Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Blueprint for surviving Michigan Football

A good portion of the Michigan fan-base is probably in a state of shock at the miserable start to the 2005 season. Michigan hasn’t been 3-3 since 1990. Lloyd Carr would be elated if his team could experience the same fate as the 1990 squad that won six in a row to finish the season at 9-3. With Iowa, Penn St., Northwestern, and Ohio. St still on the schedule as well as a possible bowl opponent, Michigan is looking at the possibility of a historically bad season. Never fear because I will guide you through these troubled times by giving you the blueprint for how to handle this situation. Michigan has put many of you in an unpleasant spot but you don’t have to lose your sanity. Just stay the course and everything will work itself out.

Fire Lloyd Carr?

I understand that watching the 2005 version of the Michigan Wolverines (or any version for that matter) can cause serious brain power shortages. However, that doesn’t give everyone a license to ignore reality. Lloyd Carr will not be fired. There is a zero percent chance of that happening. Zero. Michigan could finish the season 3-8 and Carr’s job security would be as safe as any job in the country. Bo Schembechler has said as much. Bill Martin has exactly what he wants in Carr. He’s a coach that has integrity and respect for the institution. I know there are some people that want to debate this but this isn’t up for debate. Carr will not be fired.

It was only a matter of time before a fire Lloyd Carr website popped up on the internet. I’m sure the owner of that site had grand plans for forcing a Carr ousting but he’s searching for the “pie in the sky”. The reason why I think it’s important for Michigan fans to know that Lloyd will not be fired is because it will prevent a lot of disappointment in the future. I’ve heard quite a few people say that Lloyd needs to be fired. Don’t waste your breathe. Fire and Lloyd Carr should not be uttered in the same sentence unless it involves an actual fire. An example could be, “Lloyd Carr once witnessed a fire.”

All is not lost though. Michigan fans that have wasted their valuable time clamoring for Michigan to fire Lloyd Carr should instead turn their attention to who will replace Carr. I think it’s safe to say that Michigan faithful from Santa Fe to Munich would collapse if a “Michigan Man” was hired to replace Carr. Instead of sitting back and hoping that this doesn’t happen, Michigan fans need to be proactive in letting their feelings be known. The keys here are getting the media involved and letting the Athletic Department know your concerns. If the media jumps on board of the anti- “Michigan Man” movement, then things might change. Despite what many think (including myself from time to time), the opinion of the “average” Michigan fan counts as long as it is shared by many other “average” Michigan fans. Speak your mind. If you need some ideas, take a look at a list that I put together. Don’t just sit back and put all your eggs in the “Fire Lloyd Carr” basket because that’s a waste of time.

Additionally, I don’t even think I’d be in favor of firing Lloyd Carr. He’s been a great spokesman and role model for the University. I’d have a hard time justifying firing a man who’s put so much of his life into Michigan football. This is not to say that I think he’s done a great job or that I haven’t been hoping that he’d retire for the last seven years. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. However, tact still stands for a lot in this world and Michigan would be jeopardizing its integrity by firing a man like Lloyd Carr. Carr will retire soon. It might not be the end of this season or even next season. I wish it were as soon as possible but as long as he doesn’t pull a Joe Paterno and stick around for a decade past his relevance, Carr has earned the right to retire under his own terms, not because of his football accomplishments but, because of his contributions to the University. I may be in the minority on this and I understand if you disagree with me. However, I just think it would bring negative publicity to the University.

Who to root for?

