Monday, September 26, 2005

Michigan has a case of the JoePas

In what can only be described as not shocking, Michigan lost to Wisconsin on Saturday. As you might expect, the Michigan fan-base went into a full-fledged code red on Lloyd Carr and his ability, or lack thereof, to coach Michigan football. The message boards lit up. The call in shows had the typical “sky is falling” theme. It seems that the average fan is starting to get fed up with the mediocrity of the program. This begs the question, where on Earth have you been? Michigan has been doing the exact same thing under Lloyd Carr for ten years (sans one miracle season). Why has it taken so long for Michigan fans to realize this? Some of you might think that this would make me happy since I’ve been screaming for people to realize this for ten years now. Well, it doesn’t make me happy. One thing that I’ve come to know over the last few years is that if Michigan loses, Michigan fans are irate and scream to the top of their lungs. If Michigan wins, even if it’s against EMU or Indiana, Michigan fans absolve Lloyd of any wrong doing for the season. I’m not sure how this “immunity after a win” started but it’s the way things go. If Michigan beats MSU next week, then all will be forgiven. Nothing has changed. So, while it may seem like people are starting to wake up and come over from the dark-side, it’s only a mirage.

Just about every pro-Lloyd fan utters the following phrase at some point or another; “I hate it when people automatically blame the coach after a loss.” How about after ten years of mediocrity (mediocrity in terms of Michigan’s standards)? Is that reason enough to blame a coach? Carr is responsible for the state of the program. A player can make a mistake on the field that costs Michigan a win. That’s OK. I don’t think there’s a knowledgeable person on the planet that would hold that against Lloyd. What can be held against Lloyd is the fact that Michigan has underachieved in 80% of the seasons since Lloyd has been coach. Michigan hasn’t beaten a ranked Notre Dame team since 1991. Michigan has only finished with less than three losses in two out of eleven seasons. Michigan has lost six straight road openers. The fact of the matter is that Michigan only plays a handful of games that they could actually lose based on the talent differential. Michigan loses way too many of those games. That’s what Lloyd is responsible for. Nobody is going to bust Lloyd’s chops for an isolated incident on the field. However, consistently underachieving over ten years is entirely on Lloyd.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen the argument, “Lloyd Carr takes Michigan to bowl games and wins 9/10 games per year. What more do you want?” Well, I’ll show you what I want. I will compare Michigan’s success under Lloyd Carr to a mystery program. I’ll reveal the identity of this mystery program after I compare them with Michigan’s success under Lloyd.

Michigan under Lloyd Carr


Mystery Program


As you can see, the Mystery program finished with less than three losses in 14 out of 20 years. Lloyd Carr has finished with less than three losses in 2 out of 11 years (I’m counting this year as three + losses since there’s about a 99.999% chance that will happen). Does anyone want to guess who the Mystery Program is? It’s not Florida St. or Nebraska. It’s not Miami or Florida. It’s…..Michigan. In the two decades before Lloyd took over, Michigan was a good bet to finish with two losses or less. Under Bo, Michigan managed two losses or less in 70% of the seasons. Under Lloyd, Michigan has finished with two losses or less in 18% of the seasons. No amount of spin can change that. I know there are a lot of people out there that think that Michigan is an elite football program because of the streak of bowl game appearances and winning seasons. Michigan is almost guaranteed a winning season every year because of the schedule. Two MAC teams + Northwestern + Indiana + Illinois + a few other average Big Ten teams = winning season. It’s so easy to make a bowl game under the current bowl system that half of all teams in college football make a bowl game. Each year that Michigan underachieves, the standards that fans use to proclaim Michigan’s elite status lowers. Here is a list of teams that have fared better than Michigan in terms of two losses or less seasons since Lloyd took over:

Florida 7
Florida St. 8
Miami 5
Nebraska 8
Kansas St. 6
Va. Tech 4
Georgia 3
Tennessee 6
Oklahoma 5
Ohio St. 6
Wisconsin 3
Penn St. 3
Utah 3
Texas 4
Colorado 3
Auburn 3

