College football loses one of its icons

Published November 18, 2006

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Bo Schembechler, the man with half-century-old roots to the Big Game, died at age 77 on Friday (Nov. 17, 2006), the eve of perhaps the biggest matchup in the storied rivalry's history, No 1 vs. No. 2, and his doctor said it might have been because of all the excitement.

Mr. Schembechler, who became one of college football's great coaches in two decades at Michigan, collapsed at the studios of WXYZ-TV in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, where he taped a weekly show. He was pronounced dead a little more than two hours later at nearby Providence Hospital.

Could the stress of today's game have caused his death?

"I believe that's entirely possible," said Dr. Kim Eagle, his physician. "Ironically, he and I were going to see each other yesterday (Thursday), but he wanted to address the team."

Mr. Schembechler had a device that worked as a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted last month after his heart raced as he left the same TV studio.

Doctors said he didn't have a heart attack Friday as much as his heart just quit working.

Getting worked up before a big game was nothing new for Mr. Schembechler. He had a heart attack on the eve of his first Rose Bowl in 1970 and another one in 1987, and he had two quadruple heart-bypass operations. He also had diabetes.

Mr. Schembechler played for Woody Hayes at Miami of Ohio, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Hayes at Ohio State and then, in his first season at Michigan in 1969, knocked off Hayes' unbeaten Buckeyes.

"This is an extraordinary loss for college football," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said in a statement. "Bo Schembechler touched the lives of many people and made the game of football better in every way. He will always be both a Buckeye and a Wolverine, and our thoughts are with all who grieve his loss."

This year's Michigan players, who were toddlers when Mr. Schembechler's career was winding down in the late 1980s, were somber Friday afternoon as they left the building that bears his name and boarded buses for the 3½-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who was hired by Mr. Schembechler in 1980, wiped a tear off his cheek as he sat in the front row of the first bus that pulled out of Ann Arbor.

"We have lost a giant at Michigan and in college football," Carr said in a statement. "There was never a greater ambassador for the University of Michigan, or college football, than Bo. Personally, I have lost a man I love."

Mr. Schembechler was a seven-time Big Ten coach of the year, compiling a 194-48-5 record at Michigan from 1969-89. His record in 26 years of coaching was 234-65-8. He never had a losing season.

His last game as Wolverines coach was a 17-10 loss to Southern California in the 1990 Rose Bowl.