It’s no secret that Michigan coach Lloyd Carr isn’t a huge fan of divulging secrets about his personal life. He likes it about as much as he likes root canals. Not even the CIA can crack his outer shell. It’s been more than 20 years since he first joined the Michigan coaching staff, and still few know “the real Lloyd Carr.”
Most people don’t know that he thought about studying journalism as a Missouri undergraduate.
They don’t know that the former Northern Michigan star quarterback tried out for the Green Bay Packers for a roster spot behind Bart Starr.
They don’t remember that Carr wasn’t Michigan’s first choice to replace Gary Moeller as head coach back in 1995 – and that legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno was the one that helped change Michigan officials’ minds.
They don’t know that Carr’s a voracious reader who immerses himself into books the way his 300-pound lineman engulf a hot meal. Or that Carr quotes leaders such as Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in his pre-game speeches and inscribes their words in Michigan’s playbook.
“Lloyd has a public side and a private side,” said former Michigan lineman and current radio broadcaster Jim Brandstatter. “When you have the opportunity to speak with him privately, he can be as charming and interesting of a guy you could imagine. Lloyd’s a three- dimensional human being with great interests outside of football, and I’m lucky to see all of them. A lot of folks just see him as somewhat stoic on the sidelines, but believe me, there’s a fire in there.”
Nobody has to explain to Carr the meaning of “toughness.” Born in Hawkins County, Tenn., Carr grew up in a tumultuous and racially insensitive environment. He saw signs for “colored” and “white” drinking fountains. He’d enter the bus, and notice all the black kids were sitting in the back.
At age 10, his family moved to the industrial outskirts of Detroit. But the country was in a recession, and Carr stared adversity in the eye.
Most of his early years were in the very modest, blue-collar working neighborhood of Riverview. Carr’s dad, an hourly worker at McLouth Steel, and mother, a beautician at Hudson’s, both worked hard to make ends meet.
“Our parents lived payday to payday,” said Terry Collins, a childhood friend and Lloyd’s neighbor growing up. “It wasn’t always easy back then, but (the situation) made us into a ‘bedroom community,’ where everyone knew everyone.”
Carr and Collins spent most of their spare time down the street at a local park and recreation center. They’d play pick-up baseball, basketball, ping-pong – anything. And Lloyd was always the leader.
“He had that intangible, that type of contagious personality,” said Ernie Mayoros, Lloyd’s friend and former football coach at Riverview High School. “Whatever Lloyd said to do, that’s what they did. They didn’t question him a bit.”
Mayoros remembers one football game where Carr – an All-State quarterback – willed his team to victory. With Riverview down 12-0 at halftime to Grosse Isle, Carr gathered his teammates on the sidelines and “gave them a lot of hell.” He “let them know we were going to win that game.”
“Of course, the language wasn’t the cleanest – a lot of four-letter words,” Mayoros said.
With his Southern accent and motivational messages, Carr sounded like a Baptist minister – and his coaches donned him with the nickname “The Reverend.”
A three-sport athlete at Riverview – football, basketball and baseball – Carr was quite the Mr. Popularity amongst his class of less than 100.
And he didn’t limit himself to what sports he would play. One summer, when Carr was in junior high school, he won a tennis tournament. This stunned Patrick Ankney, Carr’s high school basketball coach.
“I didn’t even know he played tennis,” he said.
Carr’s extreme competitiveness didn’t leave him when he turned in his cleats for a headset.
In eight seasons, he has won more than 75 percent of the games he’s coached at Michigan. He won a national title in 1997. And he’s taken the Wolverines to seven straight New Year’s Day bowl games.
But, at Michigan, that’s not always enough.
Critics point to the three 8-4 seasons Michigan has endured. They complain on talk-radio shows, asking why Michigan has been to one Rose Bowl in the past decade.
And they dwell on the 2000 team that boasted arguably the most talented offense in school history, yet faltered twice on the road and didn’t contend for the national title.
Carr is a sensitive guy who often gets emotional. The pressure and expectations are sometimes too much for him to handle.
“It’s hard,” Carr admits. “I’ve heard people say that they don’t take the job home with them. But it consumes you. If you can’t handle the criticism – if it tears you apart, if it distracts you – then you’ll fail. You may fail anyways, but you have to be tough mentally because you know (the pressure) is real and it’s intense.”
Carr revolutionized Michigan on a national level because now the Wolverines expect to win a national title, not just a Big Ten Championship.
“I’ve heard players say, ‘I’m tired of hearing about the ’97 team.'” Carr said. “But the truth is they set the bar for all of us. And that’s fun.”
But trying to repeat that feat is also taxing. Carr admits he sometimes has trouble sleeping, and that he reads to “get away.”
He also takes out his frustrations on the golf course. “You don’t want to play golf with him, cause he’ll fight you every stroke,” said former Michigan defensive line coach Brady Hoke, who left after this season to become head coach at Ball State. “And he won’t be afraid to rub it in.”
