A devoted Ohio State football fan, grinning from ear to ear and back again while awash in the splendor of still another Buckeye victory over Michigan, had something to say to me the following morning at church that couldn’t wait. I could, but he couldn’t.
“I kind of feel sorry for that guy up there, coach Carr,” he stated with an expression of actual sincerity.
Sometimes integrity shows through. Sometimes moral values and respect define a person and can even infiltrate the conscience of the most ardent adversary.
The easier and much more popular response to OSU coach Jim Tressel’s sixth victory over Lloyd Carr in the last seven meetings between them might have been something such as, “I sure hope Michigan keeps Carr. We own him.”
In retrospect, I recall that response being in vogue among Michigan fans in regard to the firing of former OSU coach John Cooper, who beat the Wolverines just twice in 13 attempts.
The difference? OSU fans at least respect Carr for his reverence and devotion to “The Game,” as a Bo Schembechler disciple, something Cooper could never grasp.
I must admit, I didn’t fully realize how much principled fiber consumed Carr and how much I took for granted while covering his teams for many years until I experienced his recent press conference where he announced his retirement.
He is truly a respectful man. That was never in question, but his record was, especially against OSU and especially over the second half of his 13-year head-coaching tenure at UM.
The game passed him by, but maybe not as much as the profession.
Carr started as an assistant coach at Michigan in 1980 when being online had to do with drying your laundry and e-mail was nonexistent and why not? Stamps were only 15 cents. Radio talk shows had to do with repairing your plumbing instead of incessant screaming by host and caller alike in regard to stating an opinion that often defies intellect.
Carr’s initial firsthand observance of a media feeding frenzy came in 1995 when he was hired as UM’s interim head coach, replacing his close friend Gary Moeller, who had a night on the town at a Southfield restaurant and then was run out of town for actions unbecoming a Michigan football coach.
Carr took the opportunity during his acceptance speech to ridicule the media for its treatment of Moeller, a radio station somehow procuring and then airing tapes of Moeller’s intoxicated reaction to arresting officers.
You knew right then that this new guy Carr was old school. That was when the Rose Bowl was still the, “Granddaddy of Them All,” instead of just another BCS Bowl, the ultimate goal was to play on Jan. 1 and not Jan. 7. The news came on at 6 p.m. with highlights at 11, instead of the now 24/7 news cycle that lies in wait, searching for fresh blood. Back then you recruited 105 players, many of whom were signed just so someone else wouldn’t get them. Now there are only 85 scholarships available and uniformity comes in a more wide
variety of uniforms.
Michigan posted a 121-40 record, that included five Big Ten titles and a national championship under the introspective, 62-year-old Carr, the definitive player’s coach. But his record in UM’s final two games of the season, including bowl games, since Tressel arrived at Ohio State in 2001 is 2-11, following a fourth straight loss to OSU.
The outdated mano-mano approach to college football, which Carr continued to embrace, might still work in a boxing ring, but not on a football field where speed, deception and ingenuity are now the trend.
Michigan will seek a new coach, preferably a Michigan man who understands its tradition, but also recognizes
that three yards in a cloud of dust best describes an extended turtle race. Today you need a face man, not a fatherly figure, someone who can market your program, someone who can make an instant impact or it’s three and out years we’re talking about. There are more and more millionaires gracing the college coaching ranks. Recruiting is more cutthroat than ever before. All of the negative recruiting currently being utilized would make even the sleaziest of politicians envious.
Carr knew coming into this season it would be his last. He knew if he didn’t beat Tressel this season he certainly wouldn’t beat him next season, OSU with as many as 20 starters returning while UM rebuilds. While Carr couldn’t beat Tressel, who has? How quickly we forget that an 11-0 Michigan team, ranked No. 2 nationally, lost to Ohio State 42-39 last season.
For Carr, it was just time for a lot of reasons, records included. While the game itself has changed so, too, has the coaching profession where living in a fishbowl makes it the biggest bowl of them all. Moral values, integrity and devotion are not as much the embodiment of the sport as they once were. That, along with round-the-clock media scrutiny that often prospers on a negative impact, convinced the judicious Carr that an end run was in his best interests and rightfully so.