Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 36 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 35 BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan players coming in and out of Schembechler Hall smile and nod at the mock-crusty octogenar- ian moving in their midst. They'll listen when he barks out a succinct critique of their play or needles them that they're no good. "Okay, Coach," they'll respond, or better yet, they'll give him some grief in return. He loves that. While Jerry Hanlon offi- cially retired from 23 seasons as an iconic Michigan assistant coach following the 1991 campaign, he never ceased to be "Coach." "My coaching experience isn't over," Hanlon said with a smile, relaxing in his comfortable Cape Cod home, the one he moved into back in 1969. "I still coach. The only difference is, no- body listens anymore. I still feel close to the program, and they do treat me very nicely and allow me to be around and watch the kids. "I still like going down to the building and jumping on kids, kidding them about what they did in practice, or checking on them about their grades. I still hope I will be able to stay close to the program for a few more years." That appears a given. Hanlon, Jim Har- baugh's position coach for four seasons in Ann Arbor, enjoyed a seat of honor at the head coach's inaugural press conference at U-M. The players may or may not know they're trading quips with one of the most respected college coaches ever to wear a whistle. But they know he cares about them, and they respond. "Jerry Hanlon, he's probably going to for- get about me," ribbed former quarterback Devin Gardner at the Bob Ufer Quarterback Club banquet this spring. "He's not going to return my calls. He's not going to respond." Hanlon fairly beamed from his seat at Harbaugh's table, shaking his head. The man tough enough to take on Bo Schembechler retains a soft spot when it comes to football players, and always will. The fact that he's still around Schembechler Hall represents a minor miracle, and not because of his age. He's the most fired coach in Michigan football history, all because Hanlon — in the parlance of his protégé, who now occupies the big office at Schembechler — bows to no man. That included the man for whom the foot- ball building is named. Those two, and many other Miami (Ohio) assistants, rolled north in the winter of 1969, putting an indelible stamp on Michigan football. That road wasn't always smooth, but it proved rewarding beyond words. The Early Years Hanlon began his journey in Ft. Thomas, Ky., the son of a traveling salesman and an Irish mother who worked in a grocery store owned by her mom. The family, eventually including five boys and two girls, moved to North Bend, Ohio — in the southwest corner of the state, eight miles from the Indiana state line — before Hanlon began school. "I could throw a rock in the Ohio River from my front porch," he recalled. He could also throw a baseball, run with a football and execute a number of other ath- letic moves as he grew. There wasn't much choice. All four of his brothers, three of them older than him, were four-sport letterwinners in high school. "I was a captain, and they'd say, 'Captain Hanlon…' and the refs would say, 'Not an- other Hanlon,'" he recalled, laughing. "The referees all knew the family from down through the years. "My oldest brother, Jack, was a great athlete. He could have been a pro baseball player. He could hit a baseball like nobody you could believe, and he was my buddy. He took me under his wing when I was a little kid." Hanlon recalled rising at 5:30 a.m. and riding with Jack to Blue Ash, Ohio, for the elder brother's pilots training. The two were extremely close, and Hanlon grows quiet in recounting losing the eventual World War II B-26 pilot to a plane crash in England. Long before, he'd helped teach young Jerry not to back down from a challenge. At around 5-6 even today, Hanlon recalled get- ting assigned to a 6-5, 225-pound center in a high school basketball game. "We didn't have anybody to match up with him," Hanlon recalled. "Our coach put me in the pivot position, to go in and shoot slop shots and have him foul me. That's what I did. "We fouled him out of the basketball game and won, something like 25-22 — a big, high-scoring game." He also ran track, but didn't much care for it, especially after getting assigned to the 220-yard low hurdles. Teammates instructed him he could knock most of the hurdles down, but be sure to cleanly clear the first and the last. "I remember going over that first hur- dle," Hanlon said, wincing. "I went so high I tripped and fell and scraped my knee. I got up and finished the race, with blood running down my leg. I said I'll never do this again. "The coach says, 'That wasn't too bad for falling down. Now you're going to get bet- ter.' So I had to keep running them." He also played six-man football, since the traditional 11-man variety wasn't an option with 18 players on the squad. "I remember when I first got to college, I looked out there and saw all those guys, and I'm thinking, what direction do you watch so you don't get killed," he said. College meant Xavier University for the A Revered TEACHER Former Assistant Coach Jerry Hanlon Remains A Michigan Icon From The Bo Era "Jerry was a great teacher. A coach is a teacher. Instead of teaching English or physics or drama, they're teaching football. That's so true on the offensive line." FORMER U-M ALL-AMERICAN LINEMAN DAN DIERDORF Though Hanlon officially retired in 1991 after 23 seasons as an assistant coach at Michi- gan, he has never ceased to be "Coach" to those connected with U-M football. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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