There are a number of programs that have also had two seasons of less than three losses like Michigan. There are seventeen programs that have fared better. Most of these schools have double or triple the amount of such seasons. Michigan has not performed on an elite level as most people believe. They have been remarkable in their mediocrity. In fact, it’s obvious from looking at the Mystery Program above that Michigan’s success has tailed off significantly. Here is a list of ranked opponents (I will be using the final AP poll) Michigan has beaten since 2000:

2000: #23 Wisconsin
2001: #12 Illinois
2002: #16 Penn St.
2003: # 20 Minnesota, #19 Purdue, #4 Ohio St.
2004: #8 Iowa

In the last five years, Michigan has only beaten seven ranked opponents. In four of the last five years, Michigan has only beaten one ranked opponent. Since Lloyd Carr became head coach in 1995, Michigan has beaten 21 ranked opponents. In the last ten years, Michigan has only beaten 17 teams with less than four losses. 84% of all Michigan wins in the last ten years have come against teams with four losses or more. The reason that this is relevant is because many Michigan fans will have you believe that Lloyd is performing up to standards because of the number of Michigan wins since his arrival. Of Carr’s 97 victories since 1995, only 21 of them have been against ranked opponents. 78% of all Michigan wins have come against opponents ranked out of the top 25. That means that if Michigan only beat the teams ranked out of the top 25, Michigan would have a winning percentage of 78% which would be one of the top three in college football. Cleary a team won’t beat every unranked opponent. That’s not my point. My point is that Michigan plays so many average to poor teams that it hardly matters who the coach is. It would almost be impossible for Michigan to NOT win as much as they’ve won under Lloyd Carr.

I’ve come to know the way Michigan fans think pretty well. Many of them have an excuse for anything. I know many Michigan fans would say, what makes three losses a poor season, or Lloyd Carr’s winning percentage is one of the best in Michigan’s history, or Lloyd goes to New Year’s Day bowl games every year. The reality of the situation is that I (yes, me) could be the coach of the University of Michigan football program and I seriously doubt there would be any drop off whatsoever from the Lloyd Carr era. What do I know about coaching a football team? Absolutely nothing. Michigan is one of the premier academic/athletic institutions in the world. They have a built in advantage that only a few other schools can rival. Elite high school athletes will come to Michigan no matter who the coach is. Lloyd Carr couldn’t ruin that even if he tried. Lloyd gets a ton of credit for being a great recruiter. Does anyone think that the University and the groundwork that Bo Schembechler laid have anything to do with that? Michigan recruits itself. It’s simple but true. If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself, what qualified Lloyd to get the coaching job in the first place? He was a long time assistant coach when Gary Moeller decided to get drunk and throw a chair in a restaurant. Michigan needed a coach to finish out the season and they chose Lloyd because, well, he was Lloyd. He was (and is) a good man and a safe bet to keep things on the up and up to finish out the season. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that Michigan would actually name him as the permanent coach of the Michigan football team. What business did Lloyd have being a head coach? I am all but certain that virtually anyone could’ve been named the UM football coach in 1995 and had the same success as Carr. The 1997 National Championship? Well, it’s certainly true that Michigan won the National Championship. However, Michigan was favored in every game. They simply did what they should’ve done in half of the seasons since then. Also, Michigan was aided by arguably the best defensive player in college football history. Lloyd couldn’t have screwed that season up if he tried. Plus, Gary Moeller was responsible for bringing Woodson to Michigan. So, Lloyd takes a team, led by a Moeller recruit, wins every game that they’re supposed to win against an extremely overrated schedule, and has a free pass for life? Give me a break.