This is a touchy subject for many since rooting against Michigan will bring up the inevitable treason comparisons. Treason is bad. You don’t want to commit treason. But, rooting for Michigan to win, but being OK with a loss is not committing treason. You get to “have your cake and eat it too” so to speak. For instance, I would love for Michigan to win every game from now until the end of time. However, with the philosophy and player development of the current coaching staff, that doesn’t seem likely. The reality of the situation is that if Michigan keeps finishing strong to salvage a terrible start, people (important people) will keep proclaiming that everything is A-OK. The worst thing that could happen for the future of the Michigan football program is for Michigan to win out, finish in the top 10, and beat Ohio St. If this happens, the spin doctors (not the band) will come out with their pro-Lloyd propaganda. This will effect decisions like who will be hired in the future. A primary example of this is when Lloyd Carr decided to bring Jim Herrmann back last season. 99% of D-1 football programs would’ve fired Herrmann after fielding the worst Michigan defense in school history. Since Lloyd has done such a “remarkable” job in the past at salvaging Michigan seasons, he was able to retain Herrmann without “facing the music”. If Michigan turned this season around, Lloyd’s coaching style would be validated and there will be no lesson learned. The bottom line here is don’t be ashamed at being OK with a Michigan loss. You don’t have to root against Michigan. You don’t have to badmouth the team. I was indifferent with the loss to Minnesota this past weekend. I was actually a little relieved with the loss to Wisconsin. If Michigan beat Wisconsin, the Notre Dame loss would be swept under the rug forever as have all of Lloyd Carr’s mediocre seasons.

Some of you may be a bit apprehensive from being OK with a Michigan loss. I can understand this. You certainly don’t want to tarnish your standing as a “true” Michigan fan. Michigan needs a change in leadership. There will be no change if it isn’t evident that change is needed. If Lloyd keeps salvaging otherwise underachieving seasons, then change becomes less evident. A good friend of mine had an interesting opinion on this situation. He said that there is no way that Lloyd Carr will get fired no matter how bad the team performs. So, it does no good to hope for a Michigan loss since no change will come of it even if change is needed. Unfortunately, that’s the situation that Michigan fans are in now. Even an awful Michigan football season won’t necessarily prompt change. In fact, it definitely won’t prompt change. The good news is that the “hope” isn’t to root for Lloyd Carr to be fired. We already know this won’t happen. The “hope” is that Michigan’s Athletic Director, Bill Martin, realizes that Michigan could be so much better under a coaching staff that can maximize talent. Therefore, if it becomes evident to Martin that the current Michigan coaching philosophy is outdated, it will encourage him to go after a coach that can maximize talent when Carr decides to retire. This is the best possible scenario for Michigan fans to hope for. The program needs new leadership. The new leadership cannot be just a recycled member from the old leadership. The best bet for new leadership is for the current leadership to be exposed for what it is.

To recap, Michigan fans are actually in a win/win situation. Yes, I said win/win. Embrace this because it doesn’t happen often. If Michigan wins, then Michigan wins and everyone is happy. If Michigan loses, then there is a good chance that the problems with the current Michigan coaching staff will encourage Bill Martin to hire a dynamic head coach that can maximize talent and expose opponent’s weaknesses.

Dealing with the Kool-Aid people

As of this past summer, I was under the impression that the pro-Lloyd movement was much bigger than it actually was. Of the people that were still on the Lloyd ticket last summer, most have since converted due to the miserable 3-3 start to the 2005 season. However, there are still some stragglers out there. This bunch may be small but they are definitely not short on being vocal. This group can be hostile and often uses insults and expletives when trying to defend their view point. The best way to deal with these people is to laugh at them and then avoid them. However, some of their arguments may get under your skin a bit. So, I will detail their arguments so you can know what to expect and chuckle to yourself when they inevitably use one of these whimsical defenses to validate their point.

The Defense

The first line of defense for the pro-Lloyd movement is the “Michigan wins 9/10 games and goes to a bowl game every year” tactic. This is probably used the most but is the least effective since most Michigan fans understand that expectations at Michigan are higher than that especially considering that Michigan recruits as well or better than every team on the schedule. These people can’t criticize Michigan for fear that they actually think they are criticizing themselves. I’m as big of a Michigan fan as there is but I certainly know where I end and Michigan begins. People that use this defense generally feel that they are the last heroic defender of Michigan football. Unbeknownst to them, nobody is attacking Michigan football. The criticisms are in regards to the leadership. These people also try to hypnotize everyone to think that all of the Michigan problems are specific to this year only. Oh how great it must have been to live in their delusional little world over the last eight years. That way, we could all be convinced that Michigan is perfect sans this totally isolated (ahem) 2005 season. Where can I get that kool-aid you’re drinking? It looks refreshing.

