Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thom Darden Versus Today's Football Player

In some ways, I pity young athletes like him. Some might question that statement after all,  these young athletes have  been pursued by all these coaches, and told how great they are ;  because they are ranked and  considered a Four or Five Star prospect. I wonder how special these athletes have been treated by various high school coach or coaches in youth football. As a matter fact, how about the parents of these young athletes, how did they rear their obviously talented, athletic sons?

These football mates of today might’ve been told that they could become or achieve anything that they desired. They might’ve been given special or relaxed discipline because they were favorites. And likely such things as school might’ve been made easier for these athletes like the academic side of school. So, growing up with parents, whose focus is on eliminating conflict or potential conflict, these athletic types may have been raised in a protective cocoon with not having to deal with life’s insecurities or failures. Their parents may have been helicopter parents and hovered over these kids and protected them in the process. Maybe they weren’t given many responsibilities like cleaning their room or taking a job. And, If that’s the case, then this bunch is more than likely extremely narcissistic and believe they are the center of the universe.

Further, if they are extremely narcissistic, then they likely believe that they are entitled, privileged and part of the chosen. This would translate into being so self-centered, that it would be difficult for many to become good teammates, as well as caring about others. If a player has difficulty being a good teammate, the world will not be there’s as their large head will not fit in their small football helmet. Not only that, the media has helped to diminish a sense of insecurity-anxiety and instead instilled a false sense of security in these young kids. They will find out about this at this next level; there will be somebody stronger, tougher and faster than them. In any event, I hope that I’m wrong about the character of many of these young men. I hope that this particular athlete enrolls at the University of Michigan, leaves his narcissism at the door, learns from Jim Harbaugh and becomes a team player. If that’s the case, he will become internally proud and develop a good sense of self. Then, we will all admire him.

A good comparison can be made of today’s young athletes contrasting that with Michigan’s Thom Darden. Darden was an All-American at the University of Michigan; was an all Pro with the Cleveland Browns; and holds the Browns record for single season and career interceptions. How did it begin for Thom Darden?

Thomas Vincent Darden first experienced notoriety as a skinny, seven-year-old southpaw in the projects of Sandusky, Ohio. At that young age, Thomas was a left-handed pitcher in the Adam baseball league. The story goes, that this southpaw was the best hitter on the team as well. He was scheduled to pitch an important playoff game when a most unlikely event occurred. A pesky mosquito bit him on his pitching hand. That bike not only hurt, but in the process, his hand swelled up so much that it was impossible for him to grip and throw the ball with any accuracy or velocity.

To make a long story short, Thomas told the coach, he could pitch with his right hand. The coach allowed him to pitch the important game and his team won. News spread fast, and he was a celebrity, even being interviewed by a reporter from the Elyria Chronicle, some 30 miles away from Sandusky. All right, did Darden get a big head, so that his baseball hat would not fit on his head?  Are you kidding, Thomas’s father, would not allow that in any way. The senior Mr. Darden made sure that Thom didn’t get a big head, and he learned about hard work and not taking shortcuts. His father taught him about pitching and about growing up, based on what you accomplish. His parents were not permissive, and you might say instilled” Tough Love.”

When Thomas enrolled at the University Michigan, he weighed approximately173 pounds and had a slight amount of insecurity about his ability to play at the Big House. In the spring of 1969, with coach Schembechler, Thom, excelled and at one, early in the year practice, tackled the running back behind the line of scrimmage. From that point on, young Darden knew he could play on the stage. And as a sophomore, coach Bo Schembechler made him his first “Wolfman” the hybrid position of linebacker [Being able to tackle like a linebacker] and defensive back [Being able to cover and intercept passes like a cornerback or safety].

This outstanding athlete did not allow his narcissism to get in the way of his character. That didn’t mean that it was easy or that anyone removed obstacles or sugarcoated things for him. He dealt with those issues as a superstar, All-American at the University of Michigan, and as an All-Pro athlete with the Cleveland Browns. He learned and dealt about adjusting to life and dealing with his issues successfully after the game-or should I say after the business of professional football ended.

Read more about him in “Bo’s Warriors-Bo Schembechler and the Transformation of Michigan Football” or better yet meet him in person at our book signing at Sesi Motors in Ann Arbor from 6-8 pm on September 17, 2015.

