Friday, September 14, 2007

It's Still Great to be a Wolverine

Bo Beat Woody in 1969. I promptly became a Wolverine fan and earned two graduate degrees in the early 1970’s from Michigan. I love Michigan.

However, several propositions became clear in the early 70’s.

1) Bo was a great coach;

2) The Michigan teams were always prepared and in great physical condition;

3) In spite of 1 and 2, Michigan would lose the last game of the season, either to Ohio State or in the Rose Bowl (often to USC). We would start the year with great expectations, and then Lucy would pull the football out from Charlie Brown.

4) Funny things happened in the Rose Bowl, such as a heart attack by Bo or a phantom touchdown by Marcus Allen of USC.

5) Bo’s play calling was more imaginative than people thought. He used reverses, counters, screen passes, swing passes, draw plays, multiple running backs, and options.

6) His teams always had a mobile quarterback. Some were running quarterbacks, and others were primarily passers, but all could do both.

We realized Michigan would not win every game, but they were always competitive. We also recognized that Michigan often had a problem with the kicking game. Field goals were not Bo’s forte.

That brings us to Coach Lloyd Carr. Lloyd is a very good coach, a decent gentleman, and wonderful ambassador of good will for the University. He’s had no recruiting violations or scandals in the football program (as compared to the basketball program). He emphasizes education to the players, who mostly graduate and then lead productive lives in society. The off-field criminal activities by some players are unwelcome, but not excessive for college football programs. He handles discipline internally rather than publicly excoriating a player. Lloyd is a coach of whom we can be proud.

His first eight years of coaching were among the best in the country. He won five of six bowl games, beating Washington State, Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, and Florida. His teams consistently beat Ohio State. His 1997 team went undefeated, winning the National Championship and Charles Woodson the Heisman – the only primarily defensive player ever to be so honored.

His teams have won 74.8% of their games – quite a feat, which slightly exceeds the cumulative Michigan win percentage of 74.3%.

Unfortunately for him, Michigan, the players, and fans, the game has passed him by.

He has lost four of the past five games to Ohio State, primarily because Ohio State has a better coach. He has lost the last four bowl games, and indeed the last four games, because the other teams were quicker and better prepared.

The lost to Appalachian State was not an upset. Those of us in the stands recognized early in the first quarter that the better team that day would probably win, and that team was Appalachian State. Michigan was out-coached, out-prepared, out-conditioned, out-played, and out-hustled. Aside from that, Michigan looked good. They had two field goals blocked in the last two minutes. Michigan only had ten players on the field twice in the fourth quarter. The offense had a number of false starts and inability to get the snap off in time. The defense was consistently out of position, trying to figure out where to be, even as the ball was snapped. The quarterback played as if he needed his eyes examined.

My friend and I were able to call almost all of Michigan’s offensive plays. Michigan’s offense has become boringly predictable in recent years - few draws, screens, counters, reverses, or option plays. Indeed, a major part of Michigan’s problems has been the limited play calling, necessitated by the two quarterbacks over the past 7 ½ years as being 6’5”, 230 lb. blocks of granite with a rifle arm and all the mobility of a dead tortoise. The last, great quarterback Michigan was Tom Brady, and the coaches did not appreciate his abilities, just as Notre Dame never knew what to make of Joe Montana. All they did was win!

The defense has been unable to defend against mobile quarterbacks and spread offenses for a decade, partially because they do not defend against them daily in practice. While other teams have gotten quicker, Michigan is slower. We recognize that even great programs experience down cycles. We understand this, and even forgave Bo once for a 6-6 season in 1984, losing the bowl game to BYU. But we cannot forgive or forget being out-coached. Today’s game has passed Lloyd Carr by.

The kicking game remains an adventure.

The fans are increasingly restive. A popular web site two years ago was It was closed last year when Michigan won its first 11 games. A new site this year is Season ticket holders were irate two years ago when Michigan imposed a seat license fee in addition to the cost of the tickets. They want value received for value paid.

Each home game is worth about $5 million in revenue to the Athletic Department and a windfall to the restaurants, hotels, and merchants in the Ann Arbor Area. They are suffering.

Lloyd Carr has earned the respect of the University community. The consensus was that he deserves to retire on his terms, presumably at the end of this season. That may no longer be the case, and he has lost the power to name his successor.

While many fans would like to see him retire, preferable sooner rather than later, especially if Michigan goes 0-3, the problem is who do you appoint as the interim coach? Certainly not the Offensive Coordinator! Clearly not the Defensive Coordinator after the past four games! Obviously not the Special Teams Coach! Then again, Michigan doesn’t have a Special Teams Coach - a small part of the problem.

The great state of Michigan is hurting. Plants are closing, and employees being laid off right and left. Kmart self-destructed, GM, Ford, and Chrysler are hemorrhaging, companies are leaving the state, and the Lions have been pathetic for decades.

Football is a sport, and thus entertainment. With or without basketball, UCLA and Duke are great universities. Notre Dame and USC do not need football to achieve their academic excellence. With or without football, Michigan is one of the world’s great universities. But it is not the same.

The Wolverine Nation is hurting.

No comments: