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HOW MICHIGAN MEN ARE MADE: A look inside the timeless tradition

Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
Bo Schembechler coaches during a football practice in 1972. Buy this photo

BY COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 20, 2009

Lloyd Carr remembers the day he truly became part of the club.

It was 1995, and after 15 years of working as an assistant coach under Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller, it was Carr’s turn to be on top. The Wolverines started the season with four straight wins before losing quarterback Scott Dreisbach for the season. In their next seven games, they limped to a 4-3 record.

Ohio State was coming to town. No. 2 in the country. 11-0. Led by that year's Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and Biletnikoff Award winner Terry Glenn.

Those Wolverines had no chance.

And that’s exactly what Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk read in the Ann Arbor News, three days before that game.

“Jon Falk came out toward the end of practice, and he’s just walking as only Jon can walk, and his head was down and he was walking extremely fast across the practice field, and he had a newspaper in his hand,” Carr reminisces now, 14 years later. “And Terry Glenn, at a press conference, had made the statement that Michigan was nothing.”

Carr pauses, lets that sink in.

“And so I remember at the end of practice, I took that paper out, and I read it to our team.”

But Glenn hadn’t bargained on Charles Woodson, who covered him like a glove, stealing two interceptions. Or Tshimanga Biakabutuka, who rushed for an astonishing 313 yards on 37 carries. Or a 31-23 Michigan upset.

After the postgame celebrations with the team, and after the media frenzy, Carr walked back into the locker room.

“I’ll never forget,” he laughs, shaking his head. “Everybody had cleared out. I was in there, I had come back from the press conference — and there was Bo Schembechler.

“And he gave me a big hug and he said — he said, ‘I’m gonna tell you the same thing that Fritz Crisler told me after my first Ohio State game.’ And I said, ‘What’s that?’

“He says, ‘Lloyd, you’ll never win a bigger game than this one.’ ”

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AN OLD-SCHOOL MENTALITY

Twenty years ago, then-Athletic Director Bo Schembechler fired men’s basketball coach Bill Frieder after learning he was planning to leave for Arizona State following the 1989 NCAA Tournament. Schembechler didn’t bother giving Frieder a chance to finish the season.

“A Michigan Man will coach Michigan,” Schembechler famously proclaimed, right before interim coach Steve Fisher led the team to its only NCAA Championship in program history.

Even the most decorated Wolverines see Schembechler’s decision as the quintessential example of the Michigan Man ideal, a story that barely needs explanation. But the reality of today’s sports world is that that probably wouldn’t happen now — even in Ann Arbor.

“I think back then, you had more old-school coaches who lived by a different creed, and I think those coaches are almost extinct,” says 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, who calls Schembechler, his former coach, both the “godfather” and the “architect” of the tradition. “A guy like that, they’re not really concerned about any sort of negative backlash that they may receive from their decision.

“I think these days now, some of the inmates — some of the inmates run the asylum. I think that’d be a rare occasion in today’s sports world or athletic arena.”

Softball coach Carol Hutchins, the all-time winningest coach in Michigan history, points to the same basketball story to illustrate the tradition. And at the end, unprompted, she offers similar skepticism.

“I don’t know if Bo would work in today’s world, but I think he had it right,” she says. “He taught kids the right values.”

Deathless loyalty. Enthusiasm. Conviction. Fielding Yost’s definition of those “right values” date back to the early 1900s. The idea of a Michigan Man is ingrained in the school’s culture, but even those considered personifications of the term struggle to explain exactly what it means.

“There’s a lot of different strings attached,” hockey coach Red Berenson says, shifting in his seat and looking a little frustrated. “I don’t know if it will come out as clean cut and clear as you want. It’s a moving target.”

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THROUGH RAIN OR SHINE

Ron Kramer sits in the back row of the second floor of the Michigan Stadium press box, talking and joking with other Wolverine legends. He doesn’t often stay past halftime anymore, he says.


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