The second line of defense for the pro-Lloyd movement is the cleverly designed but fatally flawed double-edged excuse. This argument is based on the premise that Michigan is a young team. The argument goes something like this; If Michigan wins, Lloyd Carr has done a tremendous job in winning with a youthful team and all the credit goes to the coach and not the players. If Michigan loses, then how on Earth can you expect Lloyd to win with such a youthful team? This argument is tried and true for the satisfied few. Lloyd is the best coach in the world either way.

The third line of defense deals with Lloyd Carr as a man of high character who will turn the players into men. This argument assumes that no other coach in the world is capable of being a man of high moral character. A sub-category of this defense deals with Lloyd’s ability to keep the Michigan program running. This argument assumes that no other coach could consistently under utilize talent and lose to teams of inferior ability. Are we really experiencing a shortage of those types of coaches?

The fourth line of defense goes something like this; “If Lloyd Carr is so bad, then who else is out there that could do the same thing he’s done?” This is a trick question because no matter what your answer is, they will attack your choice like a rabid Wolverine (no pun intended). This argument is like the third line of defense where it assumes that no other coach in America is capable of leading Michigan to 9/10 win-seasons or, dare I say, even better than that. Don’t argue the merits of your coaching selection with these people. Your efforts will prove to be futile. Just walk away. Walk away.

The fifth line of defense is a cousin to the fourth line of defense. The main idea here is to point out other struggling “major” programs and simply say, “Every program experiences a down-cycle, just look at Oklahoma.” This defense also includes attacking all first year coaches when they lose. For instance, when Urban Meyer lost to Alabama two weeks ago (God forbid Meyer actually loses a game), this defense was used to show that every coach loses so that must mean that Carr is doing a good job. The last I heard, there has never been a coach that went undefeated over his entire career. Never mind the fact that Meyer is trying to install his coaching philosophy on a team that he didn’t recruit, or the fact that Meyer went 8-5 in his first season at Utah before going undefeated. Somehow, someway, one loss by another coach proves that Lloyd Carr is doing a superb job. This excuse has also been used with Bob Stoops. Oklahoma is experiencing a down year after a five year stretch that went; 13-0, 11-2, 12-2, 12-2, 12-1. If my math serves me correctly, that’s a total of 60-7, or a 90% winning percentage. So yeah, Stoops is terrible because he’s having a down year. Just as an FYI, Lloyd Carr has won eleven games exactly one time in his eleven seasons. Stoops won 11 games in five straight seasons including four seasons of 12+ wins.

The sixth line of defense is to simply attack the person with a verbal barrage. This includes calling people “idiots” and accusing them of “not being a true fan of Michigan football.” I suspect that those of you who haven’t experienced this argument don’t believe that it actually exists. However, I assure you, it does.

Fake Crow Eaters

Some of the recent “converters” will pretend to “eat crow” by saying something like, “It turns out that I was wrong about the direction of the Michigan football program. Things are not good etc.” Don’t be fooled. As soon as Michigan starts turning things around (which will inevitably happen because Michigan is Michigan) these people will be the first ones to jump back on the bandwagon proclaiming how they can’t understand how anyone could think there was ever anything wrong in the first place. They’ll berate everyone who criticized Lloyd Carr and call them “idiots” and “scum”. They’ll sit on their high-horse and pretend nothing happened. This is another desirable position to be in because you can say whatever you want and just jump back and forth ridiculing everyone who’s not on your side on that particular day. Ignore these people.

Another characteristic of the pretend “crow eaters” is that they won’t ever give credit to the people that saw this coming years ago. They’ll preface their “crow eating” by taking a shot at the people that were wise to the reality of the stagnating Michigan football program long ago. They’ll chalk it up to something like “luck” or “accidentally being smart” but totally give themselves credit for finally coming to the realization that they’ve been living in a bubble for eight years. They’re smart for being the last ones to realize something so obvious that you couldn’t miss it if it hit you square in the face, but you’re stupid for realizing this along time ago. Makes sense I guess.

