Hickey: Shemy Schembechler mess paints picture of more dysfunction at Michigan
It sounds like the name of a replacement Third Stooge after Curly died, or maybe a sixth Marx Brother.
Alas, Shemy Schembechler is not an old-timey comedian — though it does appear he would have been at ease living in the 1930s.
Schembechler’s tenure as Michigan’s assistant director of recruiting lasted a comically short 3 days when scrutiny of his personal tastes on Twitter revealed some eye-popping nuggets.
Among other things, Schembechler liked tweets suggesting that slavery and Jim Crow laws were net positives for Black Americans because they forced innovation. He also liked a GIF of African tribesmen dancing in response to a tweet from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who is African-American.
Not exactly subtle. And not an example of someone being “canceled” due to certain political beliefs.
Even in a mostly liberal environment, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is quite comfortable speaking in public about his pro-life beliefs without fear of retribution.
Most coaches avoid political statements because it can hurt in recruiting. Harbaugh doesn’t care. Part of the reason he loves Michigan so dearly is that the campus encourages such freedom of expression.
Schembechler’s Twitter feed wasn’t liking tweets for extolling traditional family values or the need for a balanced budget.
They’re racist takes, plain and simple. Which doesn’t exactly jibe with a job description that involves recruiting a talent pool that is majority Black. And is not a good look for an employee of an institution that aspires to be compared to Duke University rather than Duke, David.
Which, in turn, raises the most valid question about the whole episode: How the heck did it ever get this far? At any level?
None of the potential answers paint Michigan’s athletic department in a positive light.
At the most basic level, it seems unbelievable that a handful of unpaid internet sleuths were more equipped for the remarkably simple task of clicking Schembechler’s “liked tweets” tab and scrolling through the results than anybody in Michigan’s human resources department.
Schembechler isn’t the only person who should lose a job over this fiasco. Had anyone vetted his account in advance, someone would have said “we can’t hire this guy.”
Or, more cynically, they could have cleaned up the mess in advance with no one being the wiser. An attempt to do so was made after the fact, but it was too little, too late.
New Michigan Assistant Director of Football Recruiting Glenn “Shemy” Schembechler has unliked over 1,000 tweets since he was hired 3 days ago. 😬 https://t.co/SOxiABY6hr
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) May 20, 2023
But that is only part of the story in this case.
Even if Schembechler didn’t have a problematic social media history, this hire waved a red flag in the first place. And it may provide yet another example of the disconnect between Harbaugh and the man nominally considered his boss.
Schembechler name comes with clouds
The Schembechler name was once unimpeachable in Ann Arbor. Kind of like the Paterno name was unimpeachable at Penn State.
And for similar reasons, that’s no longer the case in either instance.
Save for Fielding Yost, Bo Schembechler is the most legendary coach in Michigan football history. The football facility bears Schembechler’s name, complete with a statue in front. He’s literally the man who coined the phrase “Michigan Man.”
But in the years after Schembechler’s death in 2006, unpleasant details have emerged.
In January 2022, the University of Michigan reached a settlement to pay $490 million to no less than 1,050 people who were abused by former Wolverines team doctor Robert Anderson between 1966-2003.
Several former Michigan players and his adopted son Matt claim that Bo knew of Anderson’s alleged abuse and did nothing. Other former Wolverine players, most notably including Harbaugh, say Schembechler would have acted immediately if he caught wind of such allegations.
Matt went public with his allegations in 2021, claiming that Anderson abused him when he went in for a physical in 1969. When he told his dad about it, Matt says Bo punched him in the chest. (Bo defenders note that Matt previously sued his dad and the university in 1999 over claims that they tried to ruin his sports memorabilia business. The suit was dismissed.)
At the time, Shemy denounced his brother’s claims as lies while also making a point to note that the family has had very little contact with Matt, who has “had a lot of issues,” in the past decade.
With the principles of the story deceased, the matter of what Bo did or did not know remains a he said/he said issue. Certain people will choose who they want to believe no matter what evidence is presented.
Yet with the controversy still quite fresh — Michigan is barely a year removed from spending a half-billion dollars as a result of decades of inaction — you’d think the school would steer clear of hiring a Schembechler. The optics are not great.
Harbaugh, ever the iconoclast, instead dove in headfirst.
It’s personal for him, of course. Bo remains his mentor and idol. There’s no way for Harbaugh to view the situation through a clear lens.
And that’s why this was a situation where athletic director Warde Manuel needed to put his foot down in advance.
Instead, the episode serves as a reminder that Manuel might not actually have that power.
The Manuel-Harbaugh disconnect grows
Back in January, author John Bacon reported that Manuel and Harbaugh had not spoken directly in 7 months. This includes the week following the Michigan State tunnel incident — a pretty serious situation. Yet a situation which had both parties speaking to each other via intermediaries.
As I reported on @michiganinsider with @SamWebb77 this morning on WTKA:
-Former UM Pres. Schlissel never conducted a review of AD Warde Manuel in his six years on the job.
-Manuel and Harbaugh have not spoken directly since May.
Guessing new UM pres. @SantaJOno changes both.
— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) January 20, 2023
That’s an almost unbelievable level of dysfunction. And in the long run, there’s no way that’s tenable for Michigan athletics.
As long as the Wolverines keep winning Big Ten titles, it’s just background noise. But eventually the leadership disconnect is going to catch up to Michigan.
This may be a case where it nearly did.
Schembechler resigning after 3 days probably makes it a disaster averted. Perhaps Manuel will even use this situation to his advantage. It certainly seems like an argument that the buck should stop with him. (Unless, of course, his people are the ones who failed to properly vet Schembechler.)
But if Manuel and Harbaugh continue to inhabit different worlds, the Shemy Schembechler fiasco won’t be Michigan’s last headache.