AFM RSS Feed Follow Us on Twitter       

   User Name    Password 
      Password Help

Article Categories

AFM Magazine

AFM Magazine

It Starts at the Top

While Lloyd Carr credits players and coaches for Michigan's success, he has been the leader.
by: John Borton
The Wolverine
© More from this issue

Click for Printer Friendly Version          

Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr carefully selected the metaphor, just like he did the two previous years. Inspired by the book Into Thin Air, Carr decided his team's journey through its arduous 1997 schedule loomed like an assault on Mt. Everest. Now look who's sitting at the top of the mountain.

It's not just his team, the 12-0, Big Ten champion, Rose Bowl champion, national champion Wolverines up there. It's not just the staff, the coordinators and position coaches upon whom the head coach heaps praise.

It's Carr-the same Lloyd H. Carr many U of M fans received some 30 months ago with reactions ranging from grudging groans to outright hostility.

He's the man who took over the program under dire circumstances and, in his third campaign, won Michigan's first Big Ten championship since 1992 and directed U of M's first 11-0 regular season since 1971. He then finished the job, producing the only 12-0 season ever at U-M, and Michigan's first national championship since 1948.

"It's the best coaching job I've seen done here," said Bo Schembechler, who's done a little coaching himself.

Michigan's incredible story of 1997 is also Carr's story. The man from Hawkins County, Tenn., didn't volunteer for his lofty position, but when it was thrust upon him, he didn't wilt.

Assistant coach Bobby Morrison, special teams and recruiting coordinator, remembers it well. Carr's daughter had given him a book, The Precious Present, which stresses living in the present, not ruminating over the past or fretting about the future. It became the new coach's mantra.

Morrison remembers the rookie U of M head coach instructing his staff: "We're going to take one day at a time, and we're going to do the best job that we possibly can. If we get the job done, we get the job done. If we don't get the job done, we don't get the job done. But we're going to give it every effort and work our tails off with these kids."

That staff faced tremendous pressure. U of M players were angry that head coach Gary Moeller was gone, following an embarrassing, alcohol-induced incident in a Detroit-area restaurant. The Wolverines had gone 8-4 two straight seasons, a shocker to fans spoiled by five previous consecutive Big Ten championship years.

Carr himself was torn, taking over for a close friend. Even after the shock and sadness had been set aside, he knew the U of M program-so envied and suddenly so vulnerable-would be a target across the country. He was left to tell recruits to attend Michigan, but don't worry about who the coach was going to be.

"This has been a culmination of a process that started when they handed him the "interim" coaching job," Schembechler said. "The development of the squad, the recruiting effort, the establishing of his own staff-this is the result of one great job of coaching.

"It's a result of putting this squad together, both in the players that were already here and in the recruiting effort. We really didn't lose a beat in recruiting, even though they hung that interim on him. It's impressive." Former offensive line coach Jerry Hanlon said Carr's most impressive foundation-laying over his first two seasons involved his ability to evaluate and put people into the right roles. After quarterbacks coach Kit Cartwright left for Indiana, Carr went out and landed Stan Parrish, a Rutgers assistant and a former head coach himself.

Unafraid to surround himself with such experience, Carr also didn't hesitate to make other changes. He designated coordinators on offense and defense, and when circumstances dictated after the 1996 season, he switched Mike DeBord to offensive coordinator and installed Jim Herrmann at defensive coordinator.

All of those moves took guts, according to the long-time molder of Michigan men of the trenches.

"When you do that, it takes a very strong person to hold that staff together," Hanlon said. "I think he's done an excellent job of keeping them all working together. I walk around down there, and I see a close-knit group of guys who respect one another and who work well together. That comes from the top."

It didn't all fall into place with the snap of his fingers. Carr's foundation for his interim season of 1995 was "Hold The Rope." He issued pieces of rope to every coach and player, signifying the pulling together which had to be accomplished. That team went 9-4 with a pair of rookie quarterbacks.

The following season, everyone received a brick. The Wolverines were "Building A Foundation," with the seniors at the bottom, where the strength of the building needed to be found. That team struggled to 8-4, a season soured by a 17-16 giveaway at Northwestern and a shocking 9-3 letdown at Purdue.

The latter game, more than any other, helped lay a foundation for 1997. The Wolverines would not face any emotional slipups this season, remembering all the while the 1996 debacle in West Lafayette. "That Purdue game wain Jon Jansen said before the season. "This year, with our schedule being like it is, they're all red-letter games. He's trying to get through to us that we have to take them alike, no matter if it's Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State-it doesn't matter. If you take it easy on one, somebody's going to bite you."

