Conquered favorites and other notables picking up the pieces of shattered ambition this week:
• Hail to the Grumpy Hero. Somewhere in the archives of the Michigan papers, you'll find something about losing the Big Ten title to Ohio State in the Wolverines' worst offensive performance in a couple decades, but the front pages are devoted to reams and reams of Lloyd Carr's just-announced retirement, his career, his legacy, why he's underappreciated by Michigan fans, why Michigan fans will miss and remember him forever, who should replace him, who shouldn't replace him, "how he told his team," etc. The tears will flow and the band will play and the old man will walk stoically into the cornstalks of immortality.
A short summation of Carr's press conference:
Michigan AD Bill Martin says essentially the same thing on the process of naming Carr's replacement:
Longevity. "We have had football coaches who have been put in place for extended periods of time. If you look at this situation, I would be looking for someone who could serve for a longer period of time."
In all, six Michigan coaches have lasted more than 10 seasons, including Carr, who is retiring after his 13th campaign.
Head coaching experience: "You've got to have experience to come here. This is the winningest college football program in history. Lloyd has pushed that percentage rate up. To me that's the benchmark. This is not time to experiment (with coaches). This has to be a very careful, considered process."
An understanding of Michigan's traditions, including an emphasis on academic and community involvement among players.
"I think it can be someone who does not have direct ties to Michigan. It would be helpful if they did, but it's not necessary in my mind. Bo didn't have any experience here, Fritz Crisler didn't have any experience here, Yost didn't have any experience here."
Whomever Martin decides to eventually offer the coaching job to, it's likely that sticker shock will accompany the hire. Carr's pay package amounts to nearly $1.5 million this year, while those of other top coaches around the country are often much higher.
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"Other coaches around the country" = Les Miles, who is "obviously Michigan's perfect candidate," will "always be a Michigan man," is totally not interested in the job, is "not a lock" to replace Carr and isn't among the cream of the crop of coaches Michigan could consider.
But even the doubters recognize Miles is the Wolverines' coaching Dream Date unless politics stand in the way - per the Free Press' Michael Rosenberg, of the "Miles not a lock" opinion on Sunday, before Carr's official announcement:
Now this is where it gets interesting.
Whatever Carr says Monday, one thing he will not say is this: "I hope Les Miles replaces me." And he won't say it to Martin or higher-ups, either.
People inside the program say there is a rift between Carr and Miles. Just because Miles played for Bo Schembechler does not mean he would have been Schembechler's choice to run the program.
At this point, I think Carr realizes his successor is not going to come from within the program. But that doesn't mean it has to be Les Miles.
This is where Carr still holds some cards. I think he will time his announcement based on what he thinks is best for the future of the program. Part of that is recruiting. Part of that is the hiring process.
If Carr announces his retirement Monday, will Michigan wait until mid-January to talk to Miles? That would create a huge distraction for LSU as Miles tries to win a national title.
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Ah, that wily Carr, envisioning fake punts and last second bombs into the end zone when a kick'll do just fine and challenges to a steel cage with Jim Tressel, and timing his exit early to discourage the department from waiting until the end of Miles' shining moment in mid-January?
Bah to that - from Martin's comments, all Carr has to do to keep Les Miles out of his old chair is tell his AD "Don't hire Les Miles."
Other candidates being thrown around: Kirk Ferentz (really?), Mike DeBord, Ron English, Jeff Tedford, Greg Schiano, ex-Wolverine/current Carolina Panther D coordinator Mike Trgovac, Cam Cameron (really?), Brian Kelly and, of course, Chris Spielman's favorite, Jim Harbaugh (because Harbaugh "has a lot of energy," natch). Word to the wise for Michigan: don't trust a Buckeye to make coaching suggestions - after 20 years, OSU's nefarious Spielman Project could just be reaching its fruition!
• Fired? Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty... Incredibly, there's no such outpouring for Guy Morriss at Baylor, bounced after the Bears finished a dreadful 0-8 Big 12 season with a 31-point loss to Oklahoma State Saturday. Athletic Director Ian McCaw said this:
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To which the departing GuyMo said, quote,
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thereby officially ensconsing himself in college football lore (aside from his central, tragic role in the "Bluegrass Miracle") for "Least Sanctimonious Exit." The Dallas Morning News described Morris as he "held up two fingers in a hippie-style peace sign" and rode off into the wind, hopefully on one of the Harleys mentioned in the same article - though, in a pinch, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think a slow-moving old mare trotting painfully into the sunset wouldn't be more appropriate. Make them feel your pain, coach. Make them understand. Make them squirm.
Guy Morriss done had enough of this Baptist shit.
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Most surprising statistic of Morriss' tenure? His salary: $1.2 million annually. To coach Baylor to a 7-33 conference record over five years? Hmmm...on second thought, he may have earned that, actually.
Houston Nutt's name has come up as a replacement in Waco - gosh, why? Houston Nutt's not going anywhere, is he? - but make no mistake: ex-Bear Mike Singletary is the coach. He'll be announced by mid-week.
