Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Lloyd

Lloyd Carr has been the coach of Michigan for as long as I've been an invested fan. There will come a day when he's not, possibly soon.

Saturday could be his final Ohio State game. For idiots, this would be cause for jubilation. For me, it would begin a long period of unease.

Lloyd has been successful by any measure, with a national title and five of Michigan's 42 Big Ten titles to his name. His winning percentage is behind only those of Schembechler and Yost among Michigan coaches, and under his watch, Michigan became the national leader in all-time wins and winning percentage. His personal winning percentage is higher than the school's all-time win percentage. Not shabby.

National media types and fans like to make coaches into godheads. When comparing the best football coaches in the country, it sounds as if they're discussing the seven wonders of the world: The Great Lighthouse of Norman; The Colossus of the Coliseum; The Hanging Gardens of Gainesville; The Great Pyramid of Happy Valley.

Lloyd doesn't get that treatment. He doesn't have the flash to engender slack-jawed awe. He's just a coach whose players uniformly love him and would run through walls for him, who is in charge of a scandal-free program that, despite bumps in the road, never collapses. And more often, wins. A lot. From what anecdotal evidence I can gather, he treats his players well, demands their best, and gets it. They love him. Before September's Notre Dame game, at a time when Michigan was 0-2 and looked on the brink of disaster, former Michigan tight end Aaron Shea called Carr "the best coach I've ever had in my whole career. I wish him luck, and I truly love that man."

Some fans find it harder. Lloyd does not inspire mindless worship. He doesn't take stupid gambles that earn the praise of the national media and chin-stroking pre-season puff pieces. His demeanor, like his playcalling, is restrained. He doesn't have any personal-appearance trademarks. He doesn't tell reporters how late he stays up watching film and working on game plans. And he sure as hell doesn't court their attention. The only way you'll see him on a magazine cover is on his players' shoulders.

Lloyd is just a man who has made Michigan football his life's work. He has a life outside of football coaching, and appears to be intelligent, at least enough to understand that football is not the end-all, be-all that some make it.

In an interview with scholastic.com, the book publisher, Carr dropped a reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Imagine your school's coach sitting for an interview with Scholastic Books, let alone throwing around Emerson references.) His 1997 team was famous for reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air and using it as inspiration on its climb to the top of the college football world.

In a perfect world, Lloyd would coach into his 80s, improving the lives of generations of football players, as well as students like myself who find themselves respecting and admiring the man.

Lloyd embodies Michigan ideals. He does not run up the score. He does not believe in winning at all costs; he treats sportsmanship and dignity as tangible goals. He insists his players leave Michigan as better people. Many of them do, and go on to become teachers, airline pilots and entrepreneurs.

And his teams win. We should all be so successful in our life's work.

Someone wrote earlier this week that tomorrow's game is the rubber match for Lloyd's legacy. That statement couldn't be more wrong.

Whenever he begins life as an ex-coach, Lloyd Carr will deliver our team into the hands of someone who will not seem worthy. This is fine. Any assessment of Lloyd at the moment he took over Michigan would have been the same. The program was poised at a touchy moment. But Lloyd took over, never once lobbied for the job, and simply proved himself. He overcame a highly embarrassing loss to Northwestern, his team played hard all season, and delivered a 31-23 upset of undefeated Ohio State. Should he bookend his career with likely upsets of the hated Buckeyes, it would be a sweet finish indeed for a man who deserves it.

And if not, we'll all get over the disappointment. I wouldn't trade the past 13 seasons of Michigan football for anything. And whenever it is a new coach takes over, he'll probably seem at least as unworthy as Lloyd might once have. I'm optimistic that Michigan's next coach will do just fine. But I can't shake the feeling it won't be the same.

People like Lloyd are called once in a lifetime for a reason.

4 comments:

VerbalD said...

i've echoed those same sentiments to my friends all season. well put.

flop said...

Thanks. I've tried to do the same, with varying results. Some people can't see through the red mist of ragetrauma that settled over them in September.

Todd said...

Even as an OSU fan, I love Lloyd. He's a classy guy.

J. Businger said...

Censorship, I cry! I posted a message here on Saturday and it has been removed. Could it be that my blog's fearless defiance of the group-think that dominates this subject unnerved this site's owners? I have been censored! Or perhaps I forgot to click the 'publish' button!