Bo Schembechler's decision to relinquish his coaching duties after 27 seasons at Michigan was greeted with surprise and sadness by the men against whom he has competed so fiercely the past 27 years.
Schembechler announced Wednesday that the Rose Bowl game against Southern California on New Year's Day would be his last. Schembechler, who as athletic director was respoinsible for naming a new football coach, elevated his longtime assistant, offensive coordinator Gary Moeller."It was a surprise and a shock," Michigan State coach George Perles said. "He's someone who's done it all in football, someone who will be remembered in history with the likes of Amos Alonzo Stagg, Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant. We've lost not only a great football coach but a great leader of young men.
"But I'm happy for him. I saw him (on television) at the announcement and it looks like what he wants to do. After two Big Ten championships back to back, it's a good time, and that's something that hasn't been done since another great coach did it - Duffy Daugherty in 1965 and '66. He leaves his program in excellent shape and Moeller is an excellent coach."
Schembechler, 60, has been both coach and athletic director since 1988. He said he will decide early next year whether to keep the AD job. University president James J. Duderstadt said in a statement that he hoped Schembechler would stay.
"In his years at Michigan, Bo has come to symbolize the integrity, pride, dedication to excellence, sacrifice for others and leadership that characterize the best traditions of intercollegiate athletics at Michigan," Duderstadt said. "I know Bo's decision to pass on the reins as coach at this point was not an easy one. Certainly it is not an easy one for me to accept, either."
Students expressed shock at the news.
"Bo is to Michigan what maccaroni is to cheese," said senior Adam Schrager, editor in chief of the student newspaper, the Michigan Daily. "He's absolutely essential. I can't envision the football sidelines or the football program without Bo. It's obvious from walking through the campus his leaving has had a tremendous impact at a time when students should be studying for finals."
Schembechler, who learned the basics as an assistant to Woody Hayes at Ohio State in the early 1960s, also adopted his mentor's hat-stomping, headset-slamming sideline fury. He yelled at his players, but most of them understood it wasn't personal.
"He always wanted to win and wanted to instill that feeling in his players," Chicago Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh said. "He wasn't trying to embarrass me."
Harbaugh said he remembers Bo best when, after a victory over archrival Ohio State, he was called in and told "that he was really proud of me."
Don Canham, the athletic director who hired Schembechler on a handshake late in 1968, was surprised by the announcement.
"I thought he might give up the AD job and continue coaching," said Canham, whom Schembechler suceeded as athletic director.
Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, whose team beat Michigan in an early-season showdown of the nation's top-ranked teams, was saddened by Schembechler's announcement.
"He's not only one of the great coaches today but one of the greatest of all time. I'm going to miss Bo. I'm going to feel like an old man now," Holtz said. "He personifies everything you would want in a football coach."
Ohio State coach John Cooper, the latest to oppose Schembechler in one of college football's fiercest rivalries, said he and Schembechler had talked about retirement before the Ohio State-Michigan game last month.
"I sort of encouraged him when we talked before the game," Cooper said. "I said, `Bo, what else do you have left to accomplish? You're in the Hall of Fame, you're a legend. You might as well go out on top.'
"I had a feeling after visiting with him before the game that he might consider stepping down. That was the tone of the general conversation we had, that it might be time to take one or the other (coach or athletic director) job, that he might kick back and relax a little bit. I'm glad he did," Cooper said.
Cooper said he won't hesitate to use Schembechler's retirement as a tool in recruiting players torn between attending Michigan and Ohio State.
"Regardless of who they get, if it's Gary Moeller, he's not Bo Schembechler. He may be someday, but he's not right now. There can't be many guys like him, who have the respect he has. I think a lot of high school football players thinking about Michigan might have second thoughts."
Illinois coach John Mackovic, a former Schembechler assistant, said he will miss looking at Schembechler across the playing field.
"Most of all, I think I will miss the competitive rivalry that we had established and the great friendship that we shared in spite of the fact that we were competitors on the field."
Michigan Gov. James Blanchard called Schembechler one of the great coaches in the history of football and said a Rose Bowl victory would be a fitting end to his career.
"He's given a great deal to Michigan - both the university and our state. He's given a great deal to young people and so much to the enjoyment of the sport," he said.
"Maybe Bo saw what happened to Coach (Bear) Bryant at Alabama and Coach Hayes at Ohio State," said Kent State coach Dick Crum, former head coach at Miami of Ohio and North Carolina. "I surmise he said to himself he was not going to get in that position."