Playbook investigates popular sports mythology in Sports Legends Revealed. Today: Did Bo Schembechler own a Domino's Pizza franchise in Columbus, Ohio?
Imagine it's Nov. 20, 1982, and you're a football fan attending Ohio State University. You're hanging out with your friends and conversation probably turns to the stunning ending to the Cal-Stanford game earlier in the day, in which Cal lateraled their way to victory through the Stanford band and into the history books.
But you're likely most concerned about the game earlier that day, where your Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Michigan Wolverines, 24-14, in front of 90,252 screaming fans in Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
OSU handed Michigan its first Big Ten loss (due to playing one more conference game, Michigan would still win the Big Ten Conference title with an 8-1 record as opposed to Ohio State's 7-1 record). It also gave Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce three wins in his first four matchups with longtime Michigan coach Bo Schembechler after Bruce replaced the legendary Woody Hayes in 1979.
You likely savor this feat, especially since Schembechler had a winning record in games against his former mentor, Hayes. And while you're celebrating, you and your friends order a couple of pizzas from Domino's.
Could you imagine that you actually just paid Schembechler for the pizza? In Columbus, Ohio, where hating Bo Schembechler is a way of life?
Due to an amazing contract negotiation earlier in the year, the answer might surprise you.
Schembechler had just finished his 13th season as the Michigan head coach with a victory in the Bluebonnet Bowl over UCLA on Dec. 31, 1981. In those 13 seasons, Schembechler had put together an impressive resume, including nine Big Ten Conference championships, two bowl wins and 11 top-10 finishes in the final Coaches and Associated Press polls.
So it came as no surprise that Texas A&M made a big push to hire Schembechler away from Michigan to be their new head coach and athletic director. What was a bit of a surprise was just how impressive their contract offer was: 10 years and roughly $2.5 million (monetary specifics in contract offers always seem to be hard to pin down -- the offer has been reported in various sources as low as $2.25 million and as high as $2.9 million). But at any rate, it was the largest coaching contract offer in the history of college sports at the time.
Schembechler ultimately turned the offer down, and the Aggies turned to Pittsburgh's Jackie Sherrill, who signed for 6 years and $1.6 million.
"Frankly, I've come to the conclusion that there are things more important in this world than money," Schembechler announced. "For that reason, I've decided to stay at Michigan."
Of course, Michigan did give Schembechler a 40 percent raise in his per-game salary, going from $60,000 to $85,000. So while Schembechler did take less money to stay in Ann Arbor, he still benefitted from the overture.
But a fascinating wrinkle in the contract negotiations with Michigan in response to the Texas A&M offer is the involvement of Tom Monaghan, founder and owner of Domino's Pizza.
Monaghan was an Ann Arbor native who started Domino's Pizza while he was attending Michigan in 1960. Monaghan's business thrived under two very important innovations. First, he re-invented the pizza box, creating the first pizza box that could support the weight of a second pizza box right on top of it, allowing a delivery man to deliver multiple pizzas at once.
Second, he specifically targeted college students, placing franchises in all of the major university towns, including Ann Arbor and Columbus. By the late 1970s, Domino's had over 200 franchises in locations all across the United States. That number hit the quadruple digits by the early 1980s, so Monaghan quickly became a multi-millionaire. Once he became a great business success, Monaghan devoted a lot of his life to pursuits outside of pizza, including charity, architecture -- he had planned to become an architect before his pizza business got in the way -- politics and, of course, sports.
To say Monaghan was a fan of Schembechler would be a massive understatement. Monaghan practically idolized the legendary coach, even in 1989 naming Schembechler president of the Detroit Tigers, which Monaghan had owned since 1983.
Suffice it to say that in early 1982, Monaghan would do his best to keep Schembechler in Ann Arbor. So when Texas A&M made its offer, Monaghan made his own offer, later explaining that he "felt a responsibility to keep him in Ann Arbor if I could."
"Bo had once mentioned casually that he'd like to own a Domino's store. We had two corporate stores in Columbus, and in a flash of inspiration, I decided I'd give one of those stores to Bo," Monaghan told James Leonard in his biography, "Living the Faith." "As it turned out, he had already made up his mind to stay in Michigan, but I gave him the store anyhow."
And that's how OSU students ended up paying their nemesis for pizza in the very heart of anti-Schembechler country, where there is even a popular band named "Dead Schembechlers."
Of note, however: "Owned” in this context is a bit different than what you would expect. As Monaghan noted in his explanation of his actions, the two stores in Columbus were “corporate stores,” meaning that they were franchises owned directly by Domino's and not by an individual franchisee.
Tim McIntyre, Vice President of Communications at Domino's Pizza, told Playbook that when Monaghan mentioned “giving” the store to Schembechler, he only meant giving the profits that the store generated. So Schembechler never physically owned the Domino's.
The financial relationship Schembechler had with the Columbus franchise ended in 1992 when Monaghan fired him as president of the Tigers, according to David Ablauf, Associate Athletic Director, Media and Public Relations at the University of Michigan. After his termination, Schembechler sued Monaghan over a number of financial incentives he claimed that Monaghan had promised him and never delivered.
The case famously turned on whether a Domino's napkin with terms written down on it could be entered as evidence that Schembechler and Monaghan had reached an oral agreement. The two settled the dispute and that was the end of Schembechler's connection with Domino's.
However, one of Schembechler's sons does owns a few Domino's Pizza franchises in and around Lowell, Mass.
Amusingly enough, the current athletic director of the University of Michigan is Dave Brandon, former President and CEO of... Domino's Pizza. He took over Domino's when Monaghan sold the company in 1999 to Bain Capital for a billion dollars.
So, the legend is...
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