Michigan coach keeps doing what he wants to do
CHICAGO -- I have some bad news for the webmasters of FireLloydCarr.com, FireLloydCarrNow.com, FireLloydandTommy.blogspot.com: Carr isn't going anywhere, except to work tomorrow. He'd rather dot the i on Script Ohio than walk away -- or be told to walk away -- from the only college head coaching job he has ever known.
At least one of his Big Ten peers, Minnesota's Glen Mason, says he's never seen Carr so stressed out. But the reporters who cover Michigan football on a daily basis say Carr has been his usual cheery preseason self. It isn't until the Wolverines begin training camp and inch closer to their season opener that Carr goes into lockdown mode. That's when you need Van Helsing.
The Carr who arrived fashionably late for the league's annual interview sessions didn't look stressed out to me. He sipped on a cup of Starbucks, apologized for not wearing a tie with his navy blue suit, and only once stared a small hole into the forehead of a Detroit reporter who asked him a question (legitimate, by the way) that Carr didn't like. It wasn't the best 90 minutes of his life, but it beat cleaning the basement.
Michigan is only seven months removed from its lowest win total and first unranked season since 1984. Included in that 7-5 record is the Alamo Bowl loss to unranked Nebraska (in Carr's defense, the crew working the game couldn't have officiated a Punt, Pass and Kick competition), and yet another defeat to Mr. Sweater-Vest, Ohio State's Jim Tressel.
Wolverine followers maybe could have chugged enough Pepto Bismol to stomach the five losses, but only if one of those defeats hadn't been administered by the despised Buckeyes. Carr is now 1-4 against Tressel, which explains why some of these U-of-M bloggers need distemper shots.
Carr feels your pain. He lives it. Hears it. He just doesn't want to see it.
After reading a book by University of Southern California president Steven B. Sample (he read a Pac-10 author?), "The Contrarian's Guide To Leadership," Carr decided to quit looking at newspapers for six months. He still doesn't read them, except on Sundays -- and only then to have a working knowledge of world events. Otherwise, he depends on selected press clippings provided to him by the school's sports information department.
Wait. There is one writer Carr does read on a regular basis: Rudyard Kipling. As he gets hammered in chat room after chat room, in the Letters to the Editor, in blogs, in his own Big House, Carr leans on those opening lines of Kipling's poem, "If."
- "If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too."
Michigan Men (and Women) are blaming Carr for all sorts of things these days. He doesn't beat Ohio State enough (6-5 overall). He doesn't win national championships enough (one title, 1997). He doesn't win bowl games enough (5-6, including losses in four of his last five postseason games). And because of those numbers, as well as last year's mess, Carr's game-day wardrobe now includes asbestos khakis.
This isn't entirely new. Carr has butt burns from previous turns on the hot seat. But another loss to the Buckeyes, or another win total in the mid-single digits, or another year out of the top 25 and Carr will need more than a fireproof wardrobe. It doesn't seem to matter that he's averaged more than nine wins per season, that he's won 75 percent of his games, that his players usually leave Ann Arbor carrying footballs and diplomas.
So I ask him why he still coaches. Why endure the FireLloyd.coms, the criticism, the expectations, the pressure?
"I will say this to you," says Carr in a slow, measured, serious tone, "first of all, I have a choice that I can do what I want to do with my life. So that's where I begin. I'm going to do what I want to do. The hell with anybody else, what they think. So that's where it all begins with me. I love the game. I love the competition. I love the relationship with the players and the ability to have some kind of positive impact as they try to pursue a degree and play this game.
"So, I don't know if that answers your question."
Answer it? In 64 seconds' time -- which is how long it took Carr to choose those words -- the Michigan coach did what any coach worth his rollover contract should do: He made allowances for his critics' doubting, and then he told them to stick it.
You can't coach in fear. You can't obsess about what might happen. If Carr is going to oversee the winningest Division I-A football program in history, then he's going to do it on his terms, not yours. You got a problem with that? Tough.
"You don't have much time to dwell on the past in this business," he says.
Several days after Carr was named interim coach in May 1996, the legendary Bo Schembechler, who hired Carr as his assistant 16 years earlier, stopped by the football offices.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Schembechler said.
Carr invited him in.
"Look," said the former Michigan coach, "there's going to be times when you doubt yourself. The reason I know that is that I had doubts about myself. What I want to tell you is this: When you have those doubts, just get rid of them. You're prepared. You know what it takes. Just go do it."
The words still resonate with Carr.
"Here's the greatest football coach ever to coach at Michigan, and one of the greatest coaches that ever coached the game -- and he's telling me he had doubts," says Carr.
Carr has had them too. Still does. He's just not going to let you or his team see them.
"When you lose a game, it's like a black cloud," he says. "God, are we ever going to win another game?"
Nobody understands the mentality of Michigan fans better than Carr. This will be his 27th season in Ann Arbor, so he's seen even the great Schembechler get ripped. Now it's his turn, which causes his players to do a slow burn.
"Coach Carr, all he does, he coaches," says senior defensive end LaMarr Woodley. "He can't go out there and play football for us."
"He's one of the smartest men I know," says Jake Long, a senior offensive tackle. "He'll give you the coat off his back."
They see this Carr; we don't. We don't see the Carr who treats his former players like family, swapping stories over a cold brew. We don't see the Carr who sends personalized notes to retiring Big Ten officials, thanking them for their years of service.
"This I can guarantee you," says Dave Parry, the league's supervisor of officials. "He cares deeply about the game, the integrity of the game and the character of the game. That is a fact."
It is also fact that 7-5 at a place such as Michigan can cause severe discomfort. Maybe that's why, when asked what he would tell a new DI-A coach these days, Carr didn't hesitate.
"First of all, you understand you have to win if you want to stay," he says. "That's fair. That's the way it should be."
Carr wants to stay. Now, despite that 102-34 record at Michigan, he still has to prove he deserves to stay.
Nothing fair about that.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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