Finding Don Canham
For those of you too young to remember, Bump Elliott( all-American- Rose Bowl hero as a player and head coach) coached the Wolverines from 1959-1968 ( 51-42-2). In Bump’s final coaching season his team had an 8-2 record. His second loss, the last game of the season was to Woody Hayes’ Ohio State team. The final score was 50 to 14.
In that same 1968 year, Don Canham was appointed AD. Canham served in that capacity until 1988. Canham was an All American winning the NCAA title in high jump in 1940 and was the Big Ten champ in 1940 and 1941. This All-American track star was appointed head track and field coach in 1950, and he held that position until 1968. His teams had a 52-13-2 record during his tenure. His track and field teams won 12 Big Ten, conference championships-seven indoor and five outdoor. During his illustrious coaching career, Canham was able to accomplish this dominance, in large part because of his recruiting multiracial talent and bringing them to Michigan.
His A.D. leadership was unequaled and Don became the model for athletic directors all over the country. For instance, he was able to market and sell products bearing the name and/or logo of the University of Michigan. Not only that, he addressed the dwindling attendance at the Michigan Stadium and in the process set records nationwide selling more than 100,000 tickets for every home football game. Renewing the rivalry with Notre Dame helped heighten interest in Michigan football. Oh yeah, the football team dominated and had tremendous records as well, which helped fill the stadium. After Don Canham retired in 1988, the Donald B. Canham Natatorium began hosting Michigan’s water polo, diving, and swimming teams.
Returning to 1968, Don Canham released Coach Bump Elliott, as head coach even though his team won eight games and lost just two. How this could newly appointed athletic director release Bump one of the most respected Michigan man from his duties? Everyone and I mean everyone perceived Bump Elliott as a gentleman, a scholar and a Michigan man to say the least. Well, Canham did just that.
Canham, then sought out Bo Schembechler. Although the press didn’t know much about Bo, Canham knew that Bo was part of the Woody Hayes coaching tree that also included Ara Parseghian. Just think about that for a moment. Bo, Woody and Ara are among the best college coaches of all time. A.D. Don Canham also knew that Bo had no trouble recruiting, teaching and relating to multiracial athletes. In fact, Bo’s players remembered him saying (during the turbulent 60s and 70s) you’re not white, you’re not red, you’re not blue, you are Michigan. The truth is that it just took Canham 15 minutes of interviewing Bo at a restaurant to realize that he was the right person for this most prestigious job.
So for me it’s very clear that Michigan’s football problems began in 2007 when Lloyd Carr retired as its head coach. Since then there have been three questionable athletic directors. If Michigan wants to have a good football program, start with the athletic director. Find him and you’ll find the right coach for this historic program. It’s unfortunate that Canham passed away at the age of 87 on May 3, 2005. We could use his brilliance right now.