The Lloyd Carr File

1968-69 Assistant, Nativity HS, Detroit
1969-73 Assistant, Belleville (Mich.) HS
1973-75Head Coach, John Glenn HS, Westland, Mich.
1976-77DB Coach, Eastern Michigan
1978-79DB Coach, Illinois
1980-86DB Coach, Michigan
1987-94 Def. Coordinator, Michigan
1995-Pres.Head Coach, Michigan

Meanwhile, the head coach was feeling the bite himself. Four-loss seasons, four-loss seasons, four-loss seasons-it became an incessant mantra of torture. Carr's on the hot seat. Michigan isn't Michigan anymore. M stands for Mediocre.

The fury those charges generated found the field 12 times in 1997, shutting many mouths and causing others to fall agape in astonishment. Michigan opened the season by obliterating a well-regarded Colorado team, 27-3, and two weeks later took the measure of Notre Dame, 21-14. The Wolverines survived a huge scare against Iowa, rallying from a 21-7 halftime deficit to win, 28-24.

Michigan really opened the eyes of the nation by pounding Penn State, 34-8, in Happy Valley, using the Nittany Lions as a springboard to No. 1 in both polls. Two weeks later, the Wolverines completed their first undefeated regular season since 1971 by holding off a fierce rally by Ohio State in a 20-14 win.

That left one team-Washington State and its NFL-bound, rocket-launching quarterback Ryan Leaf-between U-M and perfection. Michigan's defense and Brian Griese's right arm proved the difference. The Wolverines limited a team averaging 42 points a game to 16, and three Griese TD passes carried Carr to the season-ender of his dreams, 21-16.

Only after the Rose Bowl triumph did the U-M coach acknowledge the depths of his anguish last summer. Coaches have to either ignore the poison of talk radio or learn to live with it, and he wasn't doing either.

"This summer, I had a point where I was not dealing with that whole thing like I wanted to," Carr admitted. "I understood if I didn't get a grasp on it, it was going to kill me. I was determined not to let this job kill me."

To make matters worse, the Wolverines faced what was deemed the nation's toughest schedule prior to the season. Colorado and Notre Dame in the non-conference games, Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State in consecutive weeks, finishing at Penn State, at Wisconsin and hosting Ohio State.

Everest beckoned, and Carr began handing out pickaxes-literally. Players and coaches received tiny reminders of the climb, which were stuck into the ceiling of a team meeting room. A survivor of an Everest trek came and addressed the team. Michigan's master motivator was at work.

"He is without a doubt the greatest motivator I've ever been around, as far as pulling kids and coaches and everybody together, touching everybody's hot button," Morrison said. "That's what he's done. I don't think there's another guy that could have done what he did here."

Carr's weaving of a fine fabric among his assistants. Making them a close, cohesive unit, paid incalculable dividends, Hanlon said.

"It reflects down into the players," he explained. "The players know their roles, know what they're supposed to do. There is a close-knitness that goes through the whole organization. I think that comes from the head coach. If there is one thing he's done, it's become a true leader with the staff and with the players."

Incoming Wolverines ought to fit into the tapestry quite well. Carr is known as a players' coach, but he knows what he wants in a coach's player. Carr seeks the right fit for Michigan's program and should have plenty from which to choose. Recruiting guru Tom Lemming of Prep Football Report, notes Michigan enjoyed yet another monster year in player procurement.

"I've known him for years," Lemming said of Carr. "He was always known as a great coach. Lloyd always had a special handle with the ballplayers, as a recruiter but also as a coach. The players really like him. I think they believe in him. It's really exciting to see him have a year like this, because he's a guy who really, truly deserves it.

"There are many different people in this business, some really nice guys and some real jackasses. Finally, one of the really nice guys gets promoted and he's doing a great job. It's well deserved."

For his own part, Carr knows not to trust the hearty backslaps of today. His new mantra? "Success is never final."

That doesn't mean he can't savor the precious present.

"It's tough when you're down, and you have all the critics who tell you that you are mediocre and that you don't have it anymore, and that you can't coach and you can't play," Carr admitted. "All those things make it tough for guys to continue to believe.

In 1997, the Michigan Wolverines were true believers, led up the mountain by a special coach. The man on the mountain, American Football Monthly/Schutt Sports Division I Coach of the Year Lloyd Carr.