The Fence Riders

Another group that you’ll probably have to deal with is the “fence riders”. These people love to say things like; “I agree that Michigan is having a terrible season and it’s inexcusable and the blame falls on Lloyd Carr, but how much more can you ask for than 9/10 win seasons and consistently finishing in the top 25.” This stance contradicts itself but it’s convenient because they don’t have to admit that they are unhappy with Carr but they still get to put the blame on him. This is another version of the double edged excuse. In general, the fence riders are people that like to criticize anyone who criticizes the Michigan program but have no issues criticizing the Michigan program themselves. This is kind of like, “it’s OK for me to talk about my family, but if anyone else talks about my family there will be hell to pay.” The problem is that the fence riders aren’t any more family to the Michigan football program than anyone else. So basically, the fence riders are either a). confused or b). liking the perks of riding the fence where they can agree with everyone and disagree with everyone at their own discretion. I doubt many of these people are confused. If Michigan had underachieved for one or two seasons, then I could understand people riding the fence. However, with consistent underachievement over ten years, the jury is definitely in and the verdict is guilty on all charges of stagnation and disappointment. This is the least admirable stance because it requires no conviction whatsoever. It’s basically, “yes, but no.” At least the pro-Lloyd movement stands by their man through thick (maybe not Alan Thicke) and thin. The fence-riders are like gnats. I implore you to avoid these people. They will only anger you to know end.

Be prepared for the possibility of a historically bad season

Some of you may be getting through this tumultuous start by reminding yourself that as long as Michigan wins out, everything will be OK. Michigan is 3-3. If Michigan finishes 9-3, than everything will be fine. This is a kin to an alcoholic dealing with a drinking problem by simply avoiding places that have beer. As long as there’s no beer around that’s a sound strategy. As most people know, the best way to deal with this is to remove the threat of alcohol all together by attacking the cause of the addiction. Michigan fans that are relying on a 6-0 finish are setting themselves up for a miserable disaster. This is where I come in. Hopefully, I’ve been able to calm your anxieties a bit so far. However, you have to be prepared to deal with the worst possible scenario as far as wins and losses go. Here is how things could unfold if everything goes wrong:

Penn St.

Penn St. is undefeated and firmly in the top 15. I don’t think Penn St. is nearly as good as their record indicates but, nonetheless, We Are Penn St. beat Ohio St. and stands undefeated. This could easily be a loss.

At Iowa

Iowa is 2-1 in their last three games against Michigan. Iowa has just as good of a chance of winning this game as Michigan does. This could easily be a loss.

At Northwestern

Northwestern put it to Wisconsin. They have a passing game and a running game. There is no reason for Northwestern to beat Michigan but it’s happened before. Michigan has at least a chance of losing this game.


Terry Hoeppner is doing good things in his first season in Bloomington. In fact, Indiana is only two wins from a bowl game. Michigan would have to play very poorly to lose this game.

Ohio St.

It would take a miracle to win this game. It’s not that Ohio St. is that good but rather Ohio St. has a great defense and Michigan can’t seem to beat Ohio St. anymore.

It is not out of the question for Michigan to go 2-3 in their last five games. This would leave Michigan at 5-6. Everyone knows that 5-6 means no bowl game. Even if Michigan manages to go 3-2 and qualify for a bowl game, a loss in the bowl game would leave Michigan at 6-6. A sub .500 season or a .500 season is certainly a possibility. That would be disastrous for a school that recruits as well as any program in D-1 football. However, the worst case scenario is possible, and you need to be prepared for the possibility. Just remember, the worse the current regime looks, the less likely that Bill Martin will hire someone from the current regime to run the program after Carr leaves. Remember the win/win situation. Ohio St. was going through the same thing under John Cooper. Cooper couldn’t beat Michigan and underachieved with many National Championship- caliber Buckeye teams. Ohio St. finally got a clue (despite all of those 9/10 win seasons and bowl games) and gave Cooper the boot. History shows that Ohio St. won a National Championship two short years later. I’m not saying that Jim Tressel is a genius coach but John Cooper was keeping Ohio St. from reaching the pinnacle. It wasn’t so much that it was Tressel as it was that it was NOT John Cooper. Clearly that doesn’t mean that any coach would be better than Lloyd Carr but you get the idea.

