The Wolverine

March 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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98 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2019 BY CHRIS BALAS T he late Bo Schembechler used to have the same response to anyone who asked him what he thought of his recruiting classes after they signed each February: "Ask me in four or five years." At that point, he noted, everyone would have seen the results on the field. But the legendary head coach (1969‑89) took several steps to make sure they all at least had a chance to be great for Michi‑ gan. He and his staff identified the top recruits in the country (though it was a bit harder back then minus the internet), but there was much more to it. Character meant just as much to him, and he'd often lean on his players to help him deter‑ mine whether or not a blue chipper would be a fit in his program. "I remember when we were fresh‑ men in the winter of 1988," former Michigan All‑Big Ten offensive line‑ man Doug Skene (1992) recalled. "We had a kid from Florida, the No. 1 of‑ fensive lineman in the country, visit‑ ing Michigan," Skene said. "We spent all weekend with this kid, me Joe Co‑ cozzo, Steve Everitt and most of the other linemen in our class. "We always had a tradition that on Sunday mornings, Coach Schem‑ bechler, Coach [Gary] Moeller and Coach [Jerry] Hanlon would ask us as players, 'What kind of guy is this kid?'" On that particular December morning, Skene remembered, they weren't quite sure what to say. They just weren't impressed. "We all said nothing and looked at each other," Skene recalled. "Bo knew immediately. He said, 'Say no more. … You've said enough. He's not a fit for Michigan.'" Schembechler sent him home without a scholarship, and the re‑ cruit ended up elsewhere. Five years later, the program was wrapping up a run of five straight Big Ten titles and drawing even more interest from the nation's best. There were so many, in fact, that Moeller, then the head coach, had a hard time turning some of them away (and didn't). Many of them thrived, but there were some that simply didn't fit. Four‑loss seasons followed Skene and Co.'s departure, and while there was plenty of blame to go around, there was the sense when Skene talked to some of his former team‑ mates that chemistry just wasn't what it had been. "That freshman class had some guys that let's just say took a much longer period of understanding they were part of a team; that they weren't the team," Skene said. "We had some challenges as seniors teaching them those lessons. Some of them fought that; some of them literally fought us. "In practice we used to get in fights all the time. They weren't fall‑ ing in line like we did when we were freshmen. We were told what to do and did it. That was the program." Part of that program, he recalled, was the message Schembechler had preached for 20‑plus years — "Win for Michigan" and "The Team, The Team, The Team." "He wanted guys that wanted to come play for Michi‑ gan," Skene said. "That's the way the program ran from 1969 all the way through the Lloyd Carr era and beyond, to some degree, with the coaches that followed Coach Carr. "There are guys there now under Coach [Jim] Harbaugh that are doing the same thing, and you can tell." But all of them, all the time? Maybe not. This year's Wolverines seemed to get great leadership from a lot of the upperclass‑ men, but two of four captains opted out of the Peach Bowl to train for the NFL Draft, and four players total chose not to play. That was as many as any team in any bowl game. While Ohio State players were talking about how they'd never miss the last game in Scarlet and Gray with their brothers and left it all on the field in a Rose Bowl win, U‑M got trounced by an average Florida team. It may sound harsh, but maybe that 62‑39 loss in Columbus makes a little more sense now. It's fine to talk about the NFL and let kids know they'll be well prepared with great connections for the next level at Michigan, but Har‑ baugh's message to them even in this era needs to be the same as Schem‑ bechler's was to him in the 1980s. "What always worked for Michi‑ gan, the entire basis of the Michi‑ gan program, is playing for team," Skene said. "This is not a stepping‑ stone to go to the NFL." There were plenty of them who did go, though, just by doing things the right way. It's a win‑win Skene and likely most who wore the uni‑ form hope will be sought out and vetted in future recruits. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS The Formula Remains The Same Legendary Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler put an emphasis on recruiting high-character players who fit into his "The Team, The Team, The Team" philosophy. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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