Nov. 17, 2011
By Ruth Baum Bigus
Former University of Michigan football head coach Lloyd Carr is used to being in the spotlight. For 28 years, he was a member of the Michigan football staff -- 13 of those as head coach.
During his years at the helm, there wasn't a week that went by during football season without seeing Carr's face on television or hearing his voice on the radio talking football. Conversations centered around why Michigan football did this or that -- and trying to explain his course of action as the director of "movement" on the gridiron.
Now, Carr has been thrust into the national spotlight again as a member of the 2011 College Football Hall of Fame induction class. He's one of only two coaches being inducted in the current class and the sixth Wolverine coach to do so, putting him with an illustrious crowd that includes Fritz Crisler, George Little, Bo Schembechler, Tad Wieman and Fielding Yost.
"It was for me, and a lot of guys, the best years of my life," said Carr of his football years at Michigan. "The credit goes back to the players -- the guys I had to coach. They made all the difference."
Carr gives credit to where he is today to several people who came before him, including legendary coach Bo Schembechler. Carr first joined Schembechler's staff as the defensive secondary coach. After seven seasons in that position, he was promoted to defensive coordinator for three seasons.
"He was a great mentor," said Carr of Schembechler. "When I got the opportunity to be head coach, I was well prepared. In most professions, if you are fortunate to have a great mentor -- as I did -- that makes all the difference."
During Carr's 13 years as the Wolverines' head coach, he achieved a 122-40 record, captured five Big Ten Conference titles and the 1997 national championship -- the school's first in 49 years. Carr was at the helm for the 21-16 Michigan victory over Washington State in the 1998 Rose Bowl that clinched a share of the national title. There are lots of memories.
"You never forget a lot of games that you won at the end -- there's nothing like that excitement," Carr said.
However, three games really stand out for Carr, including the 1999 Penn State game. Carr recalled then-Michigan quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception that resulted in a Penn State touchdown and the lead in the game. Carr picks up the story from there.
"Tom came off to the side line and he was mad," Carr said. Following some conversations, things changed for Brady.
"Those next six minutes, what he did -- he didn't make any mistakes. He threw two touchdowns and we came from behind and won on the road," Carr said.
The 1997 team holds a special place in Carr's heart.
"We had a group of guys (who) were a group of leaders -- some of the best at Michigan," Carr said. "It was a mountaintop experience."
Carr said the 2000 Orange Bowl victory over Alabama, the first Michigan team to do so, was also special.
A teacher by education, Carr started his coaching career as an assistant at Nativity High School in Detroit followed by a stint at Belleville (Mich.) High School. He served as head coach at John Glenn High School where he was named Regional Class A Coach of the Year in 1975 following an 8-1 season. Carr joined the college coaching ranks at Eastern Michigan followed by two seasons at Illinois before coming on board at U-M.
Of all the places he's coached, Carr said there is something special at Michigan, and it can be summed up on one word.
"Tradition," Carr said. "There's almost immediately an understanding that you're a part of something bigger than yourself. If you don't embrace it, you're going to fail."
Over the years, Carr has worked with hundreds of young men who played for Michigan and, thanks to technology, he keeps up with a number of them.
"There's seldom a day that goes by that I don't talk to some of them," Carr said. "It makes my day when I look down at my cell phone and the names come up. It's a great part of coaching. Our relationships have changed -- they don't have to do what I tell them anymore," he said with a chuckle.
Carr has built a very strong relationship with three former Wolverines in particular: Steve Hutchinson, Brian Griese and Charles Woodson. The trio worked tirelessly on a golf tournament with Carr to raise about $5 million for U-M's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Carr and his wife, Laurie, co-chaired the capital campaign for the hospital with Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and his wife Jan.
Woodson, a Heisman Trophy winner who played for Carr and now plays for the Green Bay Packers, said it was easy to say "yes" when the coach called.
