I’m thinking that you’re thinking something to the effect of “Ahh, thank goodness that experiment is finally over. Now we can all get back to the way things used to get done around here…the Michigan way!” Or something to that affect.
And for sure that would be a sorely welcomed change from the results the Michigan football program and its’ fan base has become accustomed to these last few years.
But will that be enough?
In today’s ever pressure-increasing, results-oriented, instant-gratification-esque society that pretty much demands excellence and the ultimate successes…if Michigan returns to the form it once had only a few short — actually very long now — seasons ago, will that level of achievement be enough to satisfy the masses of fans that support and bleed Maize and Blue?
Remember Rich Rodriquez was brought in to coach Michigan not just because the Michigan Athletic Director at the time Bill Martin thought it was a good idea, but more-so because he felt compelled to answer to the voices of his critics calling for Michigan to adapt their program to meet the ever increasing challenges presented by the other modern college football teams and leagues around the country that Michigan now found themselves competing with and being contrasted against.
Things were changing, big-time! And Michigan was starting to develop a stigma of being well, predictable and inflexible. It was there and even the most die-hard supporters had to admit it. Opposing coaches and players said as much in their on-field and post-game interviews.
So in order to truly understand why the drastic change was made when selecting the 18th head football coach in the history of University of Michigan and why the seismic shift was implemented to the “Michigan” way of doing things, we must first remember very specifically how things were only a few short years ago.
PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999
Michigan was still basking in the glow of the 97’ national title and they were only a few months removed from a 35-34 BCS Orange Bowl overtime victory over the #4 BCS rated (10-2) Alabama Crimson Tide from the mighty SEC. If not for a blip in the middle of the season when Michigan lost a heartbreaking game on the road to the instate rival Michigan State Spartans and subsequent hangover loss at home the following week to Illinois, the Wolverines might have ended the 99’ season by playing in their first ever BCS National Championship Game.
But alas, they did lose two Big Ten games and finished the 1999 season 2nd in the conference behind Wisconsin. By all accounts though, this was still a fantastic season and one every fan could be proud of.
STRANGE THINGS ARE AFOOT AT THE BLOCK-M – 2000
Individually the 2000 season will be best know as the year of the “A-Train” as Michigan running back Anthony Thomas eclipsed numerous rushing records held previously by the likes of Tim Biakabutuka, Jamie Morris and Tyrone Wheatley. Wide Receiver David Terrell also found success as he finished the season leading the Big Ten in receiving yards per game.
But hopes of another national title run were quashed by what would soon become two of Michigan’s biggest nemesis over the subsequent years.
First it was the dreaded “West Coast Trip” that derailed the BCS title hopes as Michigan lost their first game of the year (3rd overall) in a non-conference battle at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to the UCLA Bruins 23-20.
Two weeks later Michigan again dropped a close road game, this time in-conference to Purdue 32-31.
But it was the 3rd loss of the season two games later that would really set the standard by which the Michigan program would consistently become measured as on November 4th of the 2000 season the Michigan Wolverines again on the road lost a high scoring 54-51 affair to the Northwestern Wildcats and Randy Walker’s “Spread Offense.”
Things would never be the same and they were about to get worse before they got better.
DAWN OF THE VEST – 2001
“I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.” – Jim Tressel
And what a proclamation it was at the time from such an unknown coach making his debut in a BCS conference such as the Big Ten. Especially considering that the Michigan Wolverines had beaten the Ohio State Buckeyes consistently over the earlier years. To be exact, since the 1988 season Michigan owned a record of 10-2-1 against OSU. And mainly because of that dominance John Cooper was fired and subsequently Jim Tressel was given his opportunity to lead the Buckeyes.
Yet, as it turned out, 310 days later it happened. The beginning of the first of many familiar and equally disheartening ends of the Big Ten season for fans of the Maize and Blue as Jim Tressel made good on his promise to the people of Ohio when his Ohio State Buckeyes marched into Ann Arbor and back out again with a 26-20 victory over a 6-1 (Big Ten) 11th ranked Michigan team. That loss cost the Wolverines another Big Ten title and set a trend no Michigan fan would ever believe possible.
Still Leaders and Best…sort of – 2002-2004
For a Wolverines team still smarting from the way they ended their 2001 season — losing a close game to the hated rivals Ohio State and then getting ambushed in the Citrus Bowl by Tennessee 45-17 — the new season couldn’t get started soon enough.
And things got off well as Michigan opened at home with a close 31-29 victory against a #8 preseason ranked Washington Huskies team and followed that up by beating the Western Michigan Broncos at home the following week.
Yet, even though Michigan would end up finishing the season on a winning note by beating Florida in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida, the Wolverines once again tallied a 3 loss year with losses coming against Notre Dame, Iowa and Ohio State (again) and finished 3rd in the Big Ten.
The following 2003 year Michigan rebounded well and produced a 10 win regular season with a final ranking of #4 in the nation. They managed to halt the Ohio State victory streak at 2 games by winning at home 35-21 and that victory set Lloyd Carr’s team up for potential postseason title talk as they earned a spot in a BCS Rose Bowl game against the traditional Pac-10 opponent, the #1 ranked Pete Carroll coached USC Trojans.
Unfortunately, USC proved too much for Michigan as Matt Leinart, LenDale White and Mike Williams helped doubled-up the Wolverines with a 28-14 final score. Subsequently, USC was awarded a share of the national title by the Associate Press.
Lloyd Carr’s 10th season as head coach (2004) rebounded nicely after Michigan’s early season loss on the road to Notre Dame as the Wolverines ran off 8 straight wins and brought a 9-1 record and a #9 ranking into the Big Ten finally against an unranked Ohio State team. But as we all know, rankings don’t mean a thing because once again, Ohio State managed to show-up big and handed Michigan their 3rd loss in 4 games against the Buckeyes since Jim Tressel became coach.
Michigan’s play earned them them a repeat invite to the Rose Bowl and this time they faced the Texas Longhorns led by the versatile and highly explosive scrambling quarterback Vince Young. The game was a classic and on the final play, Texas kicker Dusty Mangum converted on the game winning kick and the Longhorns celebrated a 38-37 victory. Vince Young was named MVP of the game. Michigan felt they let one slip away.
The Wheels Come Off – 2005
It was bound to happen, as it does with almost every program. The 2005 Michigan season would go down as one to forget as the team compiled a 5 loss campaign. The biggest win streak was 4 games and the Wolverines managed to lose almost every big game they played including another loss to Ohio State and a loss in the Alamo Bowl to Nebraska to close out the year with a 7-5 record.
The Rematch That Wasn’t – 2006
As bad as the 2005 season was, 2006 was equally as good…for a while. Michigan ran their regular season record up to 11-0 and a #2 ranking in the polls. The only barrier to perfection again was the reinvigorated nemesis Jim Tressel and Ohio State.
Unfortunately for the Michigan family and faithful supporters, the most tragic reminder of this year’s game played between these two historic rivals would not be the fact that Michigan lost for the 3rd time in a row to OSU. The loss on this day would feel much worse because the legendary “Michigan Man” himself, Bo Schembechler passed away on the eve of the big game.
Lloyd Carr’s Wolverine team played with heavy hearts the following day but could not overcome the #1 ranked Buckeyes’ 21-point 2nd quarter and fell 42-39. Michigan’s 5 loss out of 6 tries in the series.
Many across the nation felt these two teams earned the right to play again for the national title, but that movement fell short and OSU was selected to play Florida in the BCS Championship game only to lose badly 41-14.
End of the world as we knew it – 2007
In 2007 — Lloyd’ Carr’s final season as head football coach — the #5 preseason ranked University of Michigan football team would be dealt a very disturbing early season blow at the hands of a team national recognized now as Appalachian State from the I-AA division.
App State came into the Big House for the season opener and squeaked out a 34-32 victory in what many called the greatest upset in college football history.
The expectations for a potential title run were now gone before the season even started and the stigma of this seemingly impossible defeat would resonate profoundly the remainder of the year. And if that loss itself were not bad enough, the following week a high powered Oregon Ducks team led by Coach Mike Bellotti and his version of the spread offense attacked a very disheartened Michigan team in a nationally televised game and ran away with a 39-7 victory.
Even the resiliency of the Michigan program that was displayed following these two losses as Michigan would win their next 8 games would not be vindication enough for the faithful of the Maize and Blue.
Michigan would lose to Wisconsin and once again to Ohio State; their 6th loss in 7 tries against OSU.
Next Stop, Detour
The Monday following the Ohio State loss, Lloyd Carr announced his retirement after 13 seasons at the helm. During his time as head coach, Carr compiled a 121-40 record, won 5 Big Ten titles and guided the Wolverines to 13 straight bowl appearances.
Unfortunately Lloyd became a victim of his own success. Going undefeated in his 3rd year established an unrealistic expectation for the program and he was never able to again match that success.
It’s been debated the reasons why Coach Carr retired when he did. If Michigan would have won only a few more games against Ohio State or beat USC in the Rose Bowl or Texas in the Rose Bowl, would Lloyd have stayed another year or two?
Did Lloyd Carr see the changing landscape of college football before him and feel the additional pressures to win at all costs vs. simply winning with integrity?
If we all think back, the last few years of Lloyd’s reign at Michigan saw a resurgence and dominance of the SEC take rise in the south. Schools from non-traditionally dominate conferences began fielding teams with impeccable records like Utah, Boise State and West Virginia. The advent of more dynamic spread-type offenses were taking hold across the nation and the Big Ten was being forced out of the title picture due to their overall lack of success in championship games against the top teams from other leagues.
I believe that Ed Martin tried to do the right thing for Michigan when he made his choice in coach to replace Lloyd Carr. And given the circumstances at the time with the candidates available, he may have picked the best one.
I suppose in a sense we should all be grateful for the choice Ed Martin made when you think about it. In 3 short seasons we’ve now all be reminded of how good we had it and the values that were most important…respect for tradition and integrity above all.
The question still remains though. Is that good enough for you?