Bo finds it tough to quit cold turkey

September 27, 1990|By Don Markus

This is the autumn of Bo Schembechler's discontent.

It's not that Schembechler's former football team at the University of Michigan started the season with a loss to Notre Dame. It's not that the Detroit Tigers, of which Schembechler is president, are out of the pennant race in the American League East.

It's that, for the first time in more than 35 years, Schembechler is not coaching.

"I didn't think it would be this tough," says the man who retired from coaching last December and later left his athletic director's job to join the Tigers. "I've talked with Ara [Parseghian, former Notre Dame coach] and some other guys who got out before they really wanted to, and they said that the first year is always the hardest."

But there are some positive aspects of Schembechler's new life, which he spends with his wife, Millie, at their home in Ann Arbor, Mich. "I don't get bugged as much," said Schembechler, who left college coaching with 234 victories, 194 of them in 21 seasons at Michigan. "I'm just another resident."

Not quite. Schembechler's celebrity status, nearly to the point of idolatry around the Michigan campus, makes it impossible for him to enjoy a Wolverines home game in person. He stayed home last week and watched Michigan's victory over UCLA on television. He will not have the same luxury for Saturday's game against Maryland, which isn't being televised locally.

"I might have to go," he said.

Schembechler said the initial adjustment to a new sport and new job wasn't difficult and that the years he served on the Tigers' board of directors helped make the transition easier. Though he had no control over the team's play, another losing season in Detroit eventually began to wear on him.

"With the exception of our home-run hitter, we've had a tough year," said Schembechler, referring to another local folk hero, Cecil Fielder. "But baseball is a different game. You can't make radical changes. You may want to move some guys, but they may not want to move. We could go after some free agents, but the best way is to build. And that's going to take more time."

Schembechler, 60, says that he hopes to remain with the Tigers for another 10 years before retiring for good. Then again, he never has been a retiring sort. He quit coaching only after his doctors convinced him that another heart attack (he had had two) probably would kill him. He left the athletic director's job because he didn't want to be accused of looking over the shoulder of his successor, Gary Moeller.

And going to Michigan football games, just to watch, is not what Schembechler considers great fun. "It's tough getting in and out," he says. "It's not like going in and watching like the average fan does."

Or even the average ex-coach.

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