This summer, I read an analysis of current college football coaches at College Football News’s website. Lloyd Carr was ranked as the No. 17 head coach in America.
The website gave this description of Carr: “Carr’s a little like that 12-year-old Chevy resting in your driveway. It isn’t the sexiest wheels on the block, but it has a habit of consistently getting you where you want to go. Carr’s a steady hand as opposed to the dynamic leader who’ll carry a program to new altitudes.”
This summer, I agreed with the 12-year-old Chevy comparison. I may agree again after next weekend’s game against Oregon. But after watching Michigan play a nearly perfect game against Notre Dame, there isn’t a critical thing I could say about Carr.
After three years of critiquing Carr and his staff’s every move, this 21-year-old who has never coached football at any level is finally going to shut up.
The play calling was superb. The Wolverines aren’t self-destructing with stupid penalties, and they’re tackling like a Michigan team should. For the first time since 1997, the Wolverines are actually playing like a legitimate national title contender.
Let me tell you something: This didn’t just happen out of the blue on Saturday. Carr and his staff have been planting the seeds for Saturday’s performance for the past few years, through their tireless recruiting and player development.
Whether Carr and any of his staff would admit it or not, this past offseason was one filled with urgency. When’s the next time Carr will have his top three offensive players returning, as well as the entire offensive line? He knew that his offense would be able to put a lot of points on the board.
But to avoid the plight of the 2000 Wolverines, who failed to win a title despite being armed with Drew Henson, Anthony Thomas and David Terrell because of a sieve-like defense, Carr and defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann knew they needed to fix up Michigan’s “bend, but don’t break” defense of last season.
So they went into the war room. They looked at what defensive players were coming back and picked them apart. Eleven spots, how can we best fill them? Herrmann described it as a chess match. Back and forth they moved, and with each move on the board, criticism came.
Freakish defensive end Pierre Woods to linebacker? Marlin Jackson, the best lockdown corner in the Big Ten, to safety? Defensive tackle Pat Massey to defensive end?
The 2001 defensive recruiting class (Jackson, Woods, Massey and safety Ernest Shazor) was the best in the country. Carr and Herrmann had no choice but to find a way to get them all on the field if they wanted the Wolverines to have a chance at a national title.
After three games, Carr and Herrmann are well on their way to a checkmate. Jackson’s move to safety allowed the Wolverines’ best playmaker to roam the field and take care of any loose ends. Herrmann’s scheme moves Jackson around from play to play, forcing the opposing quarterback to pay attention to where Jackson is before every play. Jackson joins Shazor to form one of the fastest, most athletic safety duos in the country. Markus Curry and Jeremy LeSueur have answered the call at cornerback, thus far. The top four defensive backs are starting, and that wouldn’t have been the case if Carr had not made the gutsy call to move Jackson.
Woods’ move to linebacker has revolutionized Michigan’s linebacking corps. They’re faster, stronger and with a freak like Woods blitzing on some plays and dropping back into coverage on others, he’s just one more player offenses will have to think about.
Massey’s move to defensive end produces a four-man rotation between Larry Stevens, Alain Kashama, Massey and Jeremy Van-Alstyne. It also allows the mammoth Gabe Watson – the quickest 300-plus pounder I’ve ever seen – to mix into the rotation at defensive tackle.
When talking about player moves, we can’t forget about Stevens, who came to Michigan as a safety. How could a safety move to the defensive line? I sure don’t know, but Carr and Herrmann saw something in Stevens that has definitely shown up in his performance this season. He’s got three sacks for a combined loss of 35 yards and a safety.
Not only do Carr and Herrmann have enough confidence in their judgment to make these moves and radically alter a player’s career, but the players seem to trust them, too.
A good eye for talent and a selfless, team-first attitude has this Michigan team headed to the “new altitude” that has seemed so elusive in recent years.
Sure, Carr isn’t sexy. And maybe he is that ole’ Chevy pickup. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking there isn’t anything under the hood trying to achieve optimum performance.
J. Brady McCollough didn’t actually shut up, but he did change his tune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.