Former Buckeyes Remember a Different Bo

Bo Schembechler is most known for his contributions to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry as the head coach of the Wolverines, but he got his start in The Game on the other side of the field. Five years after Schembechler's death, talked to some of the men who knew him as a Woody Hayes assistant in Columbus.

For a rivalry to gain a reputation as the greatest in all of sports, more than a few colorful characters must emerge over the years. As far as the Ohio State-Michigan game goes, none have left a greater mark than coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

The two had much in common, both in terms of personality on and off the field and success between the lines. Hard-nosed, old-school men who valued hard work and loyalty, Hayes and Schembechler still represent for many the archetype of American football coach for an entire generation.

Each man asked no quarter and gave none, either. Both left indelible marks on two of college football's most successful programs.

While those on the outside of each program might have developed a view of each man as callous and difficult to get along with, their players were fiercely loyal. For many, the tough love they received from Hayes and Schembechler endures in their hearts to this day.

But what about the men who played for both?

They will tell you the Schembechler who patrolled the sidelines at Michigan from 1969-89 differed from the version of the younger man who spent four years on Hayes' staff at Ohio State from 1958-62.

Darryl Sanders, an Ohio State offensive tackle from 1960-62, learned as much earlier this year while attending the wake of Ron Kramer, a teammate of Sanders with the Detroit Lions who played at Michigan.

Sanders was speaking with some former Wolverines, many of whom he became acquainted with after leaving football to work in the auto industry in Detroit, when he caught them by surprise.

"They're asking about Bo at Ohio State, and I'm saying to them, ‘He was a great guy, always there, always helping me,' and they were kind of like staring at me," Sanders recalled.

That's when Gary Moeller, a Sanders teammate at Ohio State and a long-time Schembechler assistant at Michigan, explained the disconnect.

"Moeller said, 'You guys don't get it. At Ohio State, Bo was a completely different guy. He was the good cop. Woody was the bad cop,' " Sanders said with a laugh. "Those guys were sitting there and they couldn't believe it. Bo was just like Woody at Michigan. I mean he was all over those guys, screaming at them and everything. But with us he was softening the position."

Few are as qualified as Moeller to testify about the characteristics of Schembechler. The two became acquainted while Moeller was an Ohio State linebacker and part-time offensive lineman from '60-62 and were reunited when Schembechler invited him to join his coaching staff at Miami (Ohio) in 1967. Moeller followed him to Ann Arbor when Schembechler became Michigan's head coach in 1969 and spent a total of 21 seasons with him before succeeding him at the helm of the Wolverines in 1990.

"I think he felt as an assistant under Woody they didn't need anybody being tough at times," Moeller said. "They needed more of a friend. I'm not saying Bo was a friend of the players, but a lot of guys who had problems took them to Bo to get them solved or just to talk about them. Not monumental problems or anything like that, but they felt very welcome and he was a guy who was always keeping you motivated from that standpoint."

Other members of the 1961 Ohio State football team, which earlier this season celebrated the 50th anniversary of being named national champions by the Football Writers Association of America, have similar recollections of a compassionate Schembechler in Columbus.

"I liked Bo. He was one of my better friends," said Bill Mrukowski, one of the quarterbacks of the '61 Buckeyes. "I liked him, I respected him. I hated that he went to Michigan, but he did."

Paul Warfield, a halfback at Ohio State who went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver, said he feels much the same way.

"Bo was a fun guy, but just as demanding as Coach Hayes," Warfield said. "He would not let you settle for anything less than your best. He was driving to make one be as good as he could be. I think all the players identified with him. I think all the players certainly liked him. He was a younger version of Woody, certainly, but he could really relate to the players."

There were times Schembechler gave hints of what type of head coach he would eventually be.

Halfback Darryl Tingley spoke fondly of Schembechler but also reported that he was not afraid to stand up for himself when the time came. He recalled a day Hayes was frustrated with Schembechler, whose duties included coaching the offensive line, because the tackles were struggling to pick up the line calls.

"Woody looked at Bo and said, ‘Bo, I'm gonna just kick your butt if they make another mistake,' " Tingley said. "And Bo looked at him and said, 'You ain't kicking my butt. I'm gonna kick your butt.' Woody just gave him a funny look back and that was it. None of the other coaches stood up to him."

Several players became friends with Schembechler after their playing days were over. Tingley helped transport Hayes from his home in Columbus to Dayton to introduce Schembechler at a speaking engagement the night before the former Ohio State mentor died in 1987. Schembechler passed away from heart failure five years ago this month, one day before Ohio State and Michigan were to clash as the top two teams in the country. He was scheduled to have lunch with Sanders that day.

"That's just kind of the things that we have from our teammates and we got from our coaches," Sanders said of playing for Hayes and Schembechler. "We just kept in touch and cared for each other."

Warfield worked as an NFL executive after his playing career and saw touches of both coaches when he traveled to the football facilities that bear their names.

"I've been to the University of Michigan a number of times representing the pro football organizations that I worked for and every time I walked into Schembechler Hall the environment was no different from atmosphere at the Woody Hayes complex," he said. "If you talk to Ohio State players at any position on offense or defense, they have fond memories of Bo, really respected him as a coach. But by the same token, if you talk to any University of Michigan players they revere and love him, so I understand it from their perspective."

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