Carr grows uneasy about record against Tressel

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Associated Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Michigan coach Lloyd Carr looked and sounded relaxed in his office while discussing his leadership philosophies, favorite books and the rewards and challenges of his job.

But when the conversation turned to his 1-3 record against Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and his critics, including the one who created a Web site to push for his firing, Carr dodged the topics like a juking running back.

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Does Carr think those who point out his rough start against Tressel should also note he is 6-4 overall against the Buckeyes heading into Saturday's matchup at Michigan Stadium?

‘‘The most important thing is the game right in front of you,'' Carr said in an interview with The Associated Press.

What is Carr's reaction to the Web site that advocates Michigan fire him?

‘‘Benjamin Disraeli, a great prime minister of England, used to have a box on his desk and he would always write down the names of his enemies,'' he said following a long pause after trying to avoid the question twice. ‘‘His observation was, years later, he would look back and those people had either died, or failed in their lives, or destroyed themselves, in their attempts to hurt other people.''

During Carr's 11 seasons as head coach at Michigan - and 26 years with the program - he knows as well as anyone that being the face of the Wolverines has its plusses and minuses.

On one hand, the school annually attracts quality players who can also survive at one of the finest academic institutions, and that makes excellence possible.

On the other hand, some think the sky is falling in Ann Arbor after every loss.

Through it all, Carr almost always appears levelheaded in public, and chooses to let his record speak for itself.

Carr led Michigan to the 1997 Associated Press national championship, nine straight New Year's Day bowls - a streak that might end with a loss Saturday - and is 15-5 against Top-10 teams.

He is 102-32 with a .761 winning percentage that trails just four Division I-A coaches. He is 68-19 in the Big Ten, with five conference championships in the past eight years, including the past two.

Senior defensive tackle Pat Massey said it's ‘‘unbelievable'' that Carr has harsh critics.

‘‘I would like to sit down with some of those people and just talk to them,'' Massey said. ‘‘Coach Carr is what Michigan is all about, and I think there shouldn't be any question about it.''

Piling up victories at powerhouses such as Michigan is expected, but how coaches fare in rivalry games goes a long way toward defining their legacies.

That has always been true in what is commonly called ‘‘The Game'' at Michigan and Ohio State.

John Cooper won 71.5 percent of his games with the Buckeyes, but his 2-10-1 record against Carr, Gary Moeller and Bo Schembechler led to him being replaced by Tressel.

Two legendary coaches - Schembechler and Woody Hayes - were the focus of the rivalry from 1969-78 in what is known as ‘‘The 10-Year War,'' Schembechler going 5-4-1 against his mentor.

Tressel wasted no time letting Ohio State fans know where his focus was when he was introduced as the storied program's coach on Jan. 18, 2001. Four hours after being formally announced as Cooper's successor, Tressel sent the crowd at a Michigan-Ohio State basketball game into a frenzy.

‘‘I can assure you that you'll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community - and especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan,'' Tressel said.

He was right.

The Buckeyes beat Michigan 26-20 on the road in Tressel's debut season, then prevailed 14-9 the following year on their way to the national championship. The Wolverines prevailed 35-21 in 2003 but Ohio State won last year's game, 37-21.

Despite his success in one of sport's greatest rivalries, Tressel is pushing for more.

Ohio State senior safety Nate Salley, whose record against Michigan is 2-1, said Tressel has made sure his players are not satisfied.

‘‘I was on my way to the team meeting room and we were walking side by side,'' Salley recalled earlier this week. ‘‘And he said: ‘Remember what I told you. There's a big difference between being 2-2 and being 3-1.'''