JoePa to Bo
Initially, Carr wasn’t in such a fighting mood in pursuing the Michigan coaching job in 1995. In fact, Carr thought about resigning from his position as defensive coordinator.
Carr’s dream job was the Michigan head coaching position. But it only became available due to the downfall of his dear friend, Gary Moeller. Moeller, Carr’s best man at his second wedding, resigned on May 4, 1995 after a drunken incident at a Southfield, Mich. restaurant.
Carr and Moeller spent 17 years on the sidelines coaching together. They were brothers. They laughed together. They cried together.
“Lloyd was really broken up about (the resignation),” Mayoros said.
Carr was named interim coach, but Michigan had other people in mind as Moeller’s full-time successor. Mayoros said that Michigan was looking at a few candidates, including an assistant at Penn State. But when Michigan officials called Paterno for his opinion on his assistant, he instead gave a ringing endorsement for Carr.
Mayoros remembered: “Paterno said, ‘I don’t know why you want to talk to anyone else, you’ve got the right person right on your staff.’ “
Schembechler couldn’t have agreed more. He helped convince then-Athletic Director Joe Roberson to name Carr the permanent head coach on Nov. 15.
Carr’s honesty and loyalty always impressed Schembechler. Unlike some assistants who were always looking for the “next job,” Carr felt he was already at the top of the mountain. When he was Michigan’s secondary coach, Carr even turned down a chance to be an assistant for Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Schembechler also said the only reason he’s able to “hang around” and have an office – just a few hundred feet down the hall from Carr’s – is because he knows Carr is confident and secure enough to handle it. “I get the impression he kind of likes it,” Schembechler said with a smile.
And Carr lets him know just that. Schembechler remembers a time he returned to his office after speaking to the team – per Carr’s request – before an Ohio State game. Bo was then touched to see a handwritten note on his desk, written by Carr, thanking Bo for his time and his friendship.
In fact, Carr moseys his way down the hall “very frequently” to ask Bo questions about anything – players, plays, situations, the state of football, problems at Michigan and dealing with administration and alumni.
“Lloyd’s job is way tougher than I ever had it,” Schembechler said. “Not only does he have to win, he has to keep the stadium filled. If there’s ever two bad years and the attendance drops down near 90,000, that’d be a catastrophe (budget-wise).”
Schembechler pointed out how everything a coach does now is under a “microscope” and how investigative reporting changed a lot of things.
“You can’t say that something’s a ‘family matter’ anymore,” Schembechler said. “Either (reporters) will dig, or they’ll give their own take.”
Carr often takes the media too seriously. At times, he is evasive and contentious. Carr will always find a way not to answer a question. He’ll grin at you. He’ll stare at you. He’ll give you that devilish angry look – and like a true politician – rarely disclose anything he doesn’t want to.
“Since he’s started, he contends the toughest part of the job isn’t coaching, it’s working with me on Michigan Replay,” said Brandstatter, the host of the weekly television show. “Sometimes you have to just get after him.”
And hope he doesn’t fight back.
Michigan’s football man didn’t actually want to play football. Carr was recruited by Missouri to star on the diamond, but after a devastating shoulder injury in his junior year in college, football seemed like his best option.
When Missouri assistant coach Rollie Dotsch took a job at Northern Michigan, Carr followed him. Carr’s arm was healthy enough to became the starting quarterback. He led the Wildcats to an undefeated season and even got some bites from NFL teams. But after a short tryout with the Packers, he shook the hand of Vince Lombardi, got a check and left to start his coaching career.
After stints at Nativity High School and Belleville, he took the reins of John Glenn High School in Westland – his first head coaching job.
Carr’s closest friends and former coaches say his blue-collar background shaped him, and Carr hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“He’s in a high profile job that I’m sure a lot of guys let go to their heads,” said Chuck Gordon, who was an assistant under Carr at John Glenn. “He hasn’t forgotten us guys he knew on the way up, and he hasn’t changed a lick in the 30 years I’ve known him. As important a job as he has, he always has time for me.”
Carr also develops a close relationship with each of his players, and is a master of motivation. His veins may pop out as he yells at a lineman, or he may pull a receiver aside quietly and teach him how to run a route. If a tailback misses a class or screws up off the field, Carr will wake him up at 5 a.m. for the feared “Dawn Patrol,” when the kid will run the Big House steps until he passes out.
“You NEVER want to do that,” senior receiver Ron Bellamy said.
And as much as Carr never wants to leave the game, he said he didn’t want to discuss whether he’ll finish out his contract, which ends in 2008. When he does finally decide to retire, he knows exactly what he’s going to do with his spare time. Carr grins as he explains how one of the things he’s always wanted to do was sit in on one of the many lectures at the University.
And this action will test Carr’s well-roundedness, as Brandstatter explains:
“If you sat down with him and didn’t know he was a football coach, Lloyd could easily be a college professor, a guy who is working in business world as an executive, or even a politician.”
The old English major will probably slyly walk in on the first day of class, with coffee in one hand and one of his favorite books in the other.
The students might say, “There’s the football coach.” But they also might say, “There’s the professor.”