Today is a great day to celebrate a Happy Birthday wish for Schembechler Hall. Bo Schembechler articulated his vision to build a “Center of Champions” in early July 1988. Bo had taken on the duties of athletic director while remaining as the school’s head football coach. He knew that Michigan had a great football tradition and he knew that Michigan’s football stadium was second to none. However, Bo also knew that Michigan’s practice facilities were not keeping up with the nation’s best.
So, Coach/AD Bo Schembechler made a first-class “football building” one of his top priorities in 1988. He enlisted former President Gerald R. Ford to become the Honorary Chairman of the fund-raising campaign. In less than three years, Schembechler Hall was a reality. Bo, and President Ford, raised over 13 million dollars from just over 1,600 donors. Finally, on May 29, 1991, Michigan had one building that was totally dedicated to creating and maintaining a championship football culture. A culture of “champions.”
The idea for a “Center of Champions” dated back to his first season at Michigan when conditioning drills were held in Yost Field House. There wasn’t a lot of weight training equipment and locker rooms were in short supply for coaches and players alike. In 1969, when one of his coaches complained that they had it better back at Miami of Ohio, Schembechler’s response was memorable. He told the young coach something like “Fielding Yost might have hung his hat on that nail.”
So, instead of focusing on what Michigan didn’t have, Schembechler pointed out that Michigan had a great tradition that no other school had and moved on. Bo definitely knew that Michigan’s practice and conditioning facilities were pretty poor, but he wasn’t going to let his coaches use them as an excuse. However, he also knew that opposing coaches had no problem pointing out such shortcomings to potential recruits. So, Bo knew that Michigan’s practice facilities had to improve. Although he didn’t lose any sleep over it, he advocated for better facilities for his coaches, players and the program in general. When Bo added Athletic Director to his title, he created a vision and a plan to build a first-class football facility that would be called “The Center of Champions.”
Bo Schembechler had no intention of building a structure that would bear his name. He just wanted to build something special that would improve on the practice facilities, weight training areas, and offices that he inherited when he arrived at Michigan in 1969. However, the Board of Regents decided that the building could have no other name. So, that’s how Schembechler Hall came to be back in 1991. The building was upgraded in 2014 and Bo’s amazing statue was added to the entrance to the property. Recently, Michigan’s Board of Regents approved additional upgrades to “Bo’s House” to keep it up-to-date and “cutting edge.”
Like Fielding H. Yost before him, Bo was intent on building something for the future that he might not personally enjoy. Fielding Yost retired from coaching so that he could focus on building his magnificent Michigan Stadium. Ironically, Yost never coached a single game in the stadium that he envisioned, and built, for the Michigan Football Ages. Bo also built something for “the next guy” named Gary Moeller and those who followed. Interestingly enough, Bo never occupied the Head Coaches’ Office in the building that bears his name. (Note-Bo did have an office in Schembechler Hall as Coach Emeritus until his death in 2006.)
So, today is the 27th anniversary of the original dedication of Schembechler Hall. It is also a good day to reflect on the amazing contributions that Bo made to Michigan. The rest of today’s post highlights what Bo “added” to Michigan’s football culture. I hope you take time to finish this rather lengthy post. I just happen to think that Bo great work is worth it!
Also, Happy Memorial Day Everyone. Please take a moment to appreciate the ultimate sacrifice that so many servicemen and women have made for the cause of freedom. May our true American heroes from every generation continue to rest in eternal peace!
In addition to winning a record number of games at Michigan, Bo left his mark on Michigan Football in many other areas. Some of them were little things and others were big things. However, all of them combined to create Bo’s incredible legacy that enhanced the Michigan Football Tradition and built a solid foundation for those who followed him. Bo did everything for a reason. He was always looking for a way to improve his program, build player morale and foster loyalty amongst his players. Here is a short summary of some of Bo’s “Firsts” and his many initiatives that continue to be part of the Michigan Football Tradition.
1) Those Who Stay Will Be Champions. Bo’s famous sign had a humble beginning in 1969. The amazing thing about the sign was that Bo had not won a single game as a head coach in the Big Ten when it was hung in Yost Field House in 1969. Here was this “rookie” coach “promising” his players, seniors included, that they would be champions if they survived that first grueling spring practice season in 1969. This was one of the boldest things a college football coach has ever done, but oh how it worked! Now, nearly fifty years later, this phrase is etched in the walls of Schembechler Hall. Bo was able to fulfill his promise to every player who played for him and so was Gary Moeller. Lloyd Carr was able to do it for ten of his thirteen recruiting classes. It is the standard that all Michigan Football coaches and players strive to achieve. It is now Jim Harbaugh’s job to get back to Bo’s way of doing business!
2) Helmet Stickers. Bo used the power of these little footballs to reward his players for making big plays and contributing to the success of the team. (Note – Lloyd Carr discontinued the tradition during his tenure, but Coach Jim Harbaugh brought them back – BIG TIME!)
3) Team Photographs. Prior to his arrival, only the lettermen sat for the “official” team picture at the end of the season. Bo felt that if a guy made it through Spring and Fall Drills he should have his photo taken as a member of the team. Bo’s version of the “team picture”, with over 100 players and coaches, continues to this day.