Lloyd Carr won’t be fired. There’s a 0% chance of that happening. Carr is a man of character. He runs a clean program. Michigan fans are in the unenviable position of having to wait until Lloyd decides it’s time to retire. To be honest, I don’t care how long Lloyd stays around because there’s really nothing I can do about it. Bill Martin trusts Lloyd so it really does no good to put up the fire Lloyd websites. What I do care about however is whether or not the Michigan fan base keeps making excuses for obvious underachievement. There are some very smart people out there that firmly believe that Lloyd Carr is the man for the job. I understand that it’s hard for people to look past their own bias especially when it’s their favorite sports team, but part of the ability to think critically involves being honest. I’m not shocked at the amount of people that defend Lloyd given his strong character as a human being. However, it’s extremely disappointing that Michigan’s football program is regressing (and has been regressing) right in front of everyone’s eyes, and there is only a small percentage of people that are even seeing it.


Hwood said...

The Michigan-Wisconsin football game was a fabulous matchup between two half-witted coaching staffs trying to out-inept the other. It was really something to see. Somehow, Henne falling on his ass on the last play of the game seemed apropos.

When Carr leaves, which will be soon, who do you think is the heir apparent? Herrmann? Malone? Another Michigan man coaching at some other school? Look at what's occurring at MSU. Hire in a coach with no ties to the program to break the trends that have happened previously. Of course, the rich donors contributing to the brick patios and stadium expansion would probably have a conniption fit if Llo's successor wasn't hired in.

Michigan fans like to crow about their team's success, especially with regards to that "farm school" up to the north. "Well, at least we're not Michigan State" is usually the reply. This season, it couldn't be more accurate. Michigan isn't at the level of Michigan State as both teams head into their annual clash. It's certainly not because MSU is more talented than Michigan. They are playing with more effort, more desire, more efficiency and with a chip on their shoulder. Buckle up the chinstraps, because if Michigan doesn't match (or surpass) the effort of a pissed off Spartan team looking for revenge after last year, it's going to be a long day for Wolverine fans, and a glorious day for me.

Matt said...

Well said brother. Now I'm begging to feel how MSU fans feel just about every year.

Anonymous said...

You are incorrect. Michigan's athletic program does not have an innate competitive advantage over other schools. Do you really think that most high school athletes care about college football tradition? Do you think they are excited about the academic opportunities present to them at U of M? Or do you think they care almost exclusively about going pro? If U of M weren't a pro pipeline, the school wouldn't win recruiting battles against MSU, much less Georgia, Oregon, and other schools that have breathe-taking athletic facilities that surpass those in Ann Arbor. Lloyd deserves a lot of credit for keeping that pipeline going strong. If you put this kind of rpessure on the current head coach, nobody credible is going to want to take the job. Remember Nebraska? Do you think that Bill Callahan is a better coach than Lloyd Carr? Is he a better coach than Frank Solich? This is the wrong attitude to take; let's not act like Buckeyes or Domers about this.

Anonymous said...

Ummm... anonymous, how do you think the "pipeline" to the pros got started? Maybe due to 2 decades of Bo?

As Jake said, it would have been hard for any coach (even Lloyd) to mess this up. Bo laid the foundation, and assured that, say, 5 of the top 100 recruits come to Michigan each year (I'm guesstimating).

Just by getting these players on the team (thanks to the NFL tradition that BO created), Michigan assures itself of a few NFL draft picks each year (along with other "sleeper" prospects).

The "tradition" that Jake talks about the the "NFL Draft potential" that you talk about are the SAME THING - and both are the result of Bo's success - NOT LLOYD'S!!

Chris of Dangerous Logic said...

I'm old enough that I knew the answer as soon as I saw


Of course, the 6-6 five years from the end was the clincher.

robert paulson said...

Nice post, but don't you agree that "2 losses or less" is a stat that is simply cherry picked to support a position? I doubt there is any fan around that uses 2 losses as the bench mark of anything.

As for comparing Lloyd to Bo, I'm pretty sure you are a youngin. The knock on Bo was Michigan could never win the big game and would never win a national championship. Lloyd already trumped him. Plus Bo coached in an era when few teams were on TV and we had more scholarships than we knew what to do with. Now a days a key injury or two can be devastating with only 85 scholarships and talent spread around the country.

I'd keep the Lloyd comparisons to current day coaches because Bo coached in a much different era.

As it is, 2-4 in our last 6 games with only 2 MAC wins is simply inexcusable.