• You Promised Us, Nick. You Know What Happens to People Who Break Their Promises, Don't You? These are not the sort of headlines Alabama paid four million dollars for:
The last one is sort of a, uh, figurative summary, if you will, but it encapsulates the general tenor of `Bama fans pretty well, I think. The honeymoon, clearly, has deteriorated into icy stares, but whatever else Saban does at Alabama, he has quickly accomplished this: never before has the Iron Bowl been sold as a distraction for losing to UL-Monroe. That is a first.
Saban now has to deal frankly with the prospect of losing his team completely in a way very, very familiar to `Bama partisans, way too familiar, going into an emotionally volatile game Alabama hasn't won in five years off three straight losses, the last two being bad, bad losses, with a winning season, bowl game, and general feeling of progress at stake. They will turn on you, coach. They will turn so fast. When you're hired, they look like this:
But when it turns so sour, those same fans aren’t so nice:
On the "salvaging the season" front, senior cornerback Simeon Castille, asked if Alabama can beat Auburn Saturday - not will Alabama beat Auburn, but can Alabama beat Auburn - Castille's eyes widened, his nostrils flared, he breathed fire, screamed the scream of frothing madman, judo chopped his locker and lustily exclaimed,
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We have to assume he delivered that passive cliché with gusto, then grabbed and destroyed a bunch of reporters' pens, letting the ink ooze down his face Papa Shango style.
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Elsewhere in Disillusion...
• The Oklahoman straight up second-guesses Oklahoma's gameplanning after the sooner defense allowed well over 300 yards and 27 points in the first half, breaking out four questions concerning the OU...offense?
2. Running the ball runs the clock, which keeps the Texas Tech offense off the field. Why not utilize running back DeMarco Murray more?
3. Tight end Jermaine Gresham had one catch, and not until the fourth quarter. Wouldn't shorter passes to tight ends have been easier for Halzle?
4. You don't try to beat the Red Raiders scoring three points at a time. Why kick a field goal at the end of the first half when you're trailing 27-7?
5. If freshman quarterback Keith Nichol is healthy, why not give him a shot?
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Berry Tramel elaborates on the second question, but nobody asks, "Why didn't you guys, like, cover anybody?"
• Minnesota finished its season 1-11 and winless in the Big Ten with a loss to Wisconsin Saturday, its one win in overtime againstthe Ohio-based Miami in a debut season for Tim Brewster that included losses to Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic and North Dakota State, to say nothing of Northwestern and Indiana. Apparently the Gophers were stoked about finally passing 2002 Eastern Michigan to become merely the second-worst season-long defense of the decade at 518.7 yards (EMU allowed 519 in '02), though, because Brewster's placekicking son, Clint, was part of some fascinating constructive criticism of the Badgers' performance after the game:
Decker acknowledged both he and Ikegwuonu crossed the line a few times. Ikegwuonu later head-butted Decker after getting hit in the groin.
"There's a lot of emotion that goes into it, and the closer the game was, the more heated it got," Decker said. "Maybe sometimes I took a couple of cheap shots at him, he took a couple of cheap shots at me. It was a fair game at the end, and we respect each other."
Wisconsin kicker Taylor Mehlhaff also accused Gophers freshman quarterback Clint Brewster, son of the head coach, of jawing at him after the game.
"I just went over to say good game to their kicker and this kid, the coach's son, comes over and I don't want to say what he said, but he just said, 'You guys are terrible' and this and that, we're 1-10 and we should have beat you and this and that," Mehlhaff told Wisconsin reporters. "I'm just like, 'Wow.'
"I was giving their guys high-fives ... and telling them good game. I just couldn't believe anyone would come up and be like that. And then he said, 'How many kicks did you miss today?' That's pretty bold. I just said, 'I've got to go celebrate the axe.' "
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It might be upsetting, but sometimes, son, it's best to keep your mouth shut.
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Note to Brewster: never criticize a man who just beat you for possession of a giant axe. See, football can teach life skills.
No wait. An above average team lost to a below average team.
No, wait again. An average team beat an average team.
That sounds right.
A 12-game regular season that ended with its game being the cheeseburger stuck on the same plate as a sizzling steak -- Michigan and Ohio State played an hour down the bumpy Michigan roads -- proved how this Penn State team will be remembered.
But don't be fooled. The four non-conference teams Penn State defeated are nowhere near being average Division I football programs.
So stare at the Big Ten record. Stare at it again.
The Nittany Lions went 4-4 against their peers.
Coach Joe Paterno will tell you his team came close to defeating Michigan, Illinois and Michigan State. He will never tell you his team almost lost to Indiana and Purdue.
He also will never tell you he leads an average Big Ten program, one that has posted a 32-32 record against conference opponents since 2000.
Asked if his program is not as strong as it needs to be, Paterno quipped: "That's ridiculous."
But the business doesn't win Big Ten games, especially close ones on the road, at an impressive rate.
The Nittany Lions held a 24-7 lead with less than 23 minutes remaining against a Michigan State team that finished 3-5 in conference play. Great teams win these games by double digits. Good teams win by single digits.
Average teams find ways to lose.
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Michigan-Ohio State....sizzling steak? There is a man in a press box focused on his work. But - and no surprise here - Cipriano is still much kinder to the Lions than Penn State fans. Music City Bowl tickets on sale yet?