Monday, November 19, 2007

Hail, Hail to Lloyd Carr

Lloyd Carr, as expected, and as leaked to the media yesterday (and originally reported by M-Go-Blog over a week ago), will announce his retirement today, ending a 13-year-run which will likely be much more fondly remembered a decade from now than it is today. While many Michigan fans are happy to see Lloyd ride off into the sunset, and while a fresh start and new blood will likely be good for the Michigan program, I am not celebrating today. Lloyd Carr never asked to be the head coach of Michigan, it was a job he took only after former head coach Gary Moeller was fired after a drunken escapade at a metro-Detroit restaurant, and he did something even Bo Schembechler never did, won a National Championship. He ran a completely above-board program, one that made Michigan proud, and he was great in the community. On the field, he was frustrating at times with his conservatism, but he was without a doubt successful, winning numerous Big Ten Titles and taking his teams to 3 of the last 5 Rose Bowls. And while many will focus on his 1-6 record against Ohio State in the past seven seasons (and his similarly futile Bowl record), I’ll choose to remember his 5-1 start against the Buckeyes, including the victory in 1997 which helped catapult Charles Woodson to the Heisman Trophy and Michigan to the National Championship.

These last seven years, despite the trips to Pasadena, Michigan fans have been on edge, in part because of the continuing losses to Ohio State. Carr, though, has remain steadfast, despite having to continually play true freshman quarterbacks before they were ready for action. First it was Drew Henson’s broken foot in 1999 which ushered in the John Navarre era before he was ready, and then Henson bolted for the New York Yankees, leaving sophomore Navarre to take the reigns a year earlier than expected. Then, when Carr groomed Matt Gutierrez to replace Navarre, Gutierrez blew out his elbow and forced Carr to audible and play true freshman Chad Henne instead. Now this season, when true freshman Ryan Mallett was supposed to have a year of absorbing the offense, learning from senior leader Henne, and preparing himself to take over in 2008, he too was forced into action early with Mallett’s continuing shoulder and knee problems. Now, injuries are part of football, but Carr never had a chance to develop and groom his quarterbacks the past half-decade like he would have liked. And despite that, Michigan remained a top national program and had chances (although they never capitalized on those chances) to win another National Championship.

Now of course, before Carr’s press conference is even over, the question will turn to Carr’s replacement. Surely LSU’s Les Miles (a former player and assistant under Bo) will be the leading candidate, but his tension with Lloyd Carr may prevent Michigan fans’ dreams from coming true. There are other numerous top candidates to consider as well, including Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly, West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez, and even Jon Gruden and Bill Cower of NFL fame (though, admittedly, both of the last two are probably pipe dreams). Michigan needs a fresh start, so hiring assistants Mike DeBord or Ron English would be an enormous mistake. Especially DeBord, who was a disaster at Central Michigan (as opposed to Kelly, who turned CMU around after DeBord’s tenure).

There will be plenty of time for speculation though. Today should be about Carr and all that he brought to the Michigan program. He is a better coach than his 1-6 record against Ohio State the last seven years indicates, and a better coach than he likely will be initially remembered as. He has done a lot for Michigan, and once time heels some of the wounds of Michigan fans, he’ll be remembered and revered as such. And deservedly so.

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