Go Blue Go!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Is Jim Harbaugh, Perfect?

The “game” of football is alive and well. Ohio State reportedly had some 99,000 of its fans attend its spring game in Columbus, surpassing the 80,000 or so who watched Nick Sabin’s Alabama Tides spring game. By comparison, Michigan had maybe 50 to 60,000 fans watching Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines in their spring game, in Ann Arbor. As far as professional football, the upcoming NFL draft has the various sports stations and blogs buzzing about the pros and cons of the various college players expected to make a splash at this next level. Not only that, but Tim Tebow’s recent signing by the Philadelphia Eagles created much excitement for all the many Eagles fans.

There are also articles related to Jim Harbaugh’s coaching of the San Francisco 49ers. And, Harbaugh’s going to be on HBO to talk about his leaving the San Francisco 49ers in December, 2014. This past week, San Francisco defensive lineman Alex Boone talked about Harbaugh wearing out his welcome with the 49ers. While Chris Culliver who spent four seasons with the Niners before signing with the Redskins came to his rescue by saying he was a good coach and that players shouldn’t criticize him after that fact. He went on to say that you may not like Harbaugh, but you have to respect him for what he accomplished while with the Niners.

There are some who think that Jim Harbaugh is more suited to coach the college game compared to the Pro game. Well it’s true that Harbaugh had great success at the University of San Diego and Stanford and is also true that he had great success with the 49ers. His college tenure was longer with his two college teams than, with his one pro team. Also, some are concerned that his personality may get in the way of his coaching.

It is clear that in today’s football world, competition runs high. Regardless of the level, a coach’s longevity is related to its won and loss record period. Coaches character, getting along with management and media, and filling up the Stadium might not get him fired but will not get him a long-term contract extension.

Going back to 1968, the University of Michigan’s Bump Elliott was described as being dapper, well dressed, extremely articulate, pleasantly personable and extremely knowledgeable about the sport of football. Elliott was a handsome man that lettered [12] in football, basketball and baseball. He propelled the Wolverines to a 49-0 Rose Bowl victory in 1948; became Michigan’s head coach in 1959, and coached the Wolverines to a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon State University in 1965. Not only that his 1968 team had an eight win and two loss record. However, the second loss was to Ohio State by the score of 50-14. Simply put, that loss was the straw that broke the camel’s back and resulted in the Elliott firing. Some might question, what does this have to do with Jim Harbaugh?

Coach Elliott’s replacement was Bo Schembechler. Schembechler’s character was described as narcissistic, authoritarian, controlling, competitive, intense, angry, poor impulse control, excessive aggression on the practice field and on the playing field. Coach Schembechler also had the pleasure of inculcating and beating down, a young quarterback with the name of Jim Harbaugh in the 1980s. Actually, Harbaugh as a preteen [Jim’s father Jack was hired by Bo and coached the defensive backfield] witnessed Bo Schembechler verbally and physically getting on his Wolverine squad, while running after errant footballs. Bo Schembechler did not fear anyone at the University of Michigan, as evidenced by his interactions with the presidents of the University. Anyone becoming president at the University quickly realized how powerful the head coach was. However, the current head coach at the University Michigan is under the leadership of the president. With that being the case, coach Harbaugh is not have the same latitude and power as coach Schembechler.

Jim Harbaugh’s character can easily be described as narcissistic, authoritarian, controlling, competitive and intense In no uncertain terms on the field. He rules, he knows the game, and he knows what he wants. Will he rub the wrong people in unflattering ways- more than likely? Will he be criticized-more than likely? Will his tenure be as long as Bo Schembechler’s- possibly not? And will he have a statue positioned in front of a hall named after him- possibly not?

Jim Harbaugh has all the character qualities that make him a winning football coach at the top level. He is smart, football knowledgeable and demands excellence. However, there is no certainty or guarantee, even if he does have character traits like Bo Schembechler that Jim Harbaugh can be as successful as Bo. The only guarantees in life is that we are born and we will die.

