Commentary

Carr going out on losing note

Updated: November 18, 2007, 8:18 PM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- One day after losing the Big Ten title -- and their head coach along with it -- the Michigan campus was littered with leftovers of what is expected to have been Lloyd Carr's final game in Michigan Stadium.

[+] EnlargeLloyd Carr
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLloyd Carr won the 1997 national championship with Michigan.
Flattened maize pom-poms were among the game-day trash still strewn on South State Street, and hand-made signs berating the Buckeyes hung crookedly from fraternity houses and apartments. Recent graduates and longtime alumni lingered, but had nothing to celebrate after an ugly 14-3 loss to rival Ohio State.

Behind the locked doors of the Hartwig Building, athletic director Bill Martin read an internal e-mail about 20-year-old junior Joi Smith, a Michigan hurdler with brain cancer who insisted on watching the football game before she died at 7:35 p.m. on Saturday.

"She was determined to watch the Michigan-OSU football game today," it read, "and shortly after the game told her father she was ready."

Martin talked with Carr, who is also a good friend of his, about it this morning.

"We share the same values," Martin said, "and it's about more than wins on Saturdays."

That is why Martin -- and many others here -- believe that eventually, Carr's 13 seasons at the school, his 1997 national championship and 121-40 record will overshadow this season, which began and ended in misery for the Wolverines.

After losing the season opener to Appalachian State in what was one of the greatest upsets in college football history, Michigan lost to Oregon. The Wolverines reeled off eight straight wins, but closed the regular season the way it began -- with back-to-back losses for an 8-4 finish.

"Human nature being what it is, I think that will always be brought up," Martin said. "What I would hope everyone would remember, is that Michigan is the winningest program in college football history. Lloyd has moved that percentage up, not down. He has won 13 out of the last 16 Big Ten games that Michigan played and two of them were lost in the last two weeks. Think of that.

"This has been a season where from the first play of the Appalachian State game, when Mike Hart was hurt, where we have not had [Chad] Henne and Hart healthy for one play the entire season," Martin said. "Not one game, one play. But that is the nature of the game."

Injuries aside, the discontent with Carr, 62, has grown in recent years, with some of the loudest complaints being about Michigan's humdrum offense, and Carr's inability to beat the Buckeyes or win a recent bowl game. Some of the alumni on campus this weekend were pleased to hear the news of Carr's impending retirement, which will be announced at 10 a.m. ET tomorrow.

"I think the time has come," said Jon Carlson, who graduated from Michigan in 1963 and earned his law degree in 1966. "... When you look at the Big Ten conference, a lot of capable younger coaches have entered the league. It really has gotten more competitive. I think Michigan has been a little bit predictable the last several years in their offense. ... I'd say the time is right for a change."

Rosie Funk, who graduated last year but made the trip from New York to see the rivalry game, agreed -- especially after yesterday's performance.

"I think it's for the best," she said. "He did a good job, but he hasn't been able to beat Ohio State in four years. He can't win any bowl games. I think we're just ready for a change now."

He reached the pinnacle so fast. People are always going to hold him to that standard. In some ways that's fair, in some ways it's not. Hopefully his legacy, in a few years after the dust settles that he was one of the great all-time coaches here.

--Former Michigan TE Billy Seymour

Students in the Michigan Union talked about the Wolverines' absent offense against OSU (91 total yards) and who even stayed for the whole, cold, rainy game. A small group of friends in the Michigan Marching Band speculated in the food court about which bowl they'd go to, and how much longer they would've gotten to stay at the Rose Bowl.

"It was frustrating," said Brennan Crispin, a junior trumpet player who grew up watching the Wolverines in Manchester, Mich. "We wanted to beat Ohio State, obviously, but then there were all the rumors about Lloyd retiring going around, we haven't won in awhile, the weather was bad, Bo [Schembechler] died last year ... We really felt like this was going to be the time we turned it around. It didn't go as we had planned. It was kind of a letdown."

Billy Seymour, a tight end who played under Carr from 1997-01, was still on campus after flying in from Arizona for the game and a football reunion.

"He reached the pinnacle so fast," said Seymour, who played on the national championship team. "People are always going to hold him to that standard. In some ways that's fair, in some ways it's not. Hopefully his legacy, in a few years after the dust settles [is] that he was one of the great all-time coaches here.

"It's hard. If it is his time to go, it's tough to see a guy like him leave. I've learned so much from him. I became a man under his leadership."

David Brandon, a former university regent for eight years who played at Michigan under the late Schembechler and now lives in Ann Arbor where he is the CEO of Domino's pizza, is a good friend of Carr's. He said he was not surprised by Carr's decision to retire.

"Lloyd and I have had conversations about it for quite some time," Brandon said. "He was a student of Bo Schembechler. If you read Bo's book and know Bo at all, one of the things he felt really strongly about was you needed to know when it was time.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
AP Photo/Rob CarrLes Miles is the likely No.1 target for the Wolverines.
"Lloyd always made it very clear to me he wanted to listen to our old mentor, that he left on his terms and still felt good about what he accomplished and didn't overstay his welcome."

Seymour said other former players he's spoken with wouldn't have a problem if Michigan filled its most prominent job with the hottest name that has been attached to the job -- LSU's Les Miles -- but Martin said he's keeping his distance -- for now.

"No. 1 he's involved in his season," Martin said of Miles. "You have to respect not only he as a coach at LSU, the athletic director at LSU, and that institution. It's a fine school and they have a great chance to win a national championship this year. I would not want to do anything to interfere with that opportunity."

There is a Michigan football helmet on display in Martin's spacious office. It is signed: "Bill, Great Job -- Thanks. Go Blue. Lloyd Carr." There is also a picture of the evolution of the football program hanging on his wall, showing the changing uniforms over the years, and the different head coaches, ending with Carr.

"I told Lloyd he could leave on his terms," Martin said, "and I'd be extremely happy if he stayed as long as I did."

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.

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