For more information on The Wolverine, a magazine covering all University of Michigan sports, call 1-800-421-7751.

Runners-up Joe Tiller
Alamo Bowl Champions
8-3 Regular Season
Big 10 Coach of the Year

Take it down, pass it around and build it up again. People in West Lafayette, Ind., expected a little steam out of their Boilermakers, but probably were a little surprised with how quickly Wyoming import and former Purdue defensive coordinator Joe Tiller accomplished results in 1997.

Tiller, his high-energy passing attack and a small but surprisingly-opportunistic defense (first in the Big Ten, ninth in country with a +13 turnover margin), revived a program that amazingly hadn't seen a winning campaign for 13 seasons and had gone 3-8 the year previous. On and off the field, a new tradition began.

The Purdue squad had a varied look on both sides of the ball, as often happens with the handing of the reigns to a new mentor, there was change. While many players embraced change, several, including at least seven project starters, were purged. In October, just 74 players dotted the roster.

Bob Simmons
Oklahoma State
Alamo Bowl Bid
8-3 Regular Season
Big 12 Coach of the Year

Bob Simmons had enough to worry about coming into the 1997 season. He was coming off a 5-6 season and entering a campaign that included expected-powers Colorado and Texas at home.

He was entering years of an expected turnaround of a program that had no bowl games, no winning records, no victories over ranked opponents, since a 10-2 season in 1988.

Then two weeks before the season started, 10 players, who met NCAA and Big 12 academic standards, were ruled ineligible by University officials. Among the mix, the team's best back, best linebacker and starting corners.

Despite the hurdles, Oklahoma State was clearly one of the nation's most improved teams. Besides beating both Texas and Colorado, Simmons' charges added a stomp over rival Oklahoma and lost two games by three points or less, including a 51-50 two-overtime home heartbreaker versus Missouri.

Mike Price
Washington State
Rose Bowl Bid
10-1 Regular Season
Pac 10 Coach of the Year

In the past, it's been expected of Washington State to lurk in the shadows of the Pac-10's leaders and plod along dutifully through the typical football season. Not usually high or low enough to cause much excitement in the sleepy streets of Pullman.

1998 may be the year of the lion in Chinese mythology, but 1997 proved to be the break-through season that Cougar faithful had been waiting to see since Mike Price arrived at WSU in 1989.

The Cougars dispelled a preseason-predicted 7th place Pac 10 finish and strolled all the way into Pasadena, behind the cannon arm known as Ryan Leaf, for the first time in 67 years.

Price's high-octane "O" established new Pac 10 single season records for total offense (5,534 yards) and passing offense (3,789). WSU finished second in the nation in both scoring (42.5 points per game) and total offense (502.2 yards per game).

Tommy Tuberville
Motor City Bowl Champs
7-4 Regular Season
SEC Coach of the Year

Forget, for a moment, that the Ole Miss Rebels finished 7-4 in the regular season and 4-4 in the SEC. Forget that Tommy Tuberville, his young staff and even younger team went on to defeat Randy Moss-led Marsh-all in the Motor City Bowl in 1997.

Tuberville's troops were comprised by 75 percent freshman and sophomores. But age isn't the only tag that made the 1997 Rebels unique.

In fact, ranked-foes LSU and Mississippi State were beaten by a probation-restricted squad with only 68 scholarships (compared to the NCAA and SEC limit of 85). Eleven of the 68 scholarships were walk-ons who had been in the program two years.

While Tuberville-6-5, 5-6 and now 8-4 and among the best in Ole Miss history in his first three seasons-has seemingly climbed the mountain and will have 85 scholarships finally in 1998, the Rebels have 11 starters to replace. But without question, the Rebels, who were picked to finish last in the SEC West, are again a team to be reckoned with in the SEC.

Division I-AA Coach of the Year

Paul Johnson
Georgia Southern

It was the legendary Erk Russell who built the miracle by Statesboro's Eagle Creek, winning the first two of three national titles in his reign (1982-89) in '85 and '86 with a baby-faced Paul Johnson by his side.

So it was only fitting that Johnson, who moved on to Hawaii and later Navy as a coordinator, be handed the responsibility of resurrecting one of the nation's proudest programs-a team that had slipped from playoff contention to 4-7 in 1996.

Johnson and his staff reassembled the troops in '97 thru implementation of the spread offense and 14 returning starters-leading Georgia Southern to the biggest turnaround in the history of the Southern Conference. The Eagles finished 9-2, 7-1 (a five-win improvement) in the SoCon to take the loop's regular season title.