 Any recruit joining Coach Jim Harbaugh can expect not to be pampered, receive unconditional love and to be held accountable to Jim’s standards. No crybabies or whiners apply. One better have a thick skin and hold their narcissism in check because if they’re looking just to be praised and admired, they better play the game like the superstars [Reggie McKenzie, Thom Darden, Tom Curtis, Dan Dierdorf, etc.] of years past.

Coach Urban Meyer has a national championship team looking to repeat and so he has a head start. I believe you can catch him Jim and hopefully this year. Remember, it is not guaranteed.

Go Blue Go!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tom Curtis and Jim Mandich are Bo's Warriors

Then, in Tom’s sophomore year he was switched to the defensive backfield while Jim continued to play with the offense. As it turned out, one could argue that Tom’s position change worked out splendidly for him. In fact, Tom became the all-time interception leader for the Maize and Blue [He has more interceptions, 25 than Heisman winner Charles Woodson 18]. The All-American and College Football Hall of Fame Tom was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 14th round [Tom indicated that because he partied while at the College All-Star Hula Bowl game in Hawaii, he didn’t run the 40 yard dash, for the work out with the pros, which resulted in his being a late round draft pick].

Things went well for Jim, as well. Jim became a captain on offense for the Wolverines [Reggie McKenzie still remembers team Captain Jim standing in the tunnel ,prior to Michigan’s historic battle with Ohio State in 1969 , facing his teammates with both fists shaking,  raised , spittle drooling from his mouth speaking- shouting unintelligible words with passion]. That memory is etched in stone in Reggie McKenzie’s cerebral cortex. The All-American   College Football Hall of Fame Jim was the most valuable player on the 1969 Michigan team and was a second round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins.

Some would say that Tom and Jim were inseparable at the University Michigan, in that they were teammates, roommates, and played on the same intramural basketball team. Incidentally, their intramural squad won the championship on an independent team [Their team beat teams that had a few of the Michigan varsity basketball players on them]. Their friendship became solidified during their four year stay in Ann Arbor.

Baltimore head coach Don Shula’s team, in fact, won Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in Tom’s first year as a player. Unfortunately, Tom was injured during the season and did not play in that classic Super Bowl. Although he received a Super Bowl ring, he was upset by not being able to play in the game. He was released by the Colts and then picked up by the Miami Dolphins who were now coached by his former head coach Don Shula. Then, the Miami Dolphins in the 1973 Super Bowl V11 defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7. Again, Tom was injured and again, he received a second Super Bowl ring although he was disappointed by not playing.

Jim and Tom again became competitors and rivals as they played in an NFL exhibition game with Tom’s Colts against Jim’s Dolphins. In this game, Jim was on the kickoff team, and Tom was on the kick receiving team. He told me that Mad Dog Jim was running down the field towards him, yelling and screaming wanting to knock him not only out of the field of play, but out of the Stadium. Smart Tom did a matador “Ole” and thus averted a massive collision with his buddy. Then, in the AFC 1971 championship game between the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, the Miami team prevailed 21 – 0. With that win, Miami headed to the Super Bowl, held in New Orleans that year. Tom hung out with his good friend Jim, in the Big Easy. And when the AFC champions Miami Dolphins traveled on the bus to meet the Cowboys, Jim invited Tom to accompany him on the team bus. That would not happen today. Both friends roomed in Miami and remained friends during their Florida years.

 Unfortunately, Jim Mandich   passed away from cancer on April 11, 2011 in Miami Lakes, Florida at the age of 62. Of course, Tom Curtis was a speaker. Other teammates like Nick Buoniconti, Bob Griese and Coach Don Shula attended the service. At that particular service Jim was added to the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll. These exceptional athletes- friends, excelled both on the field and off; and it goes to show you that heated rivals can take negative passion and turn it into a positive passion. Just think how fortunate they were.

Go Blue Go!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Can Jim Harbaugh Bring Happiness to Ann Arbor?

Research focusing on long-term happiness has become popular; especially the work of Dr. Martin Seligman. To Illustrate, some of the ideas from his “happiness” research are as follows: 1. Most people can be happy, but it takes work to focus on the positive emotions and behavior that make a good life. 2. Most people are resilient and can survive the bad things that happen to them. 3. Money plateaus as a factor in happiness and making money makes an ever diminishing contribution to subjective well-being, but money can buy happiness if it was spent on other people. 4. Happiness is a cause of good things in life. People, people who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reason to be satisfied, because happiness leads to desirable outcomes at school, work, or fulfilling social relationships, and both good health and long life. 5. Happiness is not the result of luck.