You can change

The worst sports experience in my life came during the Michigan/Michigan St. game in 1999. I was more irate than at any other time in my life. I turned the TV off in the second half and sat on my bed seething. I was so angry that I couldn’t do anything but sit there and fume. My mind was filled with vivid imagery of Bill Burke completing pass after to pass to Plaxxico Burress with no Michigan defensive back within ten yards. I literally lost control of my anger. It is not a day that I remember fondly. Over the last 15 years, I have experienced many days similar to that as a result of Michigan football.

I don’t mind when Michigan loses because they were beaten soundly by a better team (like USC, Florida St., Ohio St. ’98, and Tennessee to name a few). However, I do mind when Michigan is clearly out-coached and/or outsmarted. A Michigan loss, or lousy performance, ruined one too many Saturday evenings for me. However, I was able to overcome my anger last season. Going into the 2004 season, I said to myself, “Self, I know what’s going to happen. Michigan will lose to Notre Dame even though Notre Dame doesn’t have half the talent as UM. Michigan will lose to Ohio St. Michigan will play like crap. I know its coming.” If you know something like that’s coming, you can either sit there and take it square on the head, or you can move out of the way. I finally moved out of the way and it paid tremendous dividends. Nothing Michigan did angered me last season because I knew it was coming.

I entered the 2005 season with the same outlook. In fact, I wrote two marathon articles/posts on the subject in July. Contrary to what some people think (actually, 99% of the population probably does not think this) I didn’t get lucky or just happen to be right in the same season that Michigan football collapsed. I knew that if I wrote these articles after the season started, that people would accuse me of being Chicken Little. I didn’t get lucky with the articles. I could’ve written them three years ago or five years ago. I just never thought to put it down on paper before this season. As a result, I am never upset on Saturday no matter how terrible Michigan plays.

Here’s a question for you, would you purposely put your hand on a hot stove after getting burned? Of course you wouldn’t. So why would you keeping letting Michigan burn you when you know what’s coming? This doesn’t mean that you hate the stove or want to disown the stove. It just means that you’re smart enough to not touch the stove when it’s hot. Don’t let Michigan football ruin your weekend. Think of it as peeling the skin off of a banana. The skin is the disappointment from Michigan underachievement and the banana is the joy of watching Michigan football. Enjoy the banana. Throw the peel away.

Silver Lining

Things will get better. Bill Martin is as good of an Athletic Director as you'll find in collegiate sports. He's proven that he cares what Michigan alumni and fans think time and time again. He listened to the criticism of the SBC sponsorship of the Michigan/Ohio St. games. He's changed the Athletic Department from a money hog to a money maker. You really couldn't hope for a better person to be in charge of Michigan Football. We will all experience the revitalization that the program will undergo after the next coach is announced much like Ohio St., Notre Dame, Michigan St. and Florida just to name a few. I'm confident that the heartache and underachievement that Michigan fans have come to expect will be a thing of the past in just a few short years. The day when Michigan Football finally utilizes all of those top 10 recruiting classes is on the horizon. Put your trust in Bill Martin.


Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, and here is something Martin will be thinking of after this season. "Gee, I am going to be spending tens of millions of dollars to refurbish the stadium, add suites, etc. Where am I going to get all this money?" Simple, it's coming from you, and I, and every other season ticket holder and large donor. These people understand that a change will need to be made, and maybe Lloyd will then "retire". I agree 100% he will never be fired. Martin is smart enough though not to upset the major donors and contributors, he was and is a businessman first and foremost.

