When I first met football coach Lloyd Carr, the first thing he asked was, “Are you a Michigan Man, is it in your blood?”
An interesting question.
Fielding Yost never attended Michigan.
Neither did Steve Fisher.
Nor did Bo Schembechler the most Michigan of “Michigan Men.”
But when a younger Joe Paterno turned down Michigan 33 years ago, and a number of Miami (Ohio) coaches were complaining that Michigan”s accommodations paled in comparison to theirs, RedHawks coach Bo Schembechler told them, “But at Miami, you never could sit in a chair that Fielding Yost sat in.”
A Michigan Man doesn”t necessarily need a diploma from Michigan. What he needs is an understanding of what Michigan is all about Tradition. Loyalty. Pride. Excellence.
Former Wolverines” basketball coach Bill Frieder never fully understood this.
Frieder took the head coaching job at Arizona State two days before the start of the 1989 NCAA Tournament and called Bo to tell him, “Don”t worry, I”ll still coach the team through the tournament.” Bo responded “The hell you will. A Michigan Man will coach Michigan.”
Six wins later, the Steve Fisher-led Wolverines became national champions.
Bill Martin understands the basketball program”s need for a Michigan Man. Martin said, “First and foremost, I want to make sure that we have a coach that recruits kids, by in large, who will stay in school four years, graduate, will bring honor to the institution. Somebody who can be a part of the Michigan family,” at yesterday”s press conference.
But while this sounds good at press conferences, Martin needs to remember this while searching for a new coach.
Rick Pitino or Tommy Amaker could do a lot to get Michigan back where it was when Fisher coached Michigan. But Martin needs to make sure that Amaker doesn”t leave Michigan when his coach, Mike Krzyzewski, leaves Duke and that Pitino doesn”t leave when a bigger job opens as he has done in the past.
And Michigan needs to follow through on its end of the deal: Pay Pitino what he could get elsewhere. Allow for the fans to get more involved in the game. Bring excitement back to South Campus.
Michigan needs to be competitive with Duke again, so when the Blue Devils ask for Amaker”s return to Durham, he”ll have reason to stay at Michigan, like Roy Williams did this summer when North Carolina, his alma mater, came calling.
The basketball program needs the stability that the football program got from Bo who turned down offers from the NFL and Texas A&M and currently has in Lloyd Carr.
The legend of coaches Carr and Schembechler grew as they demonstrated their understanding of what a Michigan Man is.
The basketball program needs someone like Carr, someone who views Michigan as the best.
If neither Pitino nor Amaker shows the ability to understand this, then Martin shouldn”t hire him. He doesn”t need a quick fix the wins will eventually return.
Martin and his search committee cannot afford to look for another new coach in four years because their last choice bolted.
But if that situation develops, a good place to start will be a short walk away.
“I will never be far away,” Schembechler said when he resigned. “I will always be available for consultation. I will forever be a Michigan Man.”
Raphael Goodstein can be reached