Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Schembechler Transition

In 1968 Michigan’s football team finished the regular season 8-2 overall and 6-1 in conference. It was a rebound year for the Wolverines after a 4-6 finish in 1967.

The Wolverines started and ended the 1968 campaign on similar down notes, losing to California 7-21 in Ann Arbor for the season opener, and then getting utterly humiliated by a powerful Ohio State team in Columbus 50-14 in the final game. Of course, this was the infamous OSU-Michigan contest where Buckeye head coach Woody Hayes answered a post game interview question as to why Ohio State went for a 2 point conversion after a late touchdown score with the game already well out of reach.

Woody’s flippant response?

“Because I couldn’t go for three!”

And with those words the fires of rivalry hatred were successfully stoked for another 100 years.

At the conclusion of the 1968 season Michigan coach Bump Elliott retired to become the associate director of athletics at Michigan between 1969 and 1970. Bo Schembechler, an unknown football coach at the time from Miami (Ohio) with no historical ties to Michigan, had been hired by Michigan Athletic Director, Don Canham, to take over for Elliott as head coach of the Wolverines in 1969. Schembechler played for two extremely different coaches in his own career at Miami (OH): Sid Gilman, the inventor of the West Coast passing offense and Woody Hayes, a militaristic-style disciplinarian and proponent of “three yards and a cloud of dust”, i.e. unapologetic smash mouth football.

Clearly, Schembechler had been most impressed by Hayes’s approach.

At Michigan, Schembechler introduced his own merciless approach, coaching his players through in-your-face confrontation, an explosive temper, and rigorous conditioning. Bo demanded nothing short of perfection from his players in the fundamentals of the game, particularly blocking, tackling and hustling to the football on every play.

There have been many different accounts of what exactly happened during the change over from Bump Elliott’s system to Bo Schembechler’s system. Schembechler’s first spring camp in 1969 was apparently so physically strenuous and mentally exhausting compared to Elliott’s, that out of 140 players who entered spring camp, only 70+ remained standing at the end.

In 1968, Michigan had 143 players on the roster. 22 players graduated in 1968, leaving 121 players from 1968 available to return to the 1969 Wolverine roster, plus Bo’s own incoming freshmen. I’ve analyzed the 1968 roster, subtracted the seniors and counted up those 1968 players with eligibility that were “missing” from the 1969 roster. This would tell us how many players in total “defected” during the 1969 Spring Camp that Schembechler hosted and perhaps some from fall practice.

My count showed only 37 players left the team between 1968 and 1969. This is pretty much half of what circulating legends have implied. I received many critical comments about my analysis of attrition under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia (and rightly so) because I included walkons in the analysis. I probably should have centered most of the attention on actual starters (typically scholarship players). It’s difficult to determine who was a walk on and who was on scholarship back in 2001-2002, let alone during the Lyndon Johnson Administration.

I think it it safe to assume that “no walkons became starters at Michigan in 1968 and 1969”. With that assumption, for the 1968-1969 transition to the Schembechler system, I found zero player defections in terms of 1st team and 2nd team starters for both years. Players with eligibility that started for Elliott in 1968, or were in the two deep in 1968, stayed on the team in 1969 to play for Schembechler and/or made the two deep depth chart.

What’s interesting about this finding is that no matter how hellish Schembechler’s practice and coaching methods may have been, a good number of players stayed. Furthermore, there were no career- or season-ending injuries in spring or fall practice in 1969, a la Cory Zirbel, or Terrance Robinson.

Players in bold graduated in 1968.

1968 Offense

Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
QBDennis Brown22Sr.Brian Healy24Jr.
FBGarvie Craw48Jr.Bob Wedge38Sr.
TBRon Johnson40Sr.Tom Curtis25Jr.
TBJohn Gabler18Jr.George Hoey12Sr.
TEJim Mandich88Jr.Mike Hankwitz81Jr.
TEJerry Imsland86Jr.William Harris80Jr.
OTBob Penska76Sr.Tom Goss65Sr.
OGRich Caldarazzo56JrTom Stincic90Sr.
CDavid Denzin52Sr.Jerry Miklos94Sr.
OGStanley Broadnax61Sr.Lance Scheffler45So.
OTDan Dierdorf72So.Daniel Parks74So.
1968 Defense

Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
DEPhil Seymour91Jr.

DTTom Goss65Sr.

NTHenry Hill39So.Jerry Miklos94Sr.
DTDaniel Parks74So.

DECecil Pryor55Jr.Jon Kramer84Sr.
LBTom Stincic90Sr.

LBEd Moore97So.

CBBrian Healy24Jr.Jerry Hartman26Sr.
STom Curtis25Jr.

SBob Wedge38Sr.

CBGeorge Hoey12Sr.

