Les than certain
With Carr leaving, is Miles a lock to lead Michigan?
Posted: Sunday November 18, 2007 9:27PM; Updated: Monday November 19, 2007 10:53AM
It's not every day that the head coaching job at the nation's all-time winningest program comes open. As a matter of fact, it's only happened four times in the past half-century.
Now that Lloyd Carr has finally revealed this season's worst-kept secret, announcing his intention to retire at season's end, the Michigan coaching job is officially up for grabs. There will be no need, however, to post the vacancy on Monster.com or any coaching-job bulletin board. It's no secret the Wolverines want former letterman Les Miles to come home, just as it's no secret Miles has long coveted that very opportunity.
Whether the long-rumored marriage will ultimately become a reality could be determined by timing, money ... and possibly Darren McFadden.
While Carr's impending retirement announcement has been widely anticipated for more than a year, the event still merits reflection now that it's happening. For the past 13 years, the stoic sideline figure has been nearly as synonymous with Wolverines football as those famous winged helmets. Yes, he was grumpy, and he didn't take kindly to those pesky sideline reporters, but in keeping with the stately portrait of a Michigan football coach as was personified by Bo Schembechler, Carr fit the part almost perfectly.
In the process, he won a lot of football games -- 121 of them to be exact, more than any former Wolverines coach besides legends Schembechler (194) and Fielding Yost (165). The problem, however, was that in recent years, he failed to win the most important games.
The measuring stick by which all Michigan or Ohio State coaches are ultimately measured is their performance against each other. Ever since Jim Tressel's 2001 arrival in Columbus, Carr simply hasn't measured up, losing six of seven meetings. And while Carr delivered Wolverines fans their first national title in nearly 50 years back in his third season (1997), the ensuing decade has seen Michigan fail to return to that perch.
While Carr's teams made frequent visits to their traditional Mecca, the Rose Bowl, including three times in the past four seasons, Wolverines fans watched with frustration as programs like USC, LSU, Texas and, most gallingly, Ohio State, eclipsed theirs in notoriety by reaching a more modern pinnacle: the BCS Championship.
Despite enjoying as visible a national recruiting profile as any school in the country, Michigan has been stuck a rung below the truly elite circle for quite some time now, as evidenced by their string of four straight bowl losses -- including two lopsided Rose Bowl defeats to the Trojans. This season's stunning opening-day loss to I-AA Appalachian State served as the ultimate confirmation of that reality to even the most blinded of Wolverines diehards and seemed to warm a whole lot of previously pro-Carr loyalists to the pending inevitably of a regime change.
Presumably, that hunger for a return to national prominence has been the driving force behind Michigan fans' ever-growing infatuation with Miles, despite the fact he was never fully embraced at his previous school, Oklahoma State, nor had he yet won over Cajun Nation prior to this season, despite a 22-4 start to his tenure.
Truth be told, Miles' popularity in Baton Rouge did not begin to blossom until that noted traitor, Nick Saban, took the Alabama job last January, and seemed to really take off once the preseason No. 2 Tigers flexed their muscle in a Sept. 8 rout of ACC favorite Virginia Tech. It was about that same time that the Miles-to-Ann Arbor rumors began to gain steam. Michigan fans, smarting from a disastrous 0-2 start, could only drool from afar as a team chock-full of five-star recruits began a season-long run at or near the top of the polls, with Miles' brazenly fearless late-game play-calling (the "anti-Carr" approach to football, if you will) playing a direct role in several victories.