Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Above the Fold - Michigan at a crossroads

I apologize for the lateness of today's link dump, as I was busy earlier this morning...

It's official. Lloyd Carr retired as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. For only the 2nd time in many of our lives, Michigan will be conducting an all out, nationwide, coaching search. For fans of the Wolverines, this may be the scariest period ever as a fan, thanks to the nagging fear that's in the back of all our minds. That a bad hire could send Michigan into the sort of death spiral seen at other traditional power schools, as seen at Alabama, Nebraska, and Notre Dame.

The last time you could consider the Wolverines mediocre was in the early to mid 60's, the Bump Elliot years. The vast majority of Michigan fans have no idea what it would be like if there was a long stretch of down seasons. It's happened to every other school you would consider elite. USC. Oklahoma. Texas. Miami. Penn State. Damn near everyone but Michigan.

You youngsters have NEVER seen anything like an under .500 season from Michigan. Well, neither have I... My God, the worst season in most of our lifetimes was the 6-6 1984 season. That's the nearest this program has ever come to a losing season since 1967, when they went 4-6. That's ancient history.

As long as I've been a fan, and that goes back to the early days of the Bo era, when I was just a very wee lad, and thought Billy Taylor was the bestest running back for ever and ever, Michigan has been always, I repeat, ALWAYS, good, if not great. I don't know how I would handle being a fan of a Michigan Wolverines football team that lost more than it won.

I'll put it this way. There are 7 signs of the apocalyspse. I'll add an 8th. Michigan football having a losing season. I'm serious...

All of which is my round about way of leading into today's "Above the Fold." The reaction to Carr stepping down.

At Mlive, as you might expect in their being the home of the Ann Arbor News, this is THE story. Jim Carty, their writer for all things U of M, believes Les Miles is the man Bill Martin should name to become the face of the university.

Miles played here, coached here under both Bo and Gary Moeller, and remained close enough to Schembechler that the Wolverines' legendary coach said in the spring before his death he'd made it a point to watch all of Miles' games in his first season as Louisiana State head coach. Miles understands everything about this place and its football program.

But perhaps more importantly, Miles would also bring a desperately needed infusion of outside experiences to a Michigan football program that has grown inbred and tradition-bound.

Inbred? That's going to piss off some of the old school blue. It's a harsh assessment, but I agree...

At the News, beat writer Angelique Chengelis does the "Burning questions" bit. She touches on the bad blood some of those with influence within the Michigan program have for Miles.

That really does depend to whom you talk. The reaction to the name, "Les Miles," is not consistent. Some who know him roll their eyes. Others think he would be perfect for the job. Some who played under him at Michigan call him a great X's and O's coach and a technician. Others who played under him said they did not enjoy his coaching.

There are some that ask: If Miles is such a great "Michigan Man," then why on earth did he vote U-M third in last year's coaches' poll? Ohio State and Florida finished No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and Michigan was third, missing out on a rematch against the Buckeyes in the national title game.

It's going to be fun to watch the reaction from the old guard the first game Miles (If hired, obviously) does something comparable to this season's LSU-Florida game, where he went for it on 4th down what seemed like a dozen times. (It was actually 4, but who's counting?) I'm confident that the blue hairs would have coronaries and conniption fits. The Big House best up their medical staffing...

Unlike the Lions, who were covered by the "Worst columnist in America," the maize and blue get the News' A-Lister, Wojo. He is calling for a coach who is much like Bo and Lloyd, but with a fresher view of today's style of football.

But the next coach must bring ample energy and more innovation. For all Carr accomplished -- he delivered some of the greatest moments in Michigan history -- he was reluctant to stray from what worked so long, to embrace the creative offensive principles now invigorating programs across the country.

To merely call it stubbornness is wrong. For most of Carr's career, the Michigan style was what kept the Wolverines practically alone as a consistent winner -- an NCAA-record 33 straight bowl appearances -- even if they won the biggest prize only once.

That's the conundrum Michigan has to resolve. To either be consistently good, but rarely great, or suffer down years in order to gun for the national title every few seasons. I'm not sure if there's a happy medium...

At the Freep, Drew Sharp thinks the next few weeks will define Bill Martin, as his "legacy as Michigan athletic director rests solely on whom he hires." But Sharp, ever the hater, can't help but take a shot at Michigan...

If Miles took the job, that would save Martin from facing the harsh reality that the job is now only a borderline top-10 national position. That's heresy to the true Blue believers, but prestige in today's college football is measured more by lavish facilities. And only now can Martin point to the new construction of luxury suites at Michigan Stadium and a state-of-the-art football practice building.

Could Michigan attract Miles if Miles didn't have any prior connection to Michigan?

No way.

Personally, I find all the talk about Michigan's status in today's college football world tiring. It's a damn good job, and one every coach in America would at least contemplate taking. Let's just say no big time coach would turn down a phone call from Martin.

The Little Fella's heir apparent, Michael Rosenberg, writes that Carr almost retired after the end of last season, and needed to be convinced by Martin, and the university president, Mary Sue Coleman, to come back for the 2007 season.

"And Mary Sue Coleman called me. She said, 'Lloyd, you can't quit. We need you.' I knew how Bill felt. But it really meant a lot to me that President Coleman would pick that phone up."

Some coaches forget there is a university attached to their football teams. Carr is different. He sees himself as a school employee first.

If Coleman and Martin had said, "Lloyd, we love you, but you do what you need to do," would he have retired?

