Fans are so funny.
After Saturday’s game, a half-dozen Michigan fans sat on the walls outside of Spartan Stadium waiting for their hero: not Chad Henne, not even Mike Hart – who I’m sure all of them were thrilled to see – rather, they searched for Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. That’s right, Lloyd Carr – the Athletic Department’s most popular target of hate e-mails and firing demands.
When Carr walked out of the visiting team’s locker room within minutes after Rivas’s game-winning field goal, fans sat there, cheering for the coach that had just led their favorite team to a victory in one of the biggest games of the year.
“We love you coach!” they screamed.
Wha? Are you serious? Where have these fans been for the last three weeks? And where are the doubters now that Michigan is back in the top 25? Last week, I heard Michigan fans calling for Carr’s head on a stick. I’m not joking. I heard someone actually say that he wanted Carr dead. It’s clear either there is one extremely fickle group or there are two pretty polarizing contingents of Michigan football fans.
“When you lose, you get a lot of criticism, and when you win, you get a lot of praise,” cornerback Leon Hall said about Carr after the game. “So you just have to take it as it comes.”
The Michigan Daily got scores of e-mails from people who wanted the coach out. They looked past his national championship in 1997 – the first for Michigan in the modern era – and generally focused on conservative play calling and the fact that he is 1-3 against Ohio State, 1-3 against Notre Dame and 1-3 in bowl games in the last four years. We received dozens of letters blaming Carr – and not the team’s incredible lack of experience – for the program being 2-2 and on the verge of having a losing record for the first time since 1998. The letters were usually long and were often very heated. Here’s just a small sampling of some comments we received:
– “The true failure of this program has always been its coaching and its blind loyalty to those coaches.” – Pete M., Alum.
– “During the last four years, we’ve gotten into a rut. How do you think it makes us feel when you’ve barely shown up to the last four Notre Dame, Ohio State and bowl games?” – Nelson L., Alum.
– “It is time to fire ‘Loyal’ Lloyd Carr. – I’m tired of this, I’m tired of 9-3 seasons and I’m tired of Conservative Carr.” – Jason B., LSA junior.
Don’t just blame these three. There were plenty more where those came from. Most people complained about Carr being too conservative with his offensive play calling. They said that he sat on the lead and ran the ball in the second half of Michigan’s loss to Wisconsin – a loss that dropped the Wolverines out of the top 25 for the first time since 1998.
Yesterday, Carr struck back. Chad Henne threw the ball on six of the nine opening-drive plays, including a perfect fade pass to senior co-captain Jason Avant to take a 7-0 lead. And one of the least conservative plays of the drive was a run. On third and five from the 11-yard line, Henne lined up at wide receiver and Carr put freshman Antonio Bass in the backfield. Bass ran the keeper and picked up nine yards and a first down. A quarterback draw when the opposing defense is backed up against its own goal line is riskier than most coaches are willing to be.
It’s not like this is anything new. Carr’s offense has been fairly aggressive all season. Against Notre Dame, the Wolverines threw the ball more than they ran it. Against Eastern Michigan, they put up 55 points. Against Wisconsin, they took the lead with a 49-yard flea-flicker.
On the last drive of Saturday’s game, Carr ran the ball 13 times in 14 plays; the other snap was a missed field goal attempt. That line might make it seem like Carr was a “conservative” play-caller, but the drive went for 50 yards and bled almost six minutes off the clock. Plus, Carr also went for it on two fourth downs during that drive. If Rivas had made a 27-yard field goal at the end of regulation, everyone would have loved Carr’s conservative tendency – because it would have given Michigan State the ball back with just 30 seconds to drive the length of the field.
Fans complain that Carr doesn’t care about the team. Since his job is secure, they figure that he is content with just going through the motions. I’ve only covered the team for a month now, but as far as I can tell, that there’s no basis behind it. Carr comes into press conferences fuming after losses and looking forward after wins. He hides injuries from the media not because it’s fun but because it would give the other team a competitive advantage. Carr cares about the team as much as anyone.
“Nobody wants to win more than me,” Carr said at Big Ten Media Day in August. “Nobody.”
And if all that wasn’t enough to convince the doubters to quit the fire Lloyd talk, how about this: Bo Schembechler didn’t win a Rose Bowl until his eighth try. If he were coaching now, would Michigan’s ruthless fans have even allowed him to stay that long?
Herbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.