On his way out the door, Lloyd Carr wasn’t willing to talk about what he thought what the lasting impressions of his tenure would be.
“I didn’t come here to discuss my legacy,” he said during his November 19th press conference. “I came here to announce my retirement. I really don’t have anything to give you on that.”
Self-deprecating until the end, he was effusive in his praise for those around him, especially his players and coaches. In doing so, though, he answered the very question he insisted he wasn’t there to answer.
In a profession where the ultimate measure of success is wins and losses, Carr always did an admirable job of maintaining the type of standards that placed just as much importance on being a great man off the field as they did being a great player on it. He kept those standards in mind when determining who to surround himself with on his staff and on his team. When he looks back on his time at the helm, it is clear that that is what he is most proud of.
“The guys that I brought here… the guys that I hired here… I think more than anything else, any coach is measured by those people,” said Carr. “This is not a one man job. Bo hired great coaches and certainly, I was one of those (laughing). Michigan football is about team. It is about family. It is about having a group of people that you trust, that you care about, and understanding that if everybody will do the best that he will do and put the team first, then you can do things that you cannot do individually. Michigan has had all kinds of All-Americans, Heisman Trophy winners, but that is not what defines this program. What defines this program is team… taking a lot of people from different parts of the country, different religions, races and socioeconomic backgrounds and trying to mold them into a cohesive group of people who have one goal and that goal is to win for Michigan. To me that is what it is all about.”
Carr was the walking embodiment of the principles he espoused. His achievements were always a function of the team’s success and not just his own, and he made it a point to pass that along to his players. It was but one of the lessons he taught during the process of making the boys that came under his watch as 18-year-olds men by the time they left. Their journeys were invariably wrought with mistakes along the way, but it was in those moments when Carr was at his best. It was in those moments that he offered them the kind of guidance and advice that allowed them to make the proper choices in those few pivotal moments when the direction of their lives were being determined. It was a skill that he honed only after his eyes were opened to an important reality about working with young people.
“I had the opportunity several years ago to get to know Robin Fleming, a former president here at Michigan during the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Carr recalled. “I went up to see him one day. I had a problem with a player and I wanted to get his input. He told me that when he became the president at Michigan, he came in with the premise that college students are going to make mistakes. That hit me in a way that I had not understood before. It changed my approach because any time a player gets in trouble that is one of the worst things that you can have as a coach. His insight helped me to understand that the most important thing that you can do as a coach when a guy has a problem is to deal with it in a way that will help him understand that he has to be accountable and he has to do things in a way to prove that he wants to be here. I can say this, for the great majority of guys that I have recruited here, I am extremely proud of them and I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to coach them because in many instances, I learned more from my players than they ever learned from me.”
The examples of players weathering off-field adversity are too plentiful to enumerate. That in and of itself is a reflection of great judgment on Carr’s behalf; great judgment of character. The practice of doling out punishment in the highly visible arena of college football is a widely scrutinized practice. Second-guessing is rampant because questions always seemingly arise about whether a coach is sacrificing the integrity, image, and well-being of a program in order to get wins. Carr wasn’t immune to such critiques during his tenure. As time went on, however, and players like Maurice Williams and Jonathan Goodwin went on to become shining examples of Michigan men after horrible missteps, fewer questioned the sincerity of his motivations. At his core, he was always most interested in using the sport of football and his position as coach to help his players lend substance to the type of people they said they wanted to be.
“I know of no other profession with the exhilaration and the incredible euphoria that you experience when you have won a tough ballgame right at the end,” he said. “It is the players that give meaning to all of that. I have had some guys that I have had to discipline and I have had hard times with and I look back on some of those kids today who learned valuable lessons… because there is always a question does this game develop character? I don’t think that this game develops character, but I think it defines character. You play this game long enough, you coach it, then it will define who you are. Did you quit when you got knocked down? Did you violate the rules in order to win? All the things that you have to do in coaching and playing this game ultimately define who you are and that is one of the real values of the game. There is an incredible value to this game. Here are problems, yes. There are criticisms that are legit, yes. But at its essence, this game is valuable like so many other games.”
“I want to thank our players because that really is the essence of intercollegiate athletics,” Carr continued. “I always felt and I always tried to create an environment and have a program where one of the values that we cherish is that when these guys leave here, they have had an experience that will be meaningful to them beyond the field of play. I have loved them all… and sometimes that has been tough love (laughing). But in the big picture, the big scheme of things, I just admire, in today’s world, intercollegiate athletics at a place like Michigan, the pressure on those guys is unbelievable and they’ve got to want that pressure. I admire the way they have handled it. I admire the way they have competed, and I love them for the way that they love the University of Michigan.”
So what is Carr’s legacy? Far beyond the wins and losses, it is the lives he impacted. His stewardship of the Michigan program was one of great ambassadorship, success on the field, and above all, integrity. Its poetic justice that during his reign as coach, Michigan football achieved the highest of highs and he never compromised his principles to do it. Even his fiercest critics must admit that Lloyd Carr did it the right way.
“We won so many great games here and what I remember is being in that locker room after some spectacular performances and singing The Victors with those teams,” said Carr. “Those are the moments that you don’t forget.”
Thanks for the great memories Lloyd. Have a great time in retirement. We’ll
be seeing ya!