Brad Cochran downed two Manhattans and went looking for Bo Schembechler. The sophomore corner-back wanted to unload what had been building inside him since he had arrived in Ann Arbor. By the time he got to Schembechler's office, the Manhattans had taken effect. Cochran then did what many Michigan players have dreamed of doing. He started screaming and swearing at one of the most feared coaches in the game. "I was rude, I was ripping him," says Cochran.
"You'll never wear a Michigan uniform again" was all Schembechler had time to say before Cochran stormed out, right underneath the sign promising THOSE WHO STAY WILL BE CHAMPIONS.
"Nobody thought we would see him again," says noseguard Mike Reinhold.
Both were wrong. Today Cochran is a team captain, a preseason All-America and, according to Schembechler himself, the best pro prospect on the squad. But Cochran will tell you that he has paid dearly for those few minutes of relief he got in 1982. He has come to see the problem was his, not Schembechler's. Unbeknownst to anyone, Cochran was suffering from a metabolic disorder that was wreaking havoc with his behavior under stress and causing frightening bouts with depression.
His problem began to manifest itself shortly after he arrived at Michigan. Cochran believed he wasn't being treated fairly, and he started complaining—never to an assistant coach but always to Schembechler. "I needed someone to blame," he says. "Anything I could twist against Bo, I did. I went out of my way to pick fights with him. Bo used to ask me what was wrong. I'd said, 'It's you.' "
Defensive-back coach Lloyd Carr recalls that Cochran rarely smiled during his freshman year. "He thought he should be playing more," says Carr, "and he made his anger at Bo very clear. I thought once he became a starter, he would be easier on himself." Cochran did indeed win a starting position as a sophomore, but his behavior only became more unsettled. After practice, he would go to his dorm and sleep until the next morning. "I never did anything," he says. "I wasn't a normal person."
In the second game that year, 1982, Cochran gained attention by making four unassisted tackles against Notre Dame. However, he didn't show up for practice on Monday. Then came the showdown with Schembechler. Things got worse after Cochran's best friend was killed in a car accident in November. "I didn't care about anything after that," he says. "I was falling apart."
Cochran thought he might feel better in a new environment, so in January 1983 he decided to transfer to Colorado. But some six weeks into the semester, he was hospitalized. "I couldn't eat," he says. "I couldn't function." He lost more than 20 pounds in 10 days. Through blood tests doctors discovered that Cochran was suffering from severe depression brought on by a hormonal imbalance. When some of the body's 13 major glands produce too much or too little of a hormone, emotional outbursts and symptoms of depression, like loss of appetite and hypersomnia, can result. In Cochran's case an adrenal-gland malfunction was affecting how he reacted to stress.
Cochran flew home to Royal Oak, Mich. as soon as he had the strength. He was a long way from healthy. His younger brother, Brandon, didn't recognize him at the Detroit airport. His mother, Connie, burst into tears. "He looked like death warmed over," she says.
Although Cochran's condition isn't curable, it can be treated with therapy and drugs. Cochran started seeing a psychiatrist twice a week. His doctor put him on an antidepressant, which Cochran disliked. "It wired me up," he says. "Some days I thought I could run through a brick wall."
Within three weeks Cochran was working out again. "After I realized I had a problem and not Bo," he says, "I decided to go back to Michigan." By the time he had enrolled in summer school there, he felt confident enough to stop the medication and the visits to the psychiatrist. "I was supposed to keep on doing both," he says, "but I was so busy and excited to get back, I didn't follow up."
When Schembechler heard what Cochran had been through, he agreed to give him another chance. But Cochran, who's 6'3" and back to 219 pounds, would have to earn back his scholarship. By the first game he had regained it, along with his starting job. He finished '83 with 64 tackles. Last season he made 77 and led the Wolverines in interceptions with five. As a fifth-year senior this fall ('82 was a "medical redshirt" season), Cochran is a major reason that Michigan has given up just one TD this season.
Cochran has made a special effort to get along with Schembechler. Every so often he'll stick his head in Bo's office and make a gentle wisecrack. "I really like the guy, but I would never let him know it," says Cochran. As for Schembechler, he has learned a lesson or two from Cochran's ordeal. "I listen a bit more now," he says. "And when I don't understand what's wrong with a kid, I send him for help."
After Cochran blew up at Bo in '82, no one thought he would play again for Michigan.