Ann Arbor — They walked together quietly through Forest Hill Cemetery, most holding roses and flowers to set at the graves of legendary Michigan football coaches Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler and longtime radio broadcaster Bob Ufer.

This has become a tradition here, organized by Jeffrey Holzhausen the Tuesday before the annual Michigan-Ohio State game, which is Saturday at Michigan Stadium. Holzhausen started the grave walk as an organized event in 1997, although he started coming alone to the grave sites in 1992 during his freshman year at Michigan as a personal tribute.

An estimated 200 fans walked Tuesday night through the cemetery, first stopping at Schembechler’s grave. 

As Holzhausen addressed the group, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback who played for Schembechler and is about to coach in his first Michigan-Ohio State game, and his father, Jack Harbaugh, who coached with Schembechler, joined the group and listened.

After Holzhausen’s impassioned speech about Schembechler, he asked if anyone wanted to speak.

“I know we’ve got a big group, guys, feel free,” Holzhausen said. “Come on.”

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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh smashes a buckeye nut with a hammer Tuesday night at Bo Schembechler's grave site. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News


Jim Harbaugh, also accompanied by his 15-year-old daughter Grace, and Zach Eisendrath, Michigan football director of operations and internal communications, piped up.

“I’d like to say something,” Harbaugh said.

Holzhausen later said he had no idea Harbaugh had arrived.

“I had no idea he was there,” he said. “It’s Michigan magic and tradition all in one spot. It meant the world to me.”

Harbaugh moved closer to Schembechler’s grave and spoke about his coach.

“Bo was my coach,” Harbaugh said. “I first met him when I was nine years old when my dad coached here at Michigan. He was the secondary coach. He was larger than life to our family. Excited and enthusiasm beyond what anybody could imagine. He would let us come to practice. We were ball boys, my brother John and I.

“And getting to play for coach Schembechler, what I can tell you is this, everything I base my entire professional life on and my personal life was learned here at the University of Michigan. It’s rooted at the University of Michigan, it was experienced at the University of Michigan. And it’s the team, the team, the team. We win as a team. Everybody does a little, and it adds up to a lot. When it came to honor, integrity, doing things at the highest level, Bo Schembechler set the standard.

“I draw daily inspiration from coach Schembechler, like so many that knew him, anybody that knew him, anybody that was associated with him, anybody that played for him or anybody that coached with him, he set the standard at the very highest level. One of the greatest of all time, Bo Schembechler.”

Holzhausen then asked if anyone wanted to follow Harbaugh’s speech. Jack Harbaugh stepped up.

“I was here for seven years with Bo from 1973 to 1979 and we competed six times against Woody Hayes,” Jack Harbaugh said. “Not a day went by in (Schembechler’s) presence that you weren’t motivated and moved by (him). 

“Never once did he give a talk before a game that the hair didn’t raise up on the back of my neck. He was such a motivator and such an inspiration.”

Jack Harbaugh added that Schembechler affected the personal lives of his assistants, as well.

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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, at the site of Bo Schembechler's grave, spoke Tuesday night about the impact Bo had on his life and the UM program. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News


“The values he taught us and values he taught his players, we as coaches used that with our own children,” Harbaugh said. 

“I loved the man, I will always love him. As long as there is breath in my body, he will be an inspiration and inspire me. Thank you so much, Bo Schembechler.”

Holzhausen then asked Harbaugh if he would smash a buckeye. A small bright blue block was set on the ground, covered with patchy snow, in front of Schembechler’s grave. Harbaugh smashed it to the delight of those gathered.

Holzhausen, the first to speak, gave a personal remembrance of Schembechler.

“I don’t think there’s anybody I learned more about life from other than my dad and grandfathers than Bo and Michigan football. It’s only appropriate to honor him,” Holzhausen said. “We went through a long stretch where, frankly, we owned Ohio State and we earned it. We didn’t take it for granted, we earned every one of those ones. But I knew the other shoe would drop at some point.

“I didn’t know it would hit us and drop as hard as it did. I can’t imagine how proud Bo would be to know that one of his own has come back to lead us back to where this program is supposed to be and already has got us on our way. There’s no doubt in my mind, my kids are going to talk about coach Harbaugh like I talk about Bo.”

The group then moved through the cemetery to the graves of Ufer and Yost. When they had paid their respects, they concluded with the singing of the alma mater, “The Yellow and Blue” and then fight song, “The Victors.” Harbaugh then asked the group to pay tribute to the 5-year-old Chad Carr, the youngest son of Tammi and Jason Carr, who passed away Monday from a brain tumor.

Chad Carr is the grandson of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and All-American defensive back Tom Curtis. Jason Carr was a quarterback at Michigan and Tammi was the longtime development officer at Mott Children’s Hospital.

Harbaugh asked the group to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Chad’s honor.

“That’s how we ended the night,” Holzhausen said.

Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock heard about the cemetery walk late and arrived as it was concluding. Holzhausen and about 10 others, including Plymouth resident Griffin Hickman, 31, and 2006 Michigan graduate, gave him the tour of the three grave sites. Rudock also smashed a buckeye at Schembechler’s grave.

Hickman said he was moved by Harbaugh’s presence at the walk. 

“He obviously has a major responsibility this week or any week during the season, yet he chose to spend an hour of his time as part of a favorite tradition we’ve enjoyed for years,” Hickman said. “To see him in the background when Jeff was talking about his return to Michigan and the fact Jeff didn’t know he was there added a little drama to the night. It was really interesting watching him listening to what Jeff said about him, and you could tell he was moved about what was said about him as a successor within the program.

“I would go on the grave walk with or without Jim Harbaugh there and have a half-dozen times, but to have Jim and Jack Harbaugh there, and later, Jake Rudock, really speaks to how tonight’s tradition has spread throughout the Michigan family. There’s no question that it gets us all fired up for Ohio State week.”

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/chengelis