Lloyd Carr is a man's man. A supermodel for the male ethic. A Big Ten icon, genetically linked to the conference's coaching greats.
That set jaw. That laser-beam look.
|The Wolverines have won five Big Ten titles with Lloyd Carr at the helm. (Getty Images)|
Not so much vulnerable to being fired. We'll see about that. But vulnerable like a weepy Lifetime television show. People forget he landed the Michigan job only after surviving what amounted to an interim-coach tryout in 1995. Carr successfully bridged the distance between the scandalous Gary Moeller resignation and an uncertain future with an 8-2 start in '95.
It was during those uncertain times that Bo Schembechler slipped down to his old assistant's office.
Carr divulged what the legendary coach told him. "(Schembechler) said this to me: 'Look, there's going to be times when you doubt yourself. The reason I know that is that I have doubts about myself. When you have these doubts just get rid of them because you're prepared and you know what it takes. Go do it.'"
That left a strong impression on Carr. "Why that was such great advice is because here's one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game and he's telling me he had doubts."
A Meredith Baxter Birney five-hanky moment if there ever was one.
It is equal parts ridiculous and curious that Carr's job status is a subject of discussion. Entering his 12th year, Carr is coming off his worst season. To be truthful, it's more than that. Last year's 7-5 season was the school's worst in 21 years. That combined with Carr's 1-4 record against Ohio State's Jim Tressel has some wolves howling at the head Wolverine's door.
|1. Ohio State|
|4. Penn State|
|6. Michigan State|
|Team to beat:|
|Troy Smith, Ohio State|
|Paul Posluszny, Penn State|
|Coach of the year:|
|Jim Tressel, Ohio State|
In one sense, AD Bill Martin would be a fool to pull the plug on the nation's fifth-winningest active I-A coach. A national championship (1997), five Big Ten titles and a .750 winning percentage have to count for something.
Then again, this is Michigan and the school does have its pride.
"You understand you have to win if you want to stay," Carr said, repeating the line he tells young coaches. "That's fair."
Winning, though, has an entirely different definition in Ann Arbor. The program is the last of the great powerhouses. It has the nation's longest bowl streak (31). It remains the nation's winningest program with 849 victories in 127 years.
Literally, every major program below Michigan on that list has been a victim of parity in recent years. Nebraska, Alabama, Penn State, Texas, USC and Miami all have endured at least one losing season in the last 10 years. All of those except Penn State have changed coaches at least once.
What does Carr have to do to pimp slap the critics back into the woodwork? A national championship would be nice. That isn't going to happen this year. A conference title? Probably not this year either given Ohio State.
Ten victories? Maybe.
Carr doesn't know what it will take. Outwardly, he doesn't care. Like a lot of his peers, he goes into a bunker during the season, doesn't read the printed word for long stretches. His inspiration is the USC president, of all people. In 2001, "The Contrarian's Guide To Leadership" by Steve Sample was an Los Angeles Times best-seller.
"He stopped reading the newspapers," Carr said. "You're still going to know because people are going to tell you. His deal was rather than getting it from a writer, he was going to get interpretations from a friend. The friend is going to have his biases, too but at least he is going to know what they are. At the end of six months he was as well-versed on what was going on than had he read the paper."
While that's bad news for hacks like yours truly, it shows how focused Carr is.
Lately, though, the old Lloyd glare that used melt reporters' resolve seems to be missing. He talks in muted, measured tones. Maybe it's just a Wolvervine-in-winter type thing. Maybe it's a hint of humility.
"I'm reading an article the other day on the third baseman of the Yankees (Alex Rodriguez)," Carr said. "I didn't realize (the criticism). I don't care who you are, you're going to have times when you lose a game. Sometimes it's like a black cloud. You think, 'God, are we ever going to win another game.'"
It's clear the revival message has been spread throughout the team. Last year the Wolverines didn't finish. They lost late against Wisconsin. A vulnerable Notre Dame won in Ann Arbor. The late upchuck against Ohio State was horrid. Three losses by 14 total points.
The season ended almost comically in the Alamo Bowl, the first non-January postseason game for Michigan in nine years. If the amateurish Sun Belt officiating crew wasn't screwing up, Michigan was. The loss to Nebraska ended with Tyler Ecker being tackled, after multiple laterals on a kickoff, at the Huskers 13.
Judging by draft day, Carr and staff haven't finished lately on the recruiting trail either. No Wolverines were taken on the first day of the NFL Draft, only three total.
"We're very hungry," left tackle Jake Long said. "It's definitely not a season I would want to have again. It's not why we came to Michigan."
Carr cracked the usual coaches' whip after a down year. Both coordinators are gone. Offensive linemen were asked to mimic a national trend by getting smaller. The Wolverines might get better by being out of the training room. Tailback Michael Hart is back healthy after hamstring and ankle problems.
The problem is Carr, 61, is too young to retire, too valuable to be fired. He seems to know that. Wolves and Wolverines everywhere should too.
If Lloyd isn't good enough, who is?
"One of the great things about coaching at Michigan and playing at Michigan is the expectations and pressure," he said. "It's also one of the toughest."
Offensive MVP: Troy Smith, Ohio State Defensive MVP: Paul Posluszny, Penn State Sleeper team: Iowa Team to beat: Ohio State Coach of the Year: Jim Tressel, Ohio State
Predicted order of finish
1. Ohio State It will be interesting to see how Tressel opens up the offense with the most weapons he has had at Ohio State. After Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Antonio Pittman, watch for freshman tailback Chris Wells.
2. Michigan The Wolverines are playing with a grudge. Will anger carry them on the road at Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State?
3. Iowa Long ago Iowa made it the Big Three. With apologies to Michigan, this might be the league's second-best offense.
4. Penn State There is speed all over the field, just not the talent of last season. Anthony Morelli must win a game before he can win a big game.
5. Wisconsin Typical Whiskey. Brawny and run-based. If the Badgers are going to be a factor redshirt freshman P.J. Hill is going to have to replace Brian Calhoun right away.
6. Michigan State Enough offense to upset Notre Dame on Sept. 23. Shaky enough to lose at Indiana on Oct. 28.
7. Purdue Please, Joe Tiller, we beg you. Give us back basketball-on-grass and a spunky eight-win bowl team. It's probably not going to happen this year with a porous defense.
8. Minnesota Minny used to be a running back factory. Now Glen Mason is scrambling after Gary Russell failed to qualify academically.
9. Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald might have the toughest job in America -- rally the team after the death of its coach. Six victories would be considered a minor miracle.
10. Indiana The Hoosiers wore down, losing their final six last year. We still believe Terry Hoeppner could become the new Joe Tiller.
11. Illinois The talent is there for four or five victories. Too bad Chris Leak couldn't follow his former coach.
Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, Sr. Once Smith trusted his arm on the field and kept his hands in his pockets off it, he started to become a star. A national championship this year and Smith might be perceived as the best Ohio State QB ever.
Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State, Sr. Typical JoePa linebacker -- well spoken, polite and willing to rip your head off. His leadership makes the Lions a factor to defend the '05 title.