Ex-equipment man Falk has the book on UM coaches

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Jon Falk was a fixture within the Michigan football program, becoming the equipment manager in 1974 after being hired by coach Bo Schembechler and worked for four more coaches before retiring after the 2013 season.

Even in retirement, Falk is very much a presence at Schembechler Hall, where the football offices and locker rooms are located. Falk visits about twice a week with new coach Jim Harbaugh, the former Michigan quarterback, mostly to reminisce.

Falk has authored several entertaining books about his four decades working at Michigan and has another, "Forty Years in the Big House: Michigan Tales from My Four Decades as a Wolverine," coming out in September and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com. Harbaugh has written the foreword for the book that will feature Falk's interactions with the five coaches with whom he worked.

"I go through and analyze all the coaches I've worked for," Falk said. "I talk about each one of them. I just think it's neat to have that as a history book for people to know what it was like here at Michigan."

His history at Michigan includes getting to know Harbaugh when he was a youngster when his father, Jack, was on Schembechler's staff and, of course, later while at Michigan and playing for the Wolverines and Schembechler.

Falk included a few Harbaugh stories in this book and had written them before he was hired last December as the new head coach.

"I'm really glad to have him back," said Falk, who accompanied Harbaugh to Comerica Park this week when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. "It's fun. The door's always open. I really appreciate that an awful lot. He and I will reminisce on Michigan stories and folklore and Bo. I stop in about twice a week, and he always has time for me. I told him one day, I said, 'You know what Jimmy? It's really funny. I've worked for the five football coaches here at Michigan, and it's really interesting to come back to sit in this chair again and have you sitting behind the desk now.' It's really an interesting thing to watch and enjoy."

Harbaugh, who had worked for Falk during the summer as a building supervisor in the mid-80s when he was a player, famously guaranteed in 1986 that Michigan would beat Ohio State and play in the Rose Bowl.

"When we went to Ohio State that year, we got our equipment truck in a wreck down there," Falk said. "Jimmy had, of course, guaranteed we were going to beat Ohio State. When the police came and investigated our wreck, the officer says to me, 'What's on that truck?' I said, 'Well, it's Michigan football gear, sir, we're heading to the football stadium.' He says, 'Well, Jimmy Harbaugh's bag on there?' I said, 'It sure is, sir.' He said, 'Well, we're going to have to impound this equipment for the next 48 hours.' I looked at him and said, 'You are kidding?"

Schembechler wore a skinny Block M hat, and Harbaugh has brought back that tradition and is wearing it as Michigan's head coach.

"It's neat to see the Bo M back again," Falk said. "It's nice to bring back the history of Michigan. The people of Michigan respect that history and they want to see it back here again.

"What people will see from Jim is the love he has for Michigan, and I think you're going to see that as the year goes on, the love that he has and the respect he has," Falk said. "We're going to get respectability back to Michigan football."

The book includes a number of anecdotes including one about Hall-of-Fame baseball player Barry Larkin, who was recruited to Michigan by Schembechler to play football.

"He says it's something he'll never forget as long as he lives," Falk said. "We went down to Mississippi State, we're taking batting practice and some guy in the stands starts hollering a bunch of names and verbal abuse to Barry. Barry's neck turned red.

"I saw what was going on, and I went over and put my arm around him and said, 'Barry, you're not in Cincinnati, and you're not in Detroit right now. Just calm down.' He said, 'I want to go over …,' and I said, 'Barry, I know what you want to do but here's what you're going to do. You're going to go out there and take all your aggression out on that baseball field. You're going to go out and play your game.' He goes out and hits two home runs. The next day, Barry Larkin got a standing ovation every time he batted for Michigan. He said, 'I learned something that day.'"

Schembechler wanted Falk to be a mentor to the players and told him from the first day on the job that part of his responsibility was to discuss the history and tradition of the program and the importance of winning Big Ten championships.

He worked for Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez, and Brady Hoke, and he's around the building enough now to see the direction the program is taking under Harbaugh. Falk knew Harbaugh when he was a youngster and then as a college quarterback and has remained in touch all these years.

Falk has a strong feel for how Harbaugh will coach the Wolverines.

"Jimmy Harbaugh is a stallion and what do you want to do with a stallion? You never want to break a stallion down," Falk said. "You want to direct him in a way and let him do what he can do, because that's what stallions do. If you break a stallion down, you might as well put him in the circus and let him go in a circle and carry kids on their back. You want a stallion to run out and jump and control the field. When he takes the field, you want people to know he's the boss, he's the horse who runs this place."