And, viewing happiness from another point of view, Dr. Dan Baker has written about a list of things that happy people don’t do. For example, some of his “don’t do’s” include the following: 1. Happy people don’t blame other people for their problems [Was it Brady Hooke’s fault for Michigan’s poor 2014 season?] 2. Happy people don’t overreact to the present moment. [Was it awful that Shane Morris was put back into the Minnesota game after his concussion?]. 3. Happy people don’t focus on a single passion or relationship. [This suggests that it is better to have more than the University of Michigan football in your life]. 4. Happy people don’t dwell on past failures. [In the last 10 years, Michigan hasn’t played well against Ohio State-that’s not your problem] and 5. Happy people don’t spend more time than necessary around unhappy people [This does not mean you should spend more time with Ohio State Buckeyes alumni-or maybe you should but only if they are they are happy individuals

From these ideas, it obviously takes more to create a state of a happiness than being a recipient to the winning of a football game or football games. In other words, the idea of developing happiness has more to do with one’s overt behavior, participating, creating and in being productive and active as opposed to being a mere passive receptor  at a sporting event. It means taking control over things that one can control like oneself. Certainly, wishing, or wanting the Wolverines to score that touchdown are simply thoughts; but we have absolutely no control over the outcome, even if we yell, scream, or stamp our feet.

In fact, some research has shown that while watching “the game” we may be prone to eat and drink more unhealthy foods and even get into automobile accidents when our team loses. But there’s no research that I’ve come upon that suggests that when our team wins that in turn results and changes the overall satisfaction with our life. Of course, the immediate joy of an upset victory over the rival is passively experienced, but it doesn’t seem to last although the pleasant memory might. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t support the Wolverines or any other sporting team.
What it does mean, is that it is significant to find and perform activities in your life that give special meaning, and that includes in creating good social relationships. To watch a game with friends is fun and joyful since you can banter back and forth about the good plays and the bad plays that happen during the game. And, it is important to remember, that happiness is not the result of luck, as it certainly could be in the outcome of the game; but instead in pursuing positive thinking and behaviors about your life experiences during your lifetime.

So, Jim Harbaugh, bring happiness to your life and to your young warriors. Because it is through your involvement, with teaching, learning, practicing and playing those games on Saturday that you can set the foundation or framework for present and future happiness in those that you encounter. Winning and more importantly, instilling a sense of teamwork, kinship and the importance of being part of a team are important for developing a foundation for an emotional state of happiness.

Go Blue Go!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bo's Warriors and Reggie McKenzie

One could say that Reggie had an edge, imprinted right from the start. He didn’t expect much, and realized early that he had to count and take responsibility for himself. He delivered the Detroit Free Press and the Highland Parker newspapers from the age of 12, through high school. In fact, at the young age of 16 he also misled an employer about his age during a labor strike in Detroit and got hired for a limited time working with the John F. Ivory Moving Company. For him to have more than one job at a time, was not unusual.

As a ninth grader, he went out for freshman football, and played defensive end an offensive tackle. In the 10th grade, Reggie moved up and played on the reserve football team at both positions. He realized that in order to become more proficient and dominant, he had to improve physically by becoming stronger and a faster runner. So, to get physically stronger, he became good friends with his neighbor who lifted weights, and played football. This neighbor also had a bad ass reputation in the neighborhood. Reggie’s friend Oliver, taught him about weightlifting and the various exercises required to increase brute strength and power. And it worked. To become more fleet of foot, Reggie went out for the track and field team. He threw the shot put and ran track. That track experience served him well because he learned how to run on his toes, while the same time, pumping his arms. With this new running form, he became faster and accomplished his goal.