1969 Offense
Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
QBDon Moorhead27Jr.
FBGarvie Craw48Sr.John Gabler18Sr.
TBGlenn Doughty22So.Billy Taylor42So.
TBBryan Healy24Sr.Preston Henry44So.
TEJim Mandich88Sr.Mike Keller90So.
TEWilliam Harris80Sr.Paul Staroba30Jr.
OTJack Harpring71Jr.Fred Grambau92So.
OGRichard Caldarazzo56Sr.Al Carpenter94So.
CGuy Murdock53So.Peter Newell82Jr.
OGBob Baumgartner60Sr.Henry Hill39Sr.
OTDan Dierdorf72Jr.Marty Huff70Jr.
1969 Defense
Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
DEMike Keller90So.
DTFred Grambau92So.
NTHenry Hill39Sr.
DTPeter Newell82Jr.
DECecil Pryor55Sr.
LBMary Huff70Jr.
LBEd Moore97Jr.Mike Taylor33So.
CBBarry Pierson29Sr.
STom Darden35So.Frank Gusich14So.
STom Curtis25Sr.
CBBrian Healy24Sr.

Bo brought in a hard-nosed approach that probably shocked many of the 1968 players. However, most of the veteran, scholarship players stuck it out. Bo was fortunate not to have lost many players to injury during the transition. Michigan was 3-2 at one point in 1969 preparing to play Minnesota, a team that won share of the Big Ten in 1967. The Gophers possessed Little Brown Jug from the 20-15 win over UM a year earlier. Under Schembechler the Michigan team decked the Gophers 35-9. I’m not saying that was THE turning point, but following the road loss to Michigan State one week earlier, one can imagine the Wolverine team finally starting to believe in this new Bo character after such a decisive win.

Perhaps it is ridiculous to think we can compare 1968-1969 with 2008-2009. College football has changed in so many ways over 40 years time, not all of them good. I suspect that the biggest differences have been the amount of sensationalist media coverage of college football, and the amount of money that has saturated the sport. The glorification of high school athletes and college football recruits, and the multi-million dollar salaries of the head football coaches would probably have appear rather strange to Bo and his contemporaries back in 1969.

Rodriguez isn’t exactly running a country club at Michigan either. Including injuries, medical leaves and players transfers, Rich Rodriguez is approaching year 2 at Michigan. Two of the fourteen were injury related, which leaves the remaining 12 for “other reasons”. All 14 were scholarship players.

So should Michigan fans be worried?

The time to start worrying is whenever Rich Rodriguez’s own 2008 and 2009 crop of scholarship recruits would begin heading for the exits.


MGoDan said...

what were the transfer rules back in 1968? I know that FR were ineligible so the RS situation was also different.

this is in addition to the increased attention HS students receive these days and the sense of entitlement that seems to have developed among kids since the 60s.

Don said...

There's one critical difference between Bo's and RR's first years. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that Bo brought about the fundamental and radical change in offensive approach that RR did. In particular, there's far more specialization on both sides of the ball today than there was back then, which means that guys like Ryan Mallett or Toney Clemons or Dann O'Neill leave ostensibly because RR's new offense doesn't fit their skills, whereas I strongly doubt whether anybody left Michigan because Bo's offensive or defensive system "wasn't the right fit for them." Rather, guys left Michigan because BO (and his approach to practice and conditioning) wasn't the right fit for them. Sure, the same reasons I suspect are also behind players leaving like Wermers and Boren, but system reasons are also prominent.

Anonymous said...

I think this article proved that with the consistency of the two deep in Bo's transition, the best players stayed. Bo said himself that they didn't lose a single player that was going to make a difference with his team. Which means they started winning with the same players they had. So all they needed was a good coach (with all due respect to Bump)

Under RR, I believe if they felt that they could cut it they would have stayed.

Vince Lombardi said, football is simply blocking and tackling. I take that to mean, it doesn't matter what system you're in, you have to do the basic fundamentals. Michigan's defense was creamed last year because they couldn't tackle. Plus other reasons.

Some of these kids come in from a high school that doesn't demand what they're being asked to do here. Plus for the first time, they're on a team with other athletes that are as good or better than they are. The competition is tougher, and when they struggle they leave.

Finally, we know that even scholarship players leave for reasons that are beyond the coach. Medical, academic failure, disciplinary, declaring for the NFL draft, problems with the law, family problems, mental health issues, etc.

Good article.

Don said...

I watched a portion of the replay of last year's game against Purdue on the B10 network (why in god's name they chose that one I'll never know...), and the tackling was absolutely pitiful. In fact, you couldn't even call much of what we were doing "tackling," since "tackling" involves using your arms and hands to grab the opponent. Time after time after time, I saw our defensive guys simply slamming into the ball carrier with absolutely no attempt to wrap him up. I think most high school players exhibit better technique.