I am waiting on your take for the hiring of Jim Leyland.

Anonymous said...

I am with you on this. Before the season started I read your "Anatomy of a Loss" I&II and thought you were at least partially right but I wasn't completely on board. I have at times thought UM was under achieving under Carr, but your anal ysis made me think back to all the Saturdays ruined because Blue blew it. I wasn't hostile or anything, but I couldn't enjoy any more football that day because I hated seeing the score on the crawler at the bottom of the screen. Pretty sad, I know, but now I'm not nearly so sensitive. If the powers that be want to continue to get paultry results from their investment, there isn't much I can do. I love Michigan Football, and am very proud to be a fan. And I don't have to defend to anyone why I think there are problems and changes are needed. I suffered through Debord's tenior at Central (my wife is an alum and we have season tickets) I don't think I could take seeing that hack promoted any higher than conditioning coach. That may be another angle to look at. How many of Lloyd's assistant coaches have gone on to success at other programs?
Lloyd is a stand up guy, and I respect him greatly. He just hasn't brought along the program close to it's potential. I don't want to be closely associated with the idea that if a coach loses a few games he should be canned. Nebraska comes to mind from a few years ago. But on the other hand, if something isn't running right, you might need to pull the plug to fix it.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting tidbit. The last two games Michigan has returned a kickoff for a TD (both at home), they have lost both games. Prior to Saturday's return by Breaston, the last kickoff return for a TD was Seth Smith in 1994 vs. Wisconsin.

Jake said...

I agree with you about Martin being a smart man, Matt. He has to have a plan. I would bet money that he has a plan.

By the way, Matt. I'll put something up about Leyland tomorrow. I was hoping to not think about the Tigers for at least five months but I think Leyland's worth commenting on.

That's good stuff Anonymous. I think you probably summed up what most M fans are thinking. What you said about not wanting to run a coach out for losing is right on. Nobody is getting on Lloyd for having a bad year every now and again or losing games. It's much larger than that. You're also dead on about Lloyd's coaching staff(s). Most of the great coaches in D-1 football have had a long line of coordinators go on to become great head coaches. That might speak for Lloyd's tendency to hire friends or acquaintences over someone dynamic from a different background. I really don't have another explanation. Cleary there is something wrong there. I haven't been all that optimistic about the program for a while now because there hasn't been a whole lot of reason to be. But, I'm more optimistic now, than ever before. Ironic, isn't it?

P.S. Season tickets for Central? Man. I don't know what to say about that. Although, I did just finish watching the Chips pull out a close one over Army. Too bad they can't play Army every week.

Anonymous said...

Jake, it's me again
We live "up north" so Central is a great way to watch some college ball and Central has had a strong tradition--until lately--of good football. We have seen many future pros at Kelly-Short Stadium. Some even played for Central. We've seen Chad Pennington, Brian Leftwich, who had one assistant(a kid) to hold his helmet when he was on the sidelines, and another to hold his headset and cord. We saw Randy Moss. We weren't impressed. He seemed like a slacker. But his years in the pros have shown he isn't so much a slacker as a malcontent.
I feel pretty good about Central's future. I think getting Brian Kelly will help. I think he has a lot of work to do. But he's coached a couple of national championships and they are 3-3 so far (the same as that school we've been talking about). He has won more in a season and a half than Debord did his whole time there. Plus the kids have improved there play, like they want to be there. And all the trouble of the summer of 2004 were players recruited before Kelly came aboard.
I have only one real beef with Kelly. That loss to Eastern. The Chip defense did not blitz once during the Hurons (Eagles? might as well be the Greens) drive for the tying FG until they were already in range. There were only 3 pass rushing and the Huron QB had a lot of time. I know he can't blitz all the time, but you need to slow the QB.

Anonymous said...








Jake said...

What does it say about Ohio St. that all of those people chose Michigan over the Buckeyes? I think your comment is more of an indictment of Ohio St., than it is of Michigan. Thanks for playing though.


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