MLB mourns passing of Schembechler
Legendary Michigan coach and former Tigers president dies
DETROIT -- Former University of Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler, who went on to serve as Tigers president in the early 1990s, passed away Friday. He was 77.
Schembechler was a legendary coach at Michigan, where he compiled a 194-48-5 record from 1969-89. He was a seven-time Big Ten Coach of the Year who led the Wolverines to 10 Rose Bowl berths, including three in his final four seasons, and never suffered a losing record.
"Baseball is saddened today by the passing of Bo Schembechler," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Although Bo was best known as a college football coaching legend, he also served as President of the Detroit Tigers in the early 1990s and played an active and productive role in that capacity."He was a very good friend and I enjoyed his company immensely. I will miss him. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I offer my condolences to his family and friends." Once Schembechler retired from coaching after the 1989 season, he continued to serve as the university's athletics director before then-Tigers owner Tom Monaghan brought him on as team president in 1990, his only foray into professional sports. It was an opportunity for Schembechler, an avid baseball fan and high school pitching standout, to follow another of his passions.
He earned early infamy that year with the decision to let go of Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell. Though Schembechler continued to accept responsibility for the move in the wake of widespread criticism, the decision was later traced to radio station WJR and other officials. Justifiably or not, it would go down as the defining moment of Schembechler's Tigers tenure.
"He's a front and center guy, but we know there's a lot more to it," former Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell said. "He was the fall guy. It wasn't him. Unfortunately, people are going to remember he was the fall guy."
Schembechler's less publicized legacy with the organization was his focus on player development. He was the guiding force behind adding conditioning coaches and weight rooms in the organization's Minor League facilities, a reflection of his football background and a sign of baseball's focus toward conditioning. He also brought on Russ Miller, his former athletic trainer at Michigan, to serve in the same role with the Tigers, where Miller worked for more than a decade. In addition, Schembechler hired the Tigers' first coach dedicated to strength and conditioning.
Those are the feats that Trammell hopes baseball fans remember about his former boss.
"People have it all wrong," Trammell said Friday. "If he had been given the time, he could've gotten the job done. I really believe that. Some of the things he was responsible for as far as changing the direction of the club, the facilities in Lakeland, the weight training, getting into the new ages, we had a hard time doing that for a long time, and Bo was able to get things done. Nobody could've changed things in two years, but given more time, he could've gotten it done. His connections, his passion, he could've done it."
Schembechler worked for the Tigers until their sale from Monaghan to Mike Ilitch. He settled into retired life after that, though he occasionally visited the team. He visited the Tigers clubhouse in recent years and said hello to then-manager Trammell.
"When you played for him or you knew him, it meant a lot," Trammell said. "It's a big loss, not only for Michigan fans."
According to numerous reports, Schembechler fell ill and collapsed during the taping of a television show in suburban Detroit on Friday morning, the day before the annual battle between Michigan and Ohio State. He was taken by ambulance to Providence Hospital.
It was the second time in as many months that he had collapsed. He was also hospitalized after the first episode, prompting doctors to implant a device to regulate his heartbeat.
"We join with others in offering our condolences to the Schembechler family and the University of Michigan on the untimely passing of Bo," owner Mike Ilitch said in a statement. "Bo was an outstanding man, a true leader who understood the importance of discipline, motivation, pride and most importantly, teamwork.
"There can be no doubt of his love for the University of Michigan and the young student-athletes he coached and inspired through the years. He was a champion who proudly represented the Detroit Tigers, the University of Michigan and our state. He will be missed in our community."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.