Thanks to Brian at Mgoblog, we now know that Lloyd Carr’s long-rumored retirement is a full-go. The when, though, is not nearly as certain. Various rumors have Carr retiring anywhere from this Monday to the end of November. While the when might not seem all that “juicy” compared to the news of Carr retiring, it could have a substantial impact on the football program. Most coaching changes involve an athletic director trying to decide exactly when to fire a coach to maximize recruiting efforts (both keeping the current commitments and continuing to recruit effectively until signing day). Since Carr is retiring on his own, exactly when he retires is out of the hands of the Michigan Athletic Department. Carr isn’t being forced out like Bill Callahan at Nebraska. The decision to retire was entirely his and no outside influence—other than Carr’s desire to cease coaching for any number of personal-related reasons—had anything to do with his decision. The national medial—namely ESPN—is not hip to this. Every ESPN “expert” who I have seen comment on this situation seems to think that Carr’s departure is tied to his lack of success against Ohio St. or pressure from unhappy fans and boosters. A question was asked yesterday on College Football Live as to whether this is the right time for Carr to step down because of his struggles against OSU. The national media is framing this whole thing as if Carr is under too much pressure to win. I think people will find out in time that Carr stepping down had nothing to do with on-field success. Bill Martin has said as much as he has repeatedly stated that Carr could coach at Michigan forever. So, the timeline for Michigan’s coaching change is entirely up to Carr.
This unique situation presents a dilemma for Carr and the university. Most scenarios either feature a coach who is fired, asked to resign on his own terms (effectively fired), or announces retirement in advance (i.e. Barry Alvarez). In each of those situations, the athletic director can manipulate the timing to benefit the program the most. In Michigan’s current situation, Carr holds Michigan’s fate in his hands. There are at least two (possibly more although I have not heard any other sides) schools of thought as to what Carr should and/or will do. Clearly in this situation, what’s best for Carr and what’s best for the football program are at odds.
The best possible course of action for Carr is to announce his retirement as soon as possible. Not wanting to steal the spotlight from the Michigan/Ohio St game, Carr has eliminated the possibility of announcing before “The Game.” However, the sooner Carr announces following the game, the better it will be for him in terms of being appropriately acknowledged at Michigan athletic functions and finally being through with hiding such a “bombshell” story and dealing with incessant media speculation. As humble as Carr is, it’s only human to want to go out with at least a small amount of fanfare. Even if that is something as simple as a standing ovation at the Annual Michigan Football Bust. Carr famously has a special relationship with his players. They adulate him and voraciously defend him in the press. He clearly develops a family atmosphere within the football program. As a result, I’m sure he’ll value breaking the news to his players instead of forcing them to ride the media storm of speculation that would surely hound the team if he waited until after the bowl game to announce.
On the other hand, I don’t think there is any question that waiting until after Michigan’s bowl game—even immediately following the bowl game—to announce his retirement is the best course of action for the football program. It isn’t necessarily “best” for this year’s team but rather the football program as a whole. The advantage of Carr retiring later rather than sooner can be broken down into two distinct categories; recruiting and successor. If Carr retires the week after the Ohio State game, that gives other schools the opportunity to send their sleazy recruiters after Michigan’s committed recruits. Michigan can’t exactly ensure the recruits who the next coach will be when they’re at least seven weeks away from naming a new coach assuming Michigan is going to seriously consider Les Miles before making any decision. Carr’s “word” with the committed recruits likely won’t carry a whole lot of weight because a). he’s not their coach anymore and b). he has little-to-no control over the hiring of the next coach. Without anyone to reassure the recruits, things could get dicey in a hurry. Keeping the already-committed recruits is just half of the equation. Michigan’s ability to continue to recruit “targets” will suffer greatly without a head coach in place. High school athletes and their parents don’t live in a vacuum so even if Carr waited until after the bowl game to announce his retirement, they would be asking questions about the rumors. Nevertheless, Carr staying on board until a replacement can be named or at least within a week or two of a replacement being named would carry a heck of a lot more weight than a seven-week period of uncertainty fueled by rumors and speculation. Again, rumors and speculation will likely be present regardless but at least Carr would keep things on an even keel as he already has amid similar speculation over the past few years.
While Carr announcing too early puts Michigan in a bind with recruiting, it also puts Michigan in a bind with Carr’s successor. According to all people with a pulse (excluding LSU’s Athletic Director who seems to be living in a bomb shelter), Les Miles is the top candidate to replace Carr. Unfortunately for Miles (and LSU), he is about to lead LSU to the BCS National Championship game which is approximately 51 days from Michigan’s last regular season game. That means 51 days of the Michigan, LSU, and National media hounding all parties for the scoop. Miles would be bombarded every day for seven weeks about his interest in the now vacant Michigan job. If he thought things were annoying already when Michigan still had a head coach and was in the middle of its season, then wait until he sees what things will be like when Carr retires and the Michigan fan-base and boosters are batting their eyes in the direction of a particular office in Baton Rouge. This puts the Michigan Athletic Department in a tough bind as well because it will have to faux interest in other candidates or deny interest in Miles for seven weeks. That stance will get old fast as the media will likely get suspicious when nothing of note has been accomplished in the search for Carr’s successor for the next seven weeks. This all adds up to a media circus that will likely be bigger than anyone ever thought. If Miles and LSU don’t suffer an upset and end up in the BCS Championship game like everyone expects, then this story will blow up.
There is always the possibility that LSU loses in the next couple weeks, Carr announces his retirement effective immediately, and Miles takes over for the bowl game preparation. Michigan could immediately court Miles, the recruiting season could be saved, and everything could be over by the beginning of December. Sticking around for a National Championship is a lot more rewarding than postponing the inevitable LSU hate-fest that will surely follow Miles’ departure for a lousy BCS game.
Carr has certainly earned the right to go out on his terms. Bill Martin isn’t going to pressure him into delaying his announcement to best suit the program. Nobody is going to “dog” Carr for putting the program in a bit of a bind. The negative effects of one slightly-compromised recruiting class likely won’t mean a whole lot in the long run anyway. And, Miles stands to be the one most adversely affected by a seven-week vacancy in the head coach position at Michigan. I doubt Carr is too concerned with how all of this effects Les Miles. I don’t really care too much how the timeline unfolds. Carr is about to coach his last game and that will be an extremely emotional time for him. The impact of Carr’s timeline seems somewhat trivial now and will seem almost entirely trivial five years from now. It’s just an interesting dynamic to think about. One course of events benefits Carr and another course of events benefits the team. It ironically boils down to Carr choosing between his own wishes and the possible benefits of a football program he just spent 27 years of his life coaching.