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The University of Michigan football team won a national championship under Lloyd Carr, but when he announced his retirement many considered his program to be in decline.
As it turns out, six years later the Wolverines aren't any better off, the program no further ahead, than when Carr stepped down.
Carr’s final season is most remembered for a shocking loss in the home opener to Appalachian State and a Citrus Bowl victory over Florida in his final game. But losses to Oregon, Wisconsin and Ohio State marred his farewell campaign and many fans thought that the Michigan block M had come to stand for mediocrity.
Carr’s critics welcomed the arrival of Rich Rodriguez along with his high-powered read-option offense. Unfortunately, Rodriguez failed on and off the field, drawing the ire of the NCAA and getting fired after this third season.
Hoke was hailed by fans from his very first press conference, telling the assembled media that he would have walked from San Diego to Ann Arbor to coach the Wolverines.
Hoke could do no wrong during his first season, from beating Notre Dame in a thrilling last-second victory to defeating archrival Ohio State and leading Michigan to a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
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But since then, Michigan has been a disappointment. His second year began with an eagerly anticipated game against Alabama, which the Wolverines lost, 41-14. Michigan fought back to finish 8-5 and barely finished in the Top 25.
This season, Michigan stands at 6-3, bowl-eligible but dropping from the Top 25 after losing its past two games. Poor performances versus Akron and UConn exposed Michigan’s flaws and, with undefeated Ohio State still to play, another potential epic beating similar to the Michigan State debacle last week lies ahead.
As the Wolverines struggle with basic football skills like blocking and running the football, the program is worse than when Carr retired. While fans recall the final years of Carr as mediocre, his record was far better than that of Rodriguez or Hoke.
Since Carr’s retirement, the Wolverines are a little better than a .500 team.
While there were surely disappointing losses during Carr’s final six seasons, the Wolverines were competitive and considered a legitimate national championship contender in 2006.
The comparison between Carr’s record against Michigan’s traditional rivals is even more stark.
Not only did Rodriguez manage only two victories in the rivalry games, his teams lost by two touchdowns or more in five of the seven losses.
Compare this to Carr’s record in rivalry games where the Wolverines won five games and lost three by seven points or less.
Hoke is currently 4-4 in rivalry games, having lost twice to Michigan State by 14 or more points and with a difficult game with Ohio State ahead. Two of Hoke’s victories (2011 Notre Dame and 2012 Michigan State) hinged on late fourth-quarter drives and easily could have been losses. Even the victory over Ohio State was achieved in the gap year between the Tressel and Meyer tenures.
While Hoke has been hailed as a conquering hero since returning to Ann Arbor, his record is no better than the results that Carr was sent packing with.
In fact, Carr’s Michigan teams were statistically more dominant versus its traditional rivals while consistently playing in top-tier bowl games.
Carr’s critics contend that the program’s high national profile and resources ensure success.
Former coach Rich Rodriguez would certainly disagree, and current coach Brady Hoke would do likewise.
Will Brady Hoke lead Michigan back to national prominence?
The book isn’t closed on Hoke. While Michigan has fallen short of expectations this season, he has brought in top recruiting classes for the past several years and will return next season—to face Appalachian State.
Carr’s Wolverines may have had a disappointing record in bowl games and versus Ohio State in the later stages of his career, but Michigan was still considered a national power in college football.
When his team lost to Appalachian State, it was a national story that made the Drudge Report.
Six years of mostly lackluster football in Ann Arbor means that if Michigan loses to Appalachian State next season, it will barely make a ripple.