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Class In (A Different Shade Of) BLUE

Lloyd Carr made it official yesterday with these simple words:

"I may look tired, but I still have a great passion for the game, for the players and for the competition. But I also know that there are some things that I don't have anymore, and so it's time. That's all I can say to you."
The regular readers of BN know how Michigan is my second favorite college athletics program. If not for my love of UCLA (and fear of Midwest Winter), I probably would have ended up as a freshman in Ann Arbor during the Fall of 91. So I have my own thoughts on Carr's exit from one of the most hallowed program in the history of this game. But I will save those and defer to the Michigan alums, who have already eloquently put Carr's departure in context from a number of different angles (and you will see how our recent discussions play into those towards the end of my post).

First, let's go to Joey over at Straight Banging, who was one of the first whistle blowers in detecting the downward trend of the Lloyd era. Joey is neither gloating nor celebrating, noting how Carr is riding "off principled and admired," leaving a legacy of "endless, confounding ambivalence":
With his impending retirement seemingly hinging on questions of "when" and not "if," Lloyd surely hopes to enjoy a football legacy of consistency, fortitude against the top ten, three times more wins than losses, and the magical undefeated campaign of 1997. But that image has slowly eroded this decade as Michigan has been overmatched physically and strategically by the better teams and their better coaches. Annually now, Michigan feasts on a weak Big Ten only to suffer embarrassment when it encounters schools whose players are just as good and coaches who prepare, adjust, and lead in ways that Lloyd no longer can. Using wins over the Penn States and Michigan States of this world to seal cracks in a crumbling foundation doesn't work when USC and Ohio State come to hammer away. And far from a perennial national contender, Michigan is a program in decline led by a strategic anachronism whose obstinate pride has stifled innovation and change.

The Lloyd Carr football legacy is instead one of steady consolation prizes, no matter how many times his apologists tell you about the national championship of a decade ago or the five Big Ten titles sprinkled in through 2004. No one denies those accomplishments, but they carry less and less weight as bowl losses pile up, Ohio State losses sink in, and time marches on. A coach is ultimately to be judged by the teams he puts on the field. In the past five years, Carr's have been poorly prepared for important games and incapable of executing the philosophy and strategy espoused by their leader. That's damning, as is a 5-7 bowl record, a 5-4 mark against Notre Dame during a historic down period, and a 6-7 mark that was once 5-1 against Ohio State.

A similar melancholy will also forever define Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and Jake Long. The core of a Michigan program now officially owned by Jim Tressel, HH&L will be remembered as much for their inability to win big games as for their Rose Bowl appearances and four-year starting run. Players who gave so much of themselves to the program perhaps deserve better, and yet sports is about results and not rhetoric.

But this is a moment about Lloyd Carr. Players change, but for the past thirteen years, he hasn't, to Michigan's benefit and detriment. He rides off principled and admired, leaving behind a run as Michigan's coach that engenders an endless, confounding ambivalence. It was good, but it could and should have been so much more.
That was Joey after Carr's last game against tOSU. You can detect the same melancholy tone in Dave's post over at Maize n Brew, which he wrote leading up to Saturday:
Over 13 years as Michigan's coach Carr has always conducted himself with a dignity every man is rightfully envious of. He does not campaign. He does not complain. He accepts what God has given him and prepares accordingly. I doubt he is troubled at all by the supposed stakes on Saturday. His legacy is irrelevant to him, what is important are the thousands of young men who have devoted themselves to his teachings over the last 13 years. That they have become outstanding men and women, leaders and the best. It is for them that he prepares to take on Ohio State Saturday. Not for his record or legacy. Not for a fickle press, fanbase, or alumni. Not for the record books. Not even for the ghost of legends past or old friends who departed this Earth too early.

Many of us in a position to write such things have said this game will determine how we remember Carr, and how we will refer to him. Whether the word "but" will be interjected in a sentence where a final period should be placed. I am fairly certain I have read it, said it or written it. I wish I hadn't. Because it is not true. Whether Carr beats Ohio State on Saturday is irrelevant to how I will remember him as Michigan's coach.

I will remember him as a gentle soul when the cameras weren't rolling. A generous man who cared deeply about the children of Ann Arbor and Detroit. A man who cared more about this students and athletes than the opinions of those with power over him. A man of supreme confidence without the presumption of arrogance. A man who carried the Michigan banner high and represented everything we love about this fine institution in an unpretentious, unassuming manner. A man we would all be proud to call our friend. A man we have at some point been proud to call a mentor.
We can only dream of expressing those same sentiments about our current football coach, who unlike Lloyd car has shown us nothing to exhibit the character of a principled leader, who we'd be "proud to call our friend."

The difference between the former Michigan head coach and (crossing our fingers, knocking on desk) soon to be former UCLA head coach, couldn't be more striking. And I am not talking about the shade of blue they bust out on Saturdays.