The season started with hype that was unachievable, a loss for the ages that was unbelievable, and a beat down by Oregon that, in the Big House, was inconceivable. "Lloyd should step down!" the legions of fans shouted as the town burned down around them. At 0-2, and with 4 consecutive losses, this was the end of everything we believed in, everything that defined Michigan Football in the modern era. This was it. Over. Done. No bowl game. No chance at... anything. Three standouts that made a mistake by returning. A group of seniors whose careers so far had been defined by not being able to finish, now fell flat on their face at the start.
Only ashes remained.
But from those ashes rose determination. A new focus. New goals. And a new season, the Big Ten season. It's not what you wanted from this group. And it's not what this group wanted. The cards, as they say, had been dealt, but Michigan made the decision to play their losing hand in lieu of folding. They scrapped and clawed their way though the Big Ten, and they did it in every way possible. Occasionally, they won by playing the way that they were expected to play back in August. Other times, they won despite playing down to their opponents. They won without Henne. They won without Hart. They won without Henne and Hart. They had comeback victories, blowout victories, bad victories, and good victories. For eight weeks, they were resilient, if not brilliant. Belief replaced grief. For years on end, the number next to the name each week that we took for granted became something we coveted. #24 Michigan...#19 Michigan...#15 Michigan...#13 Michigan... It was all going so well. But it would all end so badly.
A trip to Wisconsin wouldn't fulfill the July prophecy of a game for the Big Ten title. Michigan made what seemed to be a conscious decision to rest and wait for the Buckeyes. They, for all intents and purposes, threw a college football game to be healthy for Ohio State. We could never have imagined the impact of that decision, because we couldn't imagine falling to the Buckeyes for a 4th straight season.
Saturday, an icy drizzle blanketed an enthusiastic 111,900 fans. Fans that hoped for a spirited and victorious send off for a group of young Michigan men, and a legendary Michigan man. It was not to be. There would be no storybook ending. The clock struck zero with the score 14-3, but the game was over long before then. An anemic offense would keep Coach Carr's feet on the ground as he exited the field. The only thing that would be carried off on this day would be heavy hearts and broken dreams. Carr jogged, head down with the rest of his players, back to the locker room. Due to Illini heroics the previous week, the Wisconsin loss would become the loss that kept the Wolverines from a shared Big Ten title.
Less than 24 hours later...
Lloyd Carr walked into a team meeting Sunday only to be met with silence.
He exited the Schembechler Hall meeting room and entered again, this time receiving thunderous applause from his Michigan players, most of whom understood the announcement that was coming.
A day after Michigan suffered its fourth straight loss to rival Ohio State, Carr informed his players he will retire after 13 years at the helm of a program he guided to a national championship and five Big Ten championships.
It's sad, the sophomore lineman Steve Schilling said. He's a good coach and we're definitely going to miss him. But he's still going to be around. He told us he enjoyed his time here and that he had a lot of great memories.
Carr is expected to take a position within the athletic department of the university where he has spent the past 28 years. When Carr walked into the team meeting he was met with the silent stares of his team.
Schilling recalled Carr saying: I'm going to walk and come back in and want you guys to act like you have a heartbeat. Nobody died. He was then greeting with an ovation and given a standing ovation after his announcement.
And so exits Coach Carr. Certainly not in the way he wanted, but on his own terms nonetheless. For now, the program is left without a serious tie to the Schembechler regime. The new image of Michigan football is one of uncertainty. Who will be the coach? Will the offensive and defensive coordinators remain? Who will front a Michigan offense devoid of leadership, without Henne, without Hart? Will we ever again beat the sweatervest? Is this the end...or a new beginning?
Answers start Monday at 10am. See you at the Bowl Game.