Reggie was described by position coach Gary Moeller as being somewhat uncoordinated, but worked his tail to become  proficient, to excel and to dominate. Yes, Coach Bo Schembechler got on him, and Reggie nearly quit the team but with the help of one of his “Mellow Men” teammates and an older sister, he did not quit the team. In fact, this Wolverine became All-American; became  the second round pick or 27th pick overall by the Buffalo Bills; selected a first team All NFL player; and was inducted into both the College  Football Hall of Fame and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

Most notably, while with the Buffalo Bills, Reggie McKenzie started what was called the Electric Company. This referred to the offensive line that paved the way for OJ Simpson to become the NFL’s first 2000 yard rusher. One might say, that it wasn’t for Reggie, OJ would not have that football notoriety and distinction.

After Reggie’s senior year in 1971, Coach Schembechler invited Reggie to play in a college All-Star game coached by Bo and Alabama’s Bear Bryant. Reggie refused by telling coach, he had a previous commitment but under his breath said to himself “I’m through with him.” At that point. Reggie didn’t want any more to do with Coach Schembechler. However, a few years later, Reggie’s heart softened and he approached his former coach and told him about his intention of starting a foundation.

At this juncture, his relationship with coach Schembechler took on a different meaning. The coach worked with Reggie by providing football materials, showing up at his banquets and fundraising, as well as demonstrating his support for Reggie’s project in many ways. This proud, large and exceptional athlete with the now softened heart learned to love his coach as he knew that his coach loved him as well. Although Coach Schembechler died, the Reggie McKenzie Foundation continues to be alive. Relationships do change as all it takes is for one’s heart to soften.

Go Blue Go!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Can Jim Harbaugh Become the Next Legend?

Although nothing definitive can be said about Harbaugh’s 2015 team, there were a few trends from that spring football game. Remember, Harbaugh was hired in late December and missed out on early recruiting. Of course it didn’t help that Michigan had a terribly poor season and the speculation that Coach Brady Hoke was going to be fired. As a result, Michigan lost the early opportunity in the recruiting game. However, Coach Harbaugh quickly hired a terrific coaching staff and is well on his way as far as recruiting for the 2016 season. So far, he’s done an admirable job with many exceptional recruits expected to arrive in Ann Arbor for the 2016 season.

Back to the spring game, where the defensive players from both squads excelled. As far as offense, there was only one touchdown scored. In fact, Shane Morris, according to Harbaugh, has the lead as far as quarterbacks, although that could change. Shane Morris played limited last year behind Devin Gardner and was the focus of controversy when he suffered a concussion in the Minnesota game in 2014. He was put back into the game prematurely, and Coach Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon came under fire. One of the main problems last year was the pitiful offensive showing of the Wolverines. They simply turned the ball over too many times to the opposing team. So it’s not surprising, that a major problem could well be with the offensive production for this football season. It is true that a heralded freshman, a redshirt and a two-year starter transfer from the University of Iowa may help to solidify the quarterback position. We do know there’ll be competition, which is a good thing. Having passing coordinator/quarterbacks/wide receivers position coach, Jedd Fisch coupled with coach Harbaugh’s experience and expertise, suggests that this position might be a position of strength-perhaps this year.

For the offense to work, offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Tim Drevno will have his work cut out for him. It’s plain and simple that for the offense to score points and control the ball, it’s imperative for that offensive line to work effectively and efficiently. That means that running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley and tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh also will be part of the mix in developing players to implement the Pro style attack of the Wolverines. Good luck coaches.

The defensive side of the ball should be the Wolverines strength. Along with the knowledge  of special teams coach John Baxter; defensive  coordinator and linebackers coach D. J. Durkin; defensive line coach Greg Mattison; and defensive backs coach Greg Jackson and safeties coach Mike Zordich that Maize and Blue defense is more than likely going to excel.

 Flashing back to late 1968, Bo Schembechler was hired as Michigan’s head coach. Bo replaced Bump Elliott.  Even though Coach Bump Elliott’s overall record was eight wins and two losses in 1968; and further that Bump recruited an outstanding group of freshman that included Frank Gusich, Thom Darden, Jim Brandstatter, Mike Keller, Jim Betts, Reggie McKenzie and others. Coach Schembechler’s 1969 team didn’t come together until the second half of the sixth game of that season. Going into that game against the University of Minnesota, Schembechler’s Wolverines had three wins and two losses and they were behind at the half in that Minnesota game. They went on to win that game and won 23 of the next 24 regular-season games. With Bo they simply dominated their opponents.

