Bo Schembechler
Bo Schembechler (Wikimedia Commons)

Columnist Irwin Cohen writes about the Bo Schembechler he knew.

Earlier in the summer, the talk around Southeastern Michigan was about Bo Schembechler and when did he know that Dr. Robert Anderson allegedly sexually assaulted numerous male student athletes and some women during his tenure at University of Michigan (1966-2003).

As the legendary baseball manager of the Yankees and Mets Casey Stengel used to say about the deceased, “they’re [Anderson and Schembechler, in this case] dead at the present time.” 

The University of Michigan’s athletic director from 1968-1988, Don Canham, could have and should have fired Anderson. But he’s dead at the present time, too.

Irwin J. Cohen
Irwin J. Cohen

Glenn Edward “Bo” Schembechler came to the University of Michigan as head football coach in 1969 after coaching under Ohio State’s legendary coach Woody Hayes. After a brief marriage to Hayes’ secretary, Bo married a nice lady named Mildred (Millie) in 1968 and adopted her three sons. (They subsequently had another son together.)

Adding fuel to the Anderson controversy was a news conference with Bo’s stepson, Matt, and some former students who claimed that they were abused by Anderson. Matt claimed that when he was 10 in 1969 and needed a medical checkup, his stepfather recommended that he should make an appointment with Dr. Anderson.

Matt came home and reported to his stepfather that Anderson touched him inappropriately. “That was the first time that he [Bo] closed fist punched me,” Matt told the media. “He knocked me all the way across the kitchen.”

Matt’s mother went to see Don Canham, and we don’t know what the conversation yielded as she’s also deceased. None of us can be sure what happened and what Bo Schembechler did or didn’t do. But here’s what I do know, based on the numerous times (maybe a hundred) that Bo and I were only a few feet apart.

The Bo I Knew

Bo was a bully and worse, but very likable with tons of charisma. You’ll find a similar opinion in my late good friend Joe Falls’ 1997 book, 50 Years of Sportswriting. Chapter 11, titled, “Boo on Bo,” chronicles the times Bo lied to Joe.

Bo was named president and chief operating officer of the Tigers early in 1990 by team owner Tom Monaghan. Jim Campbell had the title previously and was easing into retirement but wanted to come around whenever he wanted and wanted someone who relied on his advice. Campbell was happy an experienced baseball man wasn’t put in charge.

I was hoping that Bo would meet his new employees by calling them into his new plush, paneled office, get to know them and possibly hear some new ideas. He never did. Bo wasn’t much of a listener and came with preconceived notions. I had access to him in the morning roundtable coffee schmooze sessions in the dining room before we went to our workstations.

I sent ideas to Bo via inter-office memos delivered by our mailroom guy. One idea I wanted to see implemented quickly was transforming the sidewalk around the exterior of the stadium into a baseball-style Hollywood Boulevard, hand and autograph impressions in cement. Time was the enemy as the most popular first basemen in Tigers history died in 1986, Norm Cash and Hank Greenberg.

Bo never responded to any of my memos. One time we were the only ones in the dining room, and I brought them up. “The trouble with you, Cohen,” Bo bellowed as he pointed his finger at me, “is that your ideas cost money.”

One Friday January morning in 1992, I walked past Bo’s office as he was pacing back and forth. “Cohen,” he yelled, “do you know how to drive? If you do, let’s go.” 

We rode the elevator down in total silence and headed to his shiny, new black Cadillac. His usual driver wasn’t around, and Bo got behind the wheel. I quickly figured out that he was headed to the airport to fly to New York to appear on one of those Saturday college football pre-game shows.

Over and over Bo kept saying, “I’ll never make it.” 

We did make it without much conversation. As he was exiting the Caddy, he said, “Take it back and tell the driver he’s fired.” I obeyed half of the commandment. 

We all have Jewdar — Jewish radar. Mine told me not to trust Bo. One morning I was the first one at the roundtable and reading the paper. The headline screamed, “Scuds Fall on Israel” (during the Iran-Iraq war).

Bo entered, stopped in his tracks while reading the headline. “Cohen,” Bo boomed in capital letters as he pointed to me, “You are going to get us,” as he pointed to himself, “into a war.” 

As I was rising out of my chair to confront Bo getting ready to say, “You mean me, the Jew?” the phone rang. Bo picked it up and said, “Alice, [his secretary] I’ll be right up.” 

Bo didn’t come down again for several days, and I never got into my first physical fight.

I have many fond memories of my Tiger days. I loved and respected Tom Monaghan, but not so bellicose Bo. 

Author, columnist, public speaker Irwin J. Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed many legends of the game including Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg. He earned a World Series ring while working for the Tigers in a front office position in 1984. He may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

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