For most of us, anything that comes after tomorrow's game is played is basically an epilogue for Lloyd Carr. You know. The little post-script in the book that says,
When Michigan lines up against Ohio State Saturday at noon it is almost a foregone conclusion that it will be Lloyd Carr's last home game as Michigan's head coach. As it was with Bo and every coach before him, the last game of his tenure is against Ohio State. In a season that most thought would lead to a national title berth, Carr has endured perhaps his toughest year as a head football coach. After embarrassing losses to Division 1-AA Appalachian State and Oregon Carr not only had to endure constant calls for his head, but the weight of a demoralized team and fan base. Fittingly, Carr carried on with a new found vigor that ignited his team to an eight game winning streak and reminded us with his seldom seen grace and charm what a true Michigan man should be like.
Michigan enters the game Saturday with arguably one of Carr's weakest teams in his 13 years as head coach. With Mike Hart and Chad Henne suffering debilitating injuries, ongoing defensive problems, and an offensive line constantly in flux, Carr has no clear answers as to who will play and how he will play them. This combined with a 1-5 record against Ohio State in the last 6 years and facing a Buckeye team with an outside chance of playing for a national title makes Carr's job even harder.
But if you think this phases him in the least, then you don't know the man at all.
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.
One game will not change that.
Will I overlook his flaws? No. Certainly not. Carr's flaws are there for all to see and he has never hidden them.
One thing we should all remember about Carr is despite these flaws, he has always saved his best for last. Despite last year's loss to Ohio State, had anyone seen Michigan's offense play that well? Have we forgotten 1997? The five Big Ten titles? This six 10+ win seasons?
Despite the gloom we feel heading into this year's match up with the uncertainties and injuries, we all know Carr will have his team ready to play. Over the course of the last six Ohio State games, only twice has the outcome been decided by more than a touchdown. The game will be close. It will be nasty. But Michigan will show life we didn't see against Wisconsin, and so will Carr.
As important as this game is to us, the fans, it means even more to the young men who will play the game. Carr knows Chad, Jake, Mike, Shawn and Jamar have never won this game and how it eats at them. He knows how badly they want to win, and that is why he will prepare as though it is his last game whether it is or isn't. For his players. The ones who never doubted him. The ones that look at him like a father. Carr wants this final game for them.
We should be mindful of that when people ask us about Lloyd Carr in five years or in ten. When people ask us what kind of coach he was, tell them. And when you reach the point of your sentence to say "but," make sure you say "but he was an even better man than a coach." Because when we write that final chapter on Coach Carr, that is how it should end.