Schembechler’s group of talented and exceptional athletes came together, as a team, during that game, as was evidenced by their success for the rest of the season and the seasons to come. In fact, Schembechler enhanced his player’s needs of competitiveness, achievement, affiliation, aggression, dominance and order, in part, by his spirited practices and his authoritarian personality. Not only did his players know that their coach didn’t play favorites and he treated everyone like dogs(his words), they began to repress their negative feelings toward him, and in the process created new mindsets and new ways of thinking about themselves, about their ability, about their coach and about the team. The rest was history and the legendary status of Schembechler created.

Don’t forget that Coach Harbaugh played under the legend Schembechler and as a result has incorporated many of his teachings. His success as a player; as a college coach, and as a coach in the NFL is well documented. I don’t believe that Coach Harbaugh can achieve the same amount of success as Schembechler did in such a short time, but he will be successful. Will the Wolverines be ranked in the top 25 and will they receive a bowl bid in 2015 is to be determined? But it’s safe to say, that I predict that it will happen when Coach Jim Harbaugh has successfully molded those University of Michigan football athletes into a cohesive team.

Go Blue Go!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bo's Warriors and Fritz Seyferth

Mohammed Ali is certainly well known for his toughness. And when I saw this quote by Ali "Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even," I immediately thought of  Fritz  Seyferth. Even though Fritz was not a prizefighter, throughout his life, he demonstrated an unusual degree of mental toughness-stick- to-itiveness, drive, energy, grit-all those factors that help individuals to achieve goals despite the various internal or external barriers or challenges placed before him.

For instance, after completing the third grade in a California public school, his family moved to a school system in Pennsylvania. The school authorities wanted to place young Fritz in the second grade because of his inability to read. Not only did Fritz enter the fourth grade, he learned to read and write as a result of the creative teaching model created by his mother and extra assistance provided in school. Thus, he become proficient in reading and writing and attained a bachelors in engineering from the University Michigan, and an MBA conferred by the University of Connecticut. 

On another occasion, in the ninth grade, he was on his school’s second string football team. At the time, he was discouraged and thought that he might not be good enough to make the varsity team going into the 10th grade. His emotional unhappiness and insecurity resulted in him not attending the winter football practices. When his father found out that he was not attending practice because of his negative thinking, he said, “Son, you can fail in trying, but never fail to try. Get a haircut, go to your coach, apologize to him for missing practice, and see if you can still go out for the team.” Fritz did as his father asked and three years later, as a senior, he was a Co-Captain on that football team.

Although Fritz was not admitted to an Ivy League college, he enrolled at the University Michigan. Without a football scholarship, he went out for the freshman football team, and believed by his play, that he would receive a scholarship. Then, coach Bump Elliott was let go and Fritz now had to prove his worth to new coach Bo Schembechler and he did. Even though there were highlights like scoring four touchdowns against the Minnesota Gophers and being drafted by the New York Giants of the NFL, there were disappointments like not making the traveling squad for a game with Michigan State. His father attended Michigan State and had a Sparty emblem displayed on his windshield and attended that game, in East Lansing.

Fritz learned, extremely well, the value of teamwork and doing what’s best for the team. It didn’t mean that a first string senior fullback should not share the backfield duties with an underclassmen. It was important to check your ego at the door, if you wanted to play for coach Schembechler. And who can argue when Schembechler’s teams, with Fritz, achieved a 24-1 record, in the last 25 games, in regular season team play from 1969-1971.

The importance of being part of the team, discipline, being able to focus, taking responsibility, persevering, grit and dealing with fear was never more salient when Fritz embarked on a two-week wilderness [traveling somewhere in  the Yukon heading north to the Arctic circle] led by Michigan’s hockey coach Red Berenson. On this one particular trip, one of the Wenonah Spirit canoes, somehow got wedged, stuck, because of the raging waters, against some very large boulders. With the trapped canoe crisis, the team decided to turn Fritz into a torpedo as he propelled in the cold water toward the disabled canoe. If he hadn’t been harnessed, [his fellow comrades held him by a sturdy rope] he would’ve been easily crushed. Fritz’s job was to somehow lasso the troubled canoe with his rope and carabineer so the team onshore could dislodge the canoe. Fritz lived to tell the harrowing story.

