When the Michigan football team takes the field Saturday afternoon to play its biggest game of the season, it will come exactly one year after the passing of legendary coach Bo Schembechler.
Schembechler, probably the Michigan football team’s most recognizable figure, died just a day before Michigan’s 42-39 loss to No. 1 Ohio State last season.
That week, Schembechler met with reporters at a press conference previewing The Game. Schembechler talked for nearly a half hour, refusing to sit on a stool a media relations official offered to him.
A few days later, the 77-year-old former coach addressed the Michigan football team for a final time. Though he passed away that Friday, his impact on the program and the impression he left on players who met him remains immeasurable.
“He’s a true Michigan man and left a great legacy behind him,” offensive tackle Jake Long said. “He made Michigan football into what it is today. He was a great coach and person and touched everybody’s lives when he was around. You don’t forget a man like that.”
Author and University lecturer John U. Bacon, who was working on a book with Schembechler at the time of his death (“Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership” was released this September), looks back fondly at the 10 years he knew Schembechler.
“It was obviously a blast to talk to Bo once a week for a year and a half, and I will always feel lucky about that,” Bacon said. “I got to see the Bo that others did not see. The funny side, the thoughtful side and, as (former Southern Cal coach) John Robinson said, dare I say the sensitive side.”
Though the vast majority of fans didn’t know Schembechler personally, his impact on them and the school in general was clear.
The night of Schembechler’s passing, hundreds of students met in the Diag for a candlelight vigil. Bacon was one of the four people who made speeches that night.
“Through all the candlelights, in the process, you could see tears coming down on their faces,” Bacon said. “That’s about 1,000 students, almost all undergrads. None of them had ever seen Bo coach. Some of them were not even born when Bo coached. Here they were crying, obviously not mourning the loss of a coach, but to a leader, certainly one of the best this university’s ever had.”
Even though he retired nearly two decades ago, Schembechler had his own office in Michigan’s football headquarters, which is aptly named Schembechler Hall.
With his passing, this is the first year Schembechler hasn’t been around during the season and won’t be around for the biggest week of the year.
Considering the importance Schembechler placed on the Ohio State game, the experience for players will be different this season than in years past. Safety Jamar Adams admitted it’s hard with Schembechler not around. He and his fellow seniors will have to adjust not hearing a fiery post-game speech from The General.
But Michigan coach Lloyd Carr looked at this week differently.
“I think I’ll always have Bo with me,” he said.
And Carr isn’t alone.
“You cannot underestimate what the Ohio State game and its rivalry meant to Bo – it was everything,” Bacon said. “Bo did not know his record against any opponent except for his record against Ohio State (11-9-1).
“Woody and Bo – that’s Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker stuff.”
Players and coaches agree, saying one of the best ways to pay tribute to the legendary coach would be to put as much emphasis on the series as he did.
“Bo gave a great speech before he left,” defensive tackle Will Johnson said. “It was real sad when he passed away. But we knew that he would want us to go out and fight to try to win that game.”