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The Man Behind the Mask
November 20, 2006
As he leads No. 2 Michigan into its showdown with No. 1 Ohio State, coach Lloyd Carr remains a private man who's loyal, literate and, would you believe, funny?
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November 20, 2006

The Man Behind The Mask

As he leads No. 2 Michigan into its showdown with No. 1 Ohio State, coach Lloyd Carr remains a private man who's loyal, literate and, would you believe, funny?

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That Carr should care so much about his players' vocabularies is not surprising. A former high school teacher of history and English--"You're lucky you didn't have me," he told reporters, with just the hint of a smile, at the 2004 Rose Bowl--he got his degree in education at Northern Michigan in 1968. That, as all true Michigan fans know, is the year Ohio State, led by the brash young Woody Hayes, crushed the Wolverines 50--14. That catastrophe led to the resignation of Bump Elliott, who was replaced by Schembechler, who brought Carr on as his secondary coach in 1980.

Carr ascended to the head coaching position 15 years later, after an inebriated Gary Moeller was arrested for assault, battery and disorderly conduct outside a restaurant. Two years later Lloyd did what Bo never could--he guided Michigan to the national title, its first in 49 years.

Carr had played quarterback at Missouri and Northern Michigan, knew a ton about football and was much more hands-on than your average head coach. He was a terrific recruiter--as authentic and genuine in the living rooms of schoolboys as he was churlish and cranky on the sideline. Surely, Wolverines fans speculated, there were more national titles just around the corner.

There have been very good seasons since 1997. Five times, including this year, Carr has won at least 10 games. Four times he has won or shared the Big 10 title. But this is one of the country's more thankless jobs. When Carr wins big, fans tend to say, "With the talent he's got, he should win big." When Michigan stumbles, as it did last year, websites begin demanding his head on a pike. Then there is the Ohio State issue. Though Carr won five of his first six games against the Wolverines' bitter rival, he is 1--4 since the Buckeyes hired Jim Tressel in 2001.

Many of the aggrieved fans addressed their concerns to athletic director Bill Martin, who says he "didn't think for a second" about dumping Carr. "You want to fire Lloyd," he says, "you gotta fire me."

One common gripe: By slavishly limiting themselves to hiring head coaches from within the Michigan family, the program was starving itself of new blood and fresh ideas. Those complaints faded this season as the Wolverines sailed up the BCS standings. Now Martin cannot help eavesdropping on the conversations attending the search for a head coach at Michigan State, where the beleaguered John L. Smith will coach his final game this Saturday.

"What I'm hearing," says Martin, "is people saying, 'We need the continuity and stability you see down the road at Michigan.'"

From East Lansing, Carr's career record of 113--34 must look very good indeed. With their solid ground game and suffocating defensive front, the Wolverines could well pull off the upset in the Horseshoe this Saturday. Even if Carr gets his 114th win at the expense of the Buckeyes, however, it is his fate to be misunderstood and underappreciated, the kind of coach of whom most Michigan fans will say, once he is gone: Who was that masked man? We never got a chance to thank him.

Get everything you need to know about the Michigan-- Ohio State matchup at

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