Fritz learned, from his parents, Bo Schembechler, Red Berenson and others many salient things:  about finding meaning in one’s life; the unimportance of the almighty dollar; how to focus; about solving the hurdles or barriers in goal achievement; the importance of the team; hard work; discipline; giving back to society; leaving a legacy; and that man can sometimes allow his thinking to get in the way of success. In fact, if you’re a CEO or COO, and have a situation look him up as I cannot think of a better person to  assist.

Go Blue Go! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bo's Warriors and Jim Betts

In Cleveland, Ohio, in the year 1966, Jim Betts was the quarterback at Benedictine High School. This handsome, precocious young man played safety on defense, and also lettered in basketball and baseball. At times, he experienced discrimination both from his neighborhood and from the whites at his parochial high school. To illustrate, in one football game, he was called “Uncle Tom” by the opposing middle guard during their competitive and ferociously fought football game. In this one particular game against East Technical High School, Jim dropped back five steps, and then released the ball on a screen pass. Then, he dropped back three more steps in order to get out of the way of the play. It didn’t matter because this middle guard brutally knocked the hell out of him. Jim got up, looked him straight in the eye and yelled, not one to mince words, “You son of a bitch.” The nearby referee immediately threw a penalty flag for the unsportsmanlike hit. In the huddle, Jim called for the same screen pass play and told the center too lightly brush that middle guard with his shoulder and then let him come through cleanly.

Again, Jim took the ball from center and dropped back five steps. He got in a good throwing position and then threw the ball with as much velocity as he could muster, directly at the hard charging middle guard. The ball was released with such great force that it somehow got lodged in that defenders face mask. That middle guard was knocked off his feet on to his ass   and in pain. Quarterback Jim quickly went over and asked “How is that for Uncle Tom?”  Jim quickly looked in the direction of the referee, who smiled, as no penalty was called. Jim Betts knows how to get even.

Jim was recruited by Bump Elliott, Jim Mandich and Don James. During that recruitment, Coach Elliott spent more than three hours talking with Jim’s mother while Jim spent that time, talking with tight end Mandich and position coach Don James. Jim’s reasons for attending Michigan was that he liked their winged helmets, strong academics, relative short proximity from Cleveland and these things  distinguished them from all the other college teams. So, he accepted the scholarship and enrolled at the University Michigan.

When Coach Schembechler became head coach, Jim knew about the coach’s reputation. He also remembered during that first team meeting, when Schembechler stated “I’m going to treat you all the same; I’m going to treat you like dogs.” And, during the fall practice, Schembechler told him “You are the third best quarterback in the Big Ten behind Moorehead and Rex Kern.” Rex Kern was Ohio State’s quarterback. Betts just smiled.

At the end of that 1969 season, Jim talked with position coach Dick Hunter about switching positions [from quarterback to the defensive backfield] for the following season. Coach Hunter replied that the switch would be fine with him. Jim, immediately looked for Coach Schembechler to tell him of his plans. Jim, in no uncertain terms, directly told Bo “I want to play safety. I am not going to sit on the bench behind Moorhead, because he’s your quarterback.” Bo replied to Jim “You son of a bitch, I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to play both positions. You are going to play first string on defense, and second string quarterback.” That was typical Coach Schembechler. He had to get in the last word regardless of whether he was right or wrong.

On an earlier occasion, Coach Schembechler told his team “Men if you expect to play like a team, you have to look like a team. I want everyone to look the same. I do not want to see any mustaches, long sideburns, Afro’s or facial hair.” The athletic Jim visited, Bo in his office, the next day, and before practice and said, “I cannot shave my mustache as a black man. I can’t shave because it’s a black man’s heritage to have a mustache. Being black, this is part of me.” Bo responded, “Is this a joke?” Jim told him “I’ll go through walls for you, but you can’t ask us to deny who we are as people.” The coach then threw Jim out of his office, saying, “This is a bunch of happy horse shit.”