"Coach Carr was a guy you knew cared about people and his players," Woodson said. "A lot of what I was able to accomplish was (that) he allowed me to go out there and be a football player."
That's not to say that Woodson and Carr didn't have their disagreements during the player's Michigan years.
"Those things made our relationship better," Woodson said. "We tell each other how much we respected each other and Michigan. I'm proud to have played for Coach Carr and that we were able to win a championship together and do all of his charitable works."
Griese, who went on to play in the NFL as well, agreed with Woodson.
"He was so much more than a coach," said Griese of Carr. "I was amazed how he molded young men from a character standpoint and in life."
Griese said his involvement with Mott was due to the example Carr set on and off the field.
"In my book he's been a member of the people Hall of Fame long before he was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame," Griese said. "I am so impressed by how thoughtful he is and how compassionate he is."
During his years as a coach, Carr has worked to develop boys into men.
"It's about leadership -- that's what coaching is," Carr said. "Those experiences I had at a young age, you're always being coached about leadership."
Carr said there is tremendous pressure on student-athletes to perform.
"I don't think most people are aware of these pressures. I tell our players that to play here is one of the toughest things they'll ever be challenged with," Carr said. "I try to teach them to embrace the pressure and accept it. Then they'll be able to handle that pressure and the challenges which will help them later in life."
Carr has left his mark on Michigan beyond the gridiron. He's been a big supporter of women's athletics at Michigan, endowing a women's athletics scholarship that is presented annually to a student-athlete. And it was Carr who started the Women's Football Academy and U-M Men's Fantasy Football Experience, both of which donate all proceeds to the university's Comprehensive Cancer Center. Carr served on the NCAA Rules Committee and was a member of the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees.
Since retiring, Carr has given much time to the Mott hospital effort as well as other charitable endeavors. He's an avid reader and enjoys books on leadership. Carr tries to keep up with his 12 grandchildren from his six children.
"It's fun to watch them grow up," he said.
And there's travel, which has included trips through U-M to Scotland and China.
"The most fun trip of my life was spending 10 days in Sydney (Australia) with Russell Crowe (the actor)," Carr said.
The trip was the result of Carr's showing Crowe's movie "Cinderella Man" to his team as an example of fighting for a cause. Carr used the theme as part of training camp and when one player mentioned it during a news conference, word spread all the way to Crowe. The actor, who is part owner of a rugby team in Australia, contacted Carr.
"He wanted to know if I had an interest in talking to his team," said Carr, and the answer was yes. Yet, as is almost always the case with Carr, Michigan gets the credit.
"All of the wonderful experiences I've had, they all lead back to Michigan."
More on Lloyd Carr
» Lloyd Carr biography
» Brandon's Blog: Lloyd Carr Mad All of U-M Proud (May 17, 2011)
» Carr Named to College Football Hall of Fame (May 17, 2011)
» Lloyd Carr Set for Nov. 19 NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute (Nov. 15)
» Lloyd Carr Retires from the University of Michigan
Carr by the Numbers
Michigan head coach: 13 years (1995-2007)
Led the Wolverines to six 10-win seasons, trailing only Fielding H. Yost (165-29-10) and Bo Schembechler (194-48-5) in career victories at Michigan.
Big Ten Conference's third-best overall winning percentage at .779 (81-23), trailing only his mentor, Schembechler (.850), and Yost (.786).
Carr is just the eighth coach in league history to claim five or more championships. Carr was a part of 13 Big Ten championship teams during his U-M tenure, eight as an assistant and five as head coach (1997, 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2004).
Carr became the first Wolverine coach to win four straight bowl games -- the 2001 Citrus Bowl, 2000 Orange Bowl, 1999 Citrus Bowl and 1998 Rose Bowl games.
He was named the National Coach of the Year by six different organizations following Michigan's climb to the summit of college football's elite.
Carr has been inducted into the Catholic League and Northern Michigan University Halls of Fame as well as the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.