4) Bowl Game Travel. When Bo was told that he could not take his entire team to a bowl game he said he wouldn’t take anybody. He pointed out that the entire band and all the cheerleaders went to a bowl game so his whole team needed to attend as well. Pretty hard to argue that one so, he won.
5) Letters. Again, this was another big deal for Bo. He didn’t believe “playing time” should determine who received a letter and who did not. Bo knew that the program he wanted to run demanded that he have a lot of players because his practices were so physical. With the limitations on scholarships and the real possibility of injuries, Coach Schembechler knew that he had to have a lot of guys on his squad. He wanted all the walk-ons he could get on the practice field because he knew they were critical to Michigan’s success on Game Day. If you came to the practices and busted your butt for Bo you probably got a letter and that’s the way it should be!
6) The Greatest Attendance Streak in the History of College Football. The Ninety-Sixth team in the History of Michigan Football played seven home games and four of them were in front of 100,000 people or more. On October 25, 1975, a Homecoming Crowd of 93,857 witnessed a blowout victory (55-7) over the Indiana Hoosiers. This was the last time the Wolverines played in front of a home crowd of less than six figures. A crowd of 102,415 people showed up on November 8, 1975 to savor a shutout victory (28-0) over Purdue. This was the start of an attendance streak that is unequaled in college football history. At the end of the 2013 season, “The Streak” stands at 251 games with no end in sight. Yes, Don Canham had a big hand in this streak as well, but it would not have happened if Bo, and his magnificent players, had not won a ton of games in the early 1970s!
7) Bowl Game Opportunities. Michigan, along with the rest of the Big Ten Conference, had limited opportunities to go to post-season bowl games prior to 1976. The conference had an agreement with the Rose Bowl, but the archaic “No-Repeat Rule” made it impossible for a team to go two years in a row. This rule created lots of “drama” over the years, but it all came to a boiling point in 1973 when the Big Ten’s Athletic Directors voted to send ohio state after the infamous 10-10 tie between the Wolverines and the buckeyes. Bo went crazy, said some critical things to the press that implied wrong doing and undue influence. He was reprimanded by Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke for his “unsportsmanlike actions.” Eventually, Bo’s remarks caused enough of a stir that the conference changed the policy to allow teams to go to other bowl games besides the Rose Bowl. It turned out to be a great decision, especially financially, for the Big Ten Conference and Michigan. However, as Bo always said “It was a helluva price to pay.”
8) Strength Coach. This was a practical decision to keep up with the times and to allow his players to be safer and more competitive on the field. It was a critical hire for Bo because the strength coach (and his staff) is the only “coach” who can be in contact with players on a year-round basis. Coach Schembechler hired the perfect guy, Mike Gittleson, who served Bo, his players and Michigan for over thirty years! In his book, Tradition, Schembechler said, “When it comes to strength and conditioning, Mike Gittleson is the best.”
9) Weight Training Facilities. This seems like a no-brainer, but it didn’t happen at Michigan until Bo made it happen. Bo knew that the other top schools were building impressive weight training facilities for their football programs. Since he convinced Don Canham to hire a coach/staff to do it, it was only logical that he would ask for the tools and equipment to get this important work done! The weight training facilities have evolved over the years. Michigan continues to invest in the facilities, equipment and coaching that affords every player the opportunity to prepare to compete at the elite level of college football.
10) The Team, The Team, The Team. A short locker room speech delivered before his team in 1983 became another mantra for Bo’s version of Michigan Football. It guides the thoughts and actions of Michigan’s Football players nearly five decades later. Got it?
11) Michigan Man Persona. Bo fired the “coaching cliché” heard round the college sports world when he terminated Head Basketball Coach Bill Frieder just prior to the start of the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament in March 1989. Frieder had two degrees from Michigan while his interim replacement, Steve Fischer, held a degree from Illinois State University. This was confusing to a lot of people, but not to Bo. Bo didn’t like the way that Frieder handled his sneaky departure to Arizona State University. Instead of accepting Frieder’s offer to coach the team before he left town – Bo fired him!
Bo’s definition of a “Michigan Man” did not focus solely on possessing a degree from the famous academic institution. Instead, it was defined by loyalty and trust and fidelity to the University and the people, and programs, you represented. So, a lot of people began to think differently about what a “Michigan Man” really was after this incident.
12) The Wolverine Magazine/Web Site. Bo told longtime Sports Information Director, and media marvel, Bruce Madej that “We need a magazine that promotes Michigan Athletics, but mostly it has to be about football, football, football.” Bo probably added a – “Got it?” to make sure Madej understand the “expectation.” Once again, Bo knew that other schools had something like this and he wanted to make sure Michigan had the best college sports magazine – period! Bruce Madej found Stu Coman and The Wolverine was created. As usual, the standards are high at Michigan so Coman and his staff must achieve a high level of excellence with their magazine, web page and blogs to keep all Die-Hard Wolverine Fans as well-informed as any in the country.