The story didn’t end, because every five years or so, Bo Schembechler asked Jim about his facial hair, heritage thing. He wanted to know whether or not Jim had been telling him the truth. Finally, after about 30 years or so, Jim finally came clean and admitted he was bull shitting the coach. As if a dam had burst, Bo said “I knew it” and mumbled a number of the unintelligible words. The coach finally knew he’d been had.

Jim knew and believed that he had a good relationship with Coach Schembechler and that Coach Schembechler liked him as well. Over the years, they had many conversations that covered a wide array of topics including religion and alcoholism. Bo’s second wife was an alcoholic and Jim’s father was an alcoholic. Jim knew that Bo not only related to him he also understood, the difficulties in living in an alcoholic environment. Their relationship was not just between student and teacher and limited to athletics. It was between two men who could share innermost and vulnerable feelings and knew there was an unshakable bond based on mutual trust and admiration. It’s safe to say, that both men learned from each and both evolved in the process. They are good examples of Michigan men.

Go Blue Go!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jim Brandstatter and Bo's Warriors

Although Jim Brandstatter didn’t stray, in miles, too far from home, symbolically he left to the other end of the earth by going from East Lansing to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Don’t forget that Jim’s father was an All-American for the Spartans and was a member of their faculty as Jim was progressing through his developmental stages. And, older brother Art Jr. played for Duffy Daugherty; and Jim got to know many of Art’s Spartan teammates during those illustrious and football dominating seasons.

Yes, Jim left home and headed south- east to Ann Arbor. In spite of being a terrific athlete in football, basketball and baseball in high school, Jim had to work hard and prove to himself and coaches that he belonged, and could contribute to the team. He got into Bo’s doghouse early because he weighed over the magic number of 250 pounds. Bo put a lot of pressure on this young man over and over again. Bo even unfairly accused his offensive lineman of missing a block that resulted in a blocked punt. Despite coach Schembechler’s mistake, as pointed out by one of his position coaches, Schembechler was unable to admit his mistake. To make matters worse, Schembechler rationalized and sarcastically added “He needed it anyway.”” It” pertained to a tongue lashing by this excitable coach.

Many players left the team, and many had a hard time with Schembechler’s abrupt, harsh, aggressive language. Jim’s father had a military and law enforcement background; Jim’s mother dealt with four older brothers and didn’t put up with nonsense; Jim attended a parochial elementary school and had his ear lobes tugged during the process. So by the time he got to Bo, Jim knew how to survive and could take the verbal tongue lashings.

In 1969, Jim played behind, All-American, future Hall of Fame tackle Dan Dierdorf.  Jim simply put in the time and effort, worked hard and practiced, practiced, practiced to become a more efficient football player. It took the game against the University of Arizona for Jim to feel more secure about his ability to play on the gridiron. With the game on the line, Jim came in and replaced injured Jack Harpring, made a key block, enabling Billy Taylor to score the winning touchdown. The bone crushing block against the Wildcat’s cornerback felt terrific. Not only that, Jim knew and the coaches knew they could count on Jim regardless of game circumstances.

Another significant event in Jim’s life, was to change his Architectural Design major. Both Jim and roommate and  teammate Mike Keller, enrolled in a speech class and the rest became history. One speech, radio, TV broadcasting class, etc. led to other unique experiences. After receiving Big Ten honors for his football exploits, Jim, followed another passion-broadcasting.
From a local Michigan TV station, WEYI, Jim worked his way up to larger stations. In fact, he is the voice of the Michigan Wolverines and the Detroit Lions. Not only that, he has a coaches radio show, during the football season. In fact, coach Schembechler must have enjoyed hassling his former player, who was now the interviewer. During one radio show interview Bo said sarcastically “I thought that you knew more about the game of football, Jim, I still have the right to hire and fire.” I didn’t ask Jim about his reply to his coach at the time, but I will later. Further, and interesting is that, Jim’s former teammate Dan Dierdorf joined him in 2014, in the radio booth for Michigan football.

Make sure you catch this Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, and Michigan Sportscaster of the year character this fall. And do not forget to listen to his radio talk show with Jim Harbaugh. In the 1980s, Jim described quarterback Harbaugh’s exploits on the field and will have an opportunity to do it again.

Go Blue Go!