Jim Lyall, University of Michigan defensive lineman under Bo Schembechler from 1970-73, is currently the Head Coach of the Siena Heights University Saints, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) program in Adrian, Michigan. Also on staff at Siena Heights is Rob Thornbladh, a player on the 2006 Michigan squad. Fergodsakes.com spoke with Coach Lyall regarding his team and his time at Michigan.
The first season of Siena Heights Saints football was 2011, and Michigan Man Jim Lyall led the way. Lyall, who spent 20 years as Head Coach at Adrian College, was tapped to bring the Siena Heights program to fruition. The only Catholic University in the state of Michigan to offer football, the Saints in 2011 went 8-1 against a mixture of varsity, junior varisty and club football teams. The new 2012 season will mark Siena Heights’ first full year of varsity status, and the schedule is certainly a few steps up in competition from 2011. Playing in the top NAIA conference in the nation (The Mid States Football Assocation), the Saints are slated to face the NAIA number 1, 3, 6, and 11 teams in the country.
“There was never a more intense man than Bo Schembechler, and there will never be another Bo Schembechler.” Coach Lyall calls Schembechler and his position coach at Michigan, Frank Maloney, “the two biggest influences on me.” Those influences permeate his Siena Heights program. “We are building the program based on what Bo taught us – Character and Integrity. We have recruited as many high school captains as we could. We provide an education and a chance to be a part of history. We sell kids on the fact that it’s ‘our’ team. Everything we do adds or subtracts to our tradition. Hopefully that transcends sport and permeates their lives.”
Coach Lyall says, “I have a great coaching staff, which allows me to develop relationships with young men and develop something special with these kids.” As for style and playcalling, the Saints use aspects of the spread offense. “We think in terms of players first, formations second, and then we call plays.” As an NAIA program, Siena Heights is able to combine athletic and academic scholarships, and the Saints recruit to the system. “We want the best linemen we can find, the best quarterback we can find, and the most speed at every position that we can find.”
In talking about the 1973 Michigan team, Team 94, the team on which he was a senior, the pride in Lyall is evident. The Wolverines went 10-0-1, with the one tie of course being the 10-10 game against the Buckeyes. The next day the Big Ten Athletic Directors voted to send the Buckeyes to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl, even though they were Big 10 representatives in Pasadena the year before. Big Ten rules at that time prevented Michigan from going to a bowl game. How did Lyall find out about the vote? “I was pulling into the library, and was listening to CKLW. Ewan McGregor said that Michigan’s season was over. It was just a shock. Very difficult to put into words the emotions that were felt. For me personally, my career was over. I wasn’t going to play in the pros.” How big of a shock was it? “As we walked off the field after the game, the players from OSU congratulated us, wished us luck in Pasadena. Our entire feeling in the locker room after the game was celebration – we were going to California. I was sitting on Bo’s lap!”
“Bo talked to us at every reunion about how he never forgot what happened.” In large part because of that 1973 team, and Schembechler’s lobbying, the rules were changed to allow more than one Big Ten team to go to a bowl game in a given season. The 1975 team was the first Michigan team to benefit from the change, playing in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma at the conclusion of the season. But for Lyall, part of what would end up the number 6 team in the country according to UPI, he sat home on New Years Day, 1974.
The Siena Heights University Saints open their season this Saturday, August 25 with a home game at 7:00pm against Robert Morris at O’Laughlin Stadium in Adrian, Michigan. Other home games are September 8 against Marian, September 29 against Taylor, October 6 against Olivet Nazarene, and on October 13 Siena Heights will host the preseason number 1 NAIA team in the country, St. Xavier. Road games are September 1 at Iowa Wesleyan, September 15 at Concordia (in Ann Arbor), October 20 at Grand View, October 27 at Saint Francis, and November 3 at Waldorf.
Where are former Michigan players and coaches coaching today? Fergodsakes.com will have 2012 season previews on some of the teams that have a former Wolverine player or coach as part of their staff.