"Yeah," Carr said.

If Carr had walked after the Rose Bowl, I wonder if Michigan doesn't lose to Appalachian St and Oregon. He obviously had 1 foot already out the door...

The must read MGoBlog, who hasn't gotten any credit (What a surprise!) from the blog hating MSM from breaking the Carr retirement story over a week ago, today touches base on the sensitive dance between Michigan's need for a coach ASAP, and Miles' chance to win a national title while pining for the Wolverines' job. Brian thinks Michigan, if Les Miles is their man, needs to wait out the season before moving on Miles, no matter how difficult that may be.

I don't like the idea of Michigan pressing Miles to leave LSU while the national title remains in play. If the Tigers lose before bowl season, sure, pick him off and move on, but a national title is too rare an opportunity to trifle with. Miles is clearly broken up about potentially screwing this up for his players and LSU in general; if we're serious about maintaining the integrity Martin lauds as a key component of the Carr era and the program going forward we should acquire Miles in a fashion that does the least damage possible to our new coach's current set of kids. Get a commitment from him, then let him finish the year.

The normally irreverent M Zone, pens a thank you to Carr, and also wonders if the sort of coach Michigan fans want, actually exists.

Thus, U-M begins its search for a new coach. Forget interest or availability, I just hope the person we're looking for exists. You know, someone able to contend for a national title every year, win each bowl game and never lose to Ohio State. If not, watch out. We Michigan fans are like some long-married guy going through a perpetual mid-life crisis: the grass is always greener, the coach of "that team" is always sexier.

At Gorilla Crouch, Dave will miss Carr, and wishes him well, but won't miss his single mindedness to run the football, at all costs...

Carr believed his offenses needed to have a strong running game, but he was once quoted when his team struggled to run the ball as saying the team would “run or die trying”. The quote sounded a bit like being committed more to beating one’s head against the wall rather than hiring one of the best offensive coordinators who had a proven X’s and O’s scheme for successfully running the football. When you coach at the all-time winningest football program you probably have your pick of several excellent candidates who could have improved Michigan’s offense. So that mentality was frustrating to say the least.

At Straight Bangin', Joey (Who believes that Martin should "Call Carroll, Call Meyer, Call Stoops, call everyone.") has a guest post from Dr. G, who reminds us of the situation surrounding Carr losing the "Interim" tag, and becoming head coach, and the fact that even back in 1995, Michigan was ready to look outside their "Family."

So in 1995, two of the top names on Joe Roberson’s list were Cam Cameron and Tony Dungy! Now 12 years later they are (or, given the Dolphins’ season, were) two of the hotter names in coaching at any level. In the end, Carr strung together a respectable season, and Roberson was impressed with the love the players on the team had for him. Team leaders like Jeremy Irons even said they’d have left the team if Carr wasn’t coaching. After the 5-0 win over Purdue, Roberson made his decision to promote Carr after seeing the locker room, "come together like it never had before."

That's "Above the Fold" for Tuesday, 11-20-07!


  1. This might be heresy, but I don't think there is a chance in hell that Les Miles will end up in Ann Arbor. First, if he wins the National Championship at LSU his contract goes up to "one of the three biggest in the country." Second he seems to have a $1.25 million buyout clause that UM would have to eat. Third, he'd want to bring in his assistants, which means UM would be paying two sets of assistants--another $1.00 Million, more or less, before they even get Les onto the dias to introduce him. Fourth, the player salary cap is much higher and the academic requirements are much lower in the SEC than in the Big Ten. The SEC is almost a no man's land as far as NCAA enforcement is concerned. The theory seems to be that everyone is so crooked it makes no sense to even try to clean it up. Even competing schools don't rat one another out the way they do in the Big Ten. I think that Bill Martin has made it clear that he is expected to live up to UM's academic reputation and not down to OSU's. UM has gone over to the dark side in both baseball and basketball, had horrific probations in both, and lost a tremendous amount of prestige and credibility on the "clean program" side of things, so a football coach from the SEC is not something that Bill is going to want to bring in, no matter whether he is an alum or Urban Meyer. Besides, UM won't pay Miles what it takes. The only way they can afford him is if he loses out on the NatChamp in either the SEC or to Kansas or Mizzou or, horrors, OSU. If the last, he'll already be in the Carr tradition of losing to Tressel.

    The guy who really makes sense is Mangino--anyone who can win 10 straight at Kansas has to be a genius.

  2. Any chance of Harbaugh, or did he completely burn his bridges? I'd certainly guess the latter.

    ProFootballTalk this morning mentioned that some folks were talking about Cowher, which they rightfully dismissed.

    Finally, has Chuck Long made any waves as a coach? I know he was getting some looks as a Coordinator a few years back. Don't recall if he's still doing that, or if he got a head coaching gig. I believe the latter, and that he did well in his first season at least.

    All of that being said, I think it'll have to be a coach with a solid record at a big-time school. Which would limit it to Big 10, Pac 10, SEC and Big Twelve. I think they'll be willing to go outside the Bo/Lloyd Tree, but only for a really good candidate.

    They're not going to rush this search, and they shouldn't. So there's no reason that it couldn't take a month or two (at the most). And that brings us back to Les Miles. He does seem to be the best "candidate" so far.

    Hopefully, Lloyd will get the respect he deserves now. Good guy, class act, decent coach. For a university, that pretty much sums up the list of desired qualities.