GSU (10-3) returned to the national playoffs, falling 16-7 to Delaware in the semifinals. On the season, the Eagles broke or tied 31 individual or team records and ranked in the nation's top 20 in seven categories (three in the top 10).

With Johnson's system in place, there may very well be more miracles yet to brew in Eagle Creek. s Division II Coach of the Year

Joe Glenn
Northern Colorado

If there were a coach in the country that could probably make a living as a lounge act, it would probably be Northern Colorado's Joe Glenn. Who knows if the charismatic coach can sing-his team certainly knows the story behind a couple of famous tunes.

If 1996 was the season that UNC was "On the Road Again," then 1997 was one that they played "it" again for Sam, Dave and whoever else had their ear trained on Division II football. Like 1996, UNC's early losses prevented the team from getting a home berth in the playoffs.

And like 1996, the 1997 Bears were more than a token road team looking to lose a first round game and go home with tails tucked. Glenn's troops won playoff games at Pittsburg State, Norrthwest Missouri and Carson Newman before dominating New Haven 51-0 in the finals in Florence, Ala.

With two in a row stowed away for Glenn and the Bear faithful, the news out of Greeley isn't very good for 1998's Division II field. The UNC staff loses just six seniors from a team dominated by sophomores and juniors.

Looks to be the makings of yet another hit record. Division III Coach of the Year

Tim Keating
Western Maryland

You could say that the Western Maryland football program turned the corner in 1997 under Tim Keating. And you could probably go even further and say that they did it by returning to the roots that the school was founded upon.

The Green Terror were simply terrible to opponents in the Centennial League. At a school founded by a teacher and intially funded by a preacher and a railroad magnate, Keating's team propelled itself into the nation's top echelon through the emergence of one the essentials of championship football-defense.

Under second-year coordinator Al Thomas, Western Maryland completed it's sojurn as one of the nation's worst defenses and claimed a spot amongst the best-finishing in the top five in all major categories. Added to a run-and-shoot offense that developed a balanced running threat, defense made WMC hard to handle.

Keating utilized 16 returning starters and a strong recruiting class from the staff's recruiting inroads into Delaware to take the team to a 10-0 regular season, its first conference championship in 15 years of membership, and its first-ever NCAA playoff appearance (a 27-12 loss to Lycoming) in 34 years of eligibility.

WMC went 4-6 in 1996, and hadn't won more than five games since Keating was named coach in 1993. NAIACoach of the Year

Carl Poelker
McKendree (Ill.) College

McKendree (Ill.) President James Dennis must be smiling in Lebanon, Ill. His goals for this college and his football program, just two-years old, exceeded expectations in 1997.

It was just two short years ago that Dennis, a former vice president at Southern Cal, decided his college needed the notoriety and a boost in enrollment and morale that football brings a university. With that in mind, he brought in Division III veteran Carl Poelker-with a proven record of success in both victories and a 95 percent player graduation rate.

After the growing pains were obvious during the team's initial 3-5 campaign in 1996, Poelker reorganized the troops, brought in more recruits and produced results. The growing Bearcats were the NAIA's top independent in 1997, reeling off eight straight wins to go 9-1 in the regular season and advance to a national playoff berth.

Not only has the team's early success unified the campus, but the 2,000-enrollment school has noted increased student recruitment numbers across the board at a value of over $1 million in tuition and fees.

JUNIOR COLLEGECoach of the Year

Scotty Conley
Trinity Valley

If everything indeed grows bigger in Texas, than it wouldn't be shocking to equate the word "dynasty," to a football program in the Lonestar state, given the state's love for the game and plethora of talent.

If early returns are any indication, Scotty Conley's staff at Trinity Valley Junior College in Athens is going to a player on the national scene for years to come. A second-year veteran of the school who led the team to a 4-6 record in 1996 after a late hire, Conley put together a team comprised largely of freshman and went undefeated in winning the national championship in 1997.

Conley's Cardinals capped the season (12-0) with a decisive 48-13 victory over No. 2 Garden City in the Red River Bowl and beat two-time defending champion Blinn twice enroute to the national title. Defense and special teams were season calling cards left around the country.

A recruiting pipeline apparently back in place, Trinity Valley returns 40 sophomores in 1998.

AFM Home | Current Issue | Back Issues | Volume 4, 1st Quarter


AFM Videos Streaming Memberships Now Available Digital Download - 304 Pages of Football Forms for the Winning Coach


Copyright 2024,
All Rights Reserved