great coach as Grandpa Bo.
Kinesiology student Kyle Grubman spoke to one Daily writer about his time with Schembechler in Public Policy 201, which Bo attended this semester. Grubman had chatted to Bo about his pacemaker and Ohio State and felt honored when Bo referred to Grubman and his friends as “men.” Bo’s death hit Grubman like the loss of a close friend.
Joe McDonald, who worked under Bo for the Tigers, told me about Schembechler’s first spring training. Many people doubted Schembechler could be an effective baseball executive, but on that day at least, Bo proved them wrong. His speech captured the full attention of more than 150 players and veteran coaches. Even the Spanish-speaking players – who couldn’t understand a word Bo said – seemed captivated by a man whose presence transcended all sports.
Of course, Bo’s former players had their fair share to say as well. So did coaches who worked with him at Michigan. Wolverines who played long after Bo retired had memories, too.
But if there was one group Schembechler always seemed to have it in for, it was reporters, especially ones from the Daily. One wrote on ESPN.com that Bo referred to him and his beatmates as “hippie Daily sportswriters.” Yet as the phone calls and e-mails came in, even they had nothing but kind words about Bo.
Bo made many Daily football writers better reporters, because stupid questions didn’t fly at a Schembechler press conference.
But he had a softer side, too.
I thought about the time last year I met him at Crisler Arena, when we were going to talk to Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker. Schembechler was a bit frustrated, as technical difficulties had prevented him from filming something for ESPN. But following this failure, Bo took the time to chat with all of us writers, and I soon forgot about what happened just minutes before.
Former Daily sports writer Chuck Jaffe remembered when Bo sent a handwritten note – and one his best $5 cigars – to Jaffe’s father, who had suffered his second heart attack. And whenever Bo saw Jaffe from then on, he made sure to ask about his father. Jaffe’s story brought me to tears – even as I re-read it Saturday night.
After hours of interviewing coaches, players, fans, barbers, students and just about everyone else you can think of, we finally hit the most difficult part of the night: putting the paper together.
We had enough quotes and anecdotes to fill books, but we had just six pages to print them. Stories that contained 900 words and deserved twice as many needed to be cut to 300. Even Jaffe’s beautiful piece couldn’t survive the editor’s knife.
In what can be a rare achievement at a daily college newspaper, we made deadline. And when we noticed a small mistake after we sent the pages to the printer, we fixed it.
Bo would expect – and deserved – nothing less.
– Herman wants to thank all the reporters at the Daily for gathering some great stories, and everyone else for telling them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you didn’t read the special section, be sure to check it out in today’s paper.