Sunday, November 18, 2007

History of Michigan Coaching Searches

With the impending announcement by Coach Carr that he plans to retire after the Wolverines' bowl game, speculation is running rampant about who will be hired as Michigan's next Head Football Coach. Coach Carr would like to see his successor come from inside the program (such as Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord) while others would like to see a hire from outside but still with Michigan connections (i.e., LSU coach Les Miles- a former player and assistant coach under Bo). As always, history can be a guide to the future. With that in mind, here is a look back at the history of the searches for Michigan's Head Football Coach since 1968.

In 1968, Michigan's Head Football Coach was Chalmers "Bump" Elliott. Bump was a former All-American player for the Wolverines under Coach Fritz Crisler and a former Michigan assistant coach under Coach Bennie Ooseterbaan. In 1968, Bump was in his 10th season season at the helm and the Wolverines were 8-1 and ranked #4 in the nation heading into the final game of the season at #2 Ohio State. OSU Coach Woody Hayes had the Buckeyes pour it on and OSU trounced Michigan by the score of 50-14. Although the Wolverines finished the season 8-2 and ranked #12 in the AP poll, Michigan's new AD Don Canham felt it was time for a change. He decided to "promote" Bump to Associate Athletic Director and hire a new Head Football Coach. AD Canham did this despite the fact that Bump had enjoyed some success as Coach of the Wolverines. During Bump's tenure, the Wolverines won the Big Ten title in 1964 and won the Rose Bowl game that season (Jan. 1, 1965). Furthermore, the Wolverines (despite the blowout loss to OSU) had finished the 1968 season ranked #12 in the nation in the AP poll and #15 in the UPI poll. Nevertheless, AD Canham wanted to make a change as he wanted to remain competitive with the rival school to the south (i.e., Ohio State).

It did not take long for AD Don Canham to take action. (It never did). Michigan's humiliating 50-14 loss to Ohio State occurred on November 23, 1968. By December, AD Canham had offered Michigan's head coaching position to a 39-year old rising star in the field- Bo Schembechler. Coach Schembechler was the Head Coach at Miami (Ohio) University where he compiled a 40-17-3 record during the previous six (6) seasons. Bo drove up to Ann Arbor to meet with AD Don Canham and accepted the Michigan Head Coaching position on December 27, 1968. Legend has it that the deal was sealed with nothing more than a handshake.

AD Don Canham wanted Coach Schembechler to keep Michigan Men on his coaching staff. However, Bo was insistent that he was going to bring in his own people. In later years, Asst. Coach Jerry Hanlon would refer to this group as the "Miami Mafia". Bo brought six assistants from Miami University: Jerry Hanlon, Gary Moeller, Jim Young, Chuck Stobart, Dick Hunter and Larry Smith. Coach Schembechler did retain George Mans and Frank Maloney from the previous year's staff. As legend has it, in late-January of 1968, AD Don Canham invited the six assistant coaches from Miami to Colonial Lanes for a drink. (1) Colonial Lanes has a tavern called the Pin Room where Canham allegedly liked to conduct business. On this day, Canham informed the six assistants matter-of-factly that he had not wanted to hire them but Bo had forced his hand and that they would be fired immediately if they did not win. The rest, of course, is history.

The next coaching change was smooth because Bo was in a position to control all aspects of it. At the time he decided to step down he was serving in the dual capacity of Head Football Coach and Athletic Director. That meant he got to handpick his successor. His choice was his longtime protegee and friend Gary Moeller. Moeller had played for Bo at Ohio State back when Bo was an assistant coach there under Woody Hayes. Later, Moeller served as an assistant under Bo at Miami University and served as Bo's Offensive and Defensive Coordinator over the years at Michigan. Moeller had been on the Michigan staff with Bo for the entire time Bo was Head Coach at Michigan except for the three years (1977-1979) that Moeller was the Head Coach at the University of Illinois. Moeller was the perfect choice to succeed Bo. Bo wanted a seamless transition where the only person leaving the program would be himself. In fact, the assistant coaching staff stayed almost entirely intact for the transition.

Moeller coached the Wolverines for five (5) years and probably could have gone on for as long as he wanted were it not for an unfortunate incident at a restaurant. As a result, Moeller ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated and he ultimately tendered his resignation. His tenure (1990-1994) had been quite successful as the Wolverines won four bowl games in his five seasons at the helm. As a consequence of his sudden departure, the Wolverines were suddenly in need of a new Head Coach. Michigan elevated Defensive Coordinator Lloyd Carr on an interim basis on May 16, 1995.

Coach Carr had been on the Michigan coaching staff since 1980 when he joined the team to coach the defensive backs. Some people did not want him to get the permanent job as they preferred that Michigan conduct a national search following the 1995 season. However, on November 13, 1995 (with the Wolverines at 8-2 and ranked #12 in the nation with 2 regular season games and a bowl remaining) A.D. Joe Roberson removed the interim from Lloyd's title and named Coach Carr as the 17th Head Football Coach in Michigan history.

Coach Carr led the Wolverines to a National Championship in 1997 and to a bowl game in each of his thirteen seasons as Head Coach including this year. Coach Carr, however, has come under criticism in recent years as his teams are 1-6 against OSU in the last seven games (with four consecutive losses) and are 1-5 in their last six (6) bowl games with four consecutive losses. It has been widely publicized that Coach Carr's contract calls for him to "move up" to an Associate Athletic Director position upon his retirement from coaching. Much like when Bump Elliott was moved by Canham into the administrative ranks because Michigan was no longer competetive with OSU, some critics (not me) would like to see Carr move into the Associate A.D. position and vacate the head coaching job to make way for a more innovative coach who can challenge Jim Tressel and the OSU Buckeyes.

The question is whether Michigan should look outside to a young up-and-coming coach (as it did with a 39-year old Bo Schembechler in 1969) or should it stay inside with the hire as it has done the past two times. I believe that it may be time to allow someone to come in from the outside (like Brian Kelly of Univ. of Cinc.) to reinvigorate the program like Bo did in 1969 even if it means he brings in his own people like Bo did at that time. Go Blue!

(1) Tales from Michigan Stadium, p. 172-173, by Jim Brandstatter, published by Sports Publishing L.L.C. in 2002.

*Note: Photo of Press Conference in 1969 announcing Bo Shembechler as new Michigan Head Football Coach with Coach Schembechler (left), Don Canham (center), and Bump Elliott (right) from Bentley Historical Library, U-M.

*Note 2: Sports Illustrated cover of May 15, 1995 with photos of Bobby Cox (AP), Gary Moeller (Jonathan Daniel/Allsport), Dennis Erickson (AP).



At 8:36 PM, Blogger Cowbell Commander said...

Good research!


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