Les Miles: Bo Schembechler was ‘very special’ but Michigan snub broke my heart

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Long before Les Miles became a national championship-winning head football coach, he was an offensive lineman at Michigan playing for Bo Schembechler.

It was that time with Schembechler and the Wolverines that shaped Miles’ desire to coach.

As he takes on a new job, hired by athletic director Jeff Long, an old friend from his time at Michigan, to build a football program at Kansas where football has been overshadowed by basketball, Miles took time to join the “View from the Press Box” podcast to discuss a number of topics.

He shared many thoughts and insights, including why he wanted to return to coaching and why Kansas was the right place, what it was like playing for Schembechler and how he learned he wanted to become a coach, and how much it hurt that he never had an opportunity to be head coach at his alma mater.

Miles, 65, lettered at Michigan in 1974 and 1975. He would become a graduate assistant in 1980 and eventually was on staff from 1987-94.

“I kept after Bo,” Miles said on the podcast, describing when he decided he wanted to try coaching. “I said, ‘Coach, I want to coach,’ and he says, ‘Hey listen, if there’s anything you can do that will make you happy other than coaching, then you need not coach. If you’re only going to be made happy by coaching, that’s the guy that needs to coach. It’s too hard. You have to give thought to that.”

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Schembechler put Miles on his camp staff, and after a few days working with players, he was hooked.

“We were around the best – let’s just tell it the way it is,” Miles said of Schembechler. “And Lloyd Carr is wonderful and Gary Moeller is a wonderful coach, but Coach Schembechler was, if you were fortunate to play for him, you’ve played for the best. He had the view of his team and he knew the short-term as well as the longer term, and he approached it extremely well.

“The Lord blessed with me with the opportunity to have been at Michigan and have been around the quality coaches I had.  I would want everybody to have the experience I had in my college years going to Michigan and then in coaching. I was getting a BA in economics but I also was getting a masters in football coaching. Coach Schembechler was just very special.”

Bo Schembechler

Miles’ name was in the mix as a candidate for the Michigan head coaching job a couple times, including after Carr retired following the 2007 season. In fact, there had been a report on ESPN the day of the SEC championship game that Miles had accepted an offer to coach his alma mater. It would prove inaccurate.

Does he have any regrets he never had the opportunity to coach the Wolverines?

“I love Michigan,” Miles said. “We just didn’t have the opportunity. It does break my heart. I love the place. There were things I was fortunate to accomplish that I only give credit to Michigan for the experiences I had that allowed me to do some of things I did. I thank the time I was there and how much I enjoyed being around the Michigan players and Coach Schembechler.”

Miles said it just wasn’t meant to be.

“I don’t know that I was ever really close (to getting the job),” he said. “I was fortunate to be at a decent place (as LSU’s head coach). It didn’t work out and I’m sad that it didn’t.

“It did not have to do with the amount of money, it had to do with the decisions that would be made on behalf of Michigan if in fact I would be the head football coach. I just needed some backing and some strength. It was probably too far away. It’s certainly a place I loved. Sometimes it’s just not in the cards.”