Jake said...

His name is Robert Paulson,

I disagree with your comment about two losses being some trivial number to prove my point. Certainly what you deem an "elite" season is entirely up to you. If you think three losses is elite than that's your definition. When I first became a Michigan fan a long time ago, two losses was pretty much as bad as it got. It was a jolt when Moeller had his four loss campaigns. However, two losses pretty much assures you a top ten finish. Two losses will most likely give you the Big Ten Championship. I'm not unreasonable. Nobody can go 10-2 every year. Some teams can do it for five years or so but eventually a down year will come. However, two losses is an elite season. I will, and always have been disappointed with a three loss season. Keep in mind, in the average year, Michigan has a personnel advantage over pretty much every team on the schedule with the exception of Ohio St. and maybe the bowl game. If you deem three losses as an elite season, then my argument means nothing. There's little I can do about that. The fact of the matter is that Michigan has achieved 11 wins one time in Lloyd's eleven years. I haven't checked but I guarantee you that ranks very poorly compared to the average top 25 team. As far as Lloyd's National Championship, are you really going to give Lloyd the credit on that? I mean, sure he won the National Championship and sure he was the coach. But, some coaches win a National Championship because of the players on the field and some have a big stake in it. It is glaringly obvious that the 1997 season was the outlier of all outlier seasons. Everything worked out perfectly. Colorado and Penn St. were extremely overrated. Michigan only had to play Washington St. in the Rose Bowl instead of Nebraska. The Ohio St. game was huge but that was all Woodson and it was at home. The stars were aligned. The knock on Bo was that he couldn't win a National Championship. The knock on Lloyd is that he's a perennial underachiver. I'd take not winning the National Championshp over perennial underachiever. I see what you're saying about the scholarship difference from now to the 80's but that's really irrelevant because Michigan still has a distinct advantage over virtually every opponent. A coach who understands the importance of exposing weaknesses would thrive like no other in Ann Arbor. If Fresno St., Boise St., Louisville, and Utah can beat more prestigious schools simply by being coached well, imagine what Michigan could do by being coached well. You are letting Lloyd off the hook way too easy by chalking it up to "it's a different era". Good coaches get it done with what they have. I can assure you that John L. Smith would take UM's roster over MSU's in a heartbeat. But, he's getting it done with what he has. Lloyd wouldn't have lasted five years at 90% of D-1 schools. His approach works only at a school that can win on talent alone. If he were at a mid-tier school like Missouri, Northwestern, Rutgers etc., he would never ever turn those programs around.

Lombaowski said...

All the good stuff has already been said. I love clueless Spartan fans who believe this is destiny or the hand of the Sport's Gods coming down on East Lansing. Michigan will win this game and then what will we say? It's a double-edged sword of all swords because if they lose, there is a decent chance Carr may be done (considering they won't beat OSU meaning they will lose to MSU, ND, and OSU in the same season).

So what does a Michigan fan do? I guess I must be one of those who cares much less about tomorrow because I just hope they win and I'll deal with the Carr situation later. But they will win. It's Michigan State isn't it? It's like Eastern Michigan A&M! Hail to the victors valiant!

Joey said...

2 losses tends to mean that you've won at least ten games, so that seems like a reasonable--not trivial--benchmark.

Great post, Jake.

robert paulson said...

the difference between 2 losses and 3 losses is the same as the difference between 1 loss and 2 losses. End of story. I've never heard anybody brag about going 10-2.

And as for teams like Utah and Boise State and whoever, well, Urban Meyer didn't look so hot this past week. There is no such thing as an easy victory.

The Michigan coaching gig is probably one of the 10 or 15 easiest in the country (in terms of how easy it is to win at). It's not the numero uno job that some would have you believe.

Even in the Big Ten, winning at Ohio State is far easier. They've got laxer standards off the field and they've got an infinitely larger supply of instate talent. Same goes for Florida and Florida State and Miami and Georgia and LSU and Texas and USC, etc.

We need to play better, but Carr isn't the horrible coach that some would believe.


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