Lloyd's last stand?

Dan Wetzel

In the next week, the event that will have the greatest impact on Louisiana State's quest for a national championship (and future seasons) won't be its game at Ole Miss on Saturday. The Tigers should beat the cellar-dwelling Rebels without major concern.

There could be concern, however, if up in Ann Arbor Lloyd Carr announces his retirement as Michigan's football coach, as many expect, either following the Ohio State game or Monday at a media conference.

Carr, 62, may well decide to coach U of M for another season or three, he isn't saying. But based on various reports and a million rumors, this, his 13th season, will be his last.

The big mystery – and the delicious drama – is not if he will announce it but when, because the timing will speak volumes about his wishes for the future of the program.

Whenever it happens, the prime candidate for the job will be LSU coach Les Miles, Michigan, Class of 1976.

And no one has a better chance to either help or hurt Miles' candidacy, all while LSU's championship hopes are hung out as possible collateral damage, than Lloyd Carr himself.

Either way, if you are a Tigers fan, on the brink of a shot at the BCS title, then this is the last thing you need.

If Carr retires (effective after their bowl game) in the next week, Miles will absolutely get hounded by questions, speculation, rumors, reports (some assuredly false) and who knows what else.

He's brushed off the Michigan talk all season, but an actual opening in Schembechler Hall changes everything. There will be almost no avoiding it. It will be Michigan, Michigan, Michigan. The BCS title game is Jan. 7, 2008. That's seven and a half weeks away. Even if he could pull off a "no comment" for that long, after a while it is seen as, essentially, a comment.

And thanks to the double-talk track record of college coaches, even if Miles denies any interest in the job and professes his eternal loyalty to LSU, will anyone, his players included, believe him?

There is simply no upside to this for LSU. Perhaps the distraction does nothing; perhaps the Tigers win out anyway.

But when your team is this close, do you really want to risk it? Do you really want to deal with it?

If anyone knows what is at stake, understands the precarious timing of the coaching carousel and the unique dynamic of the locker room, it is the man holding much of the power here, Lloyd Carr.

His decision when to announce his retirement will tell you all you need to know about his true support of Miles succeeding him. Since neither man is talking, all we have is fun speculation.

Publicly, no one knows their true relationship. It may be good. It may not.

Miles lettered under Bo Schembechler in 1974-75 and was an assistant coach at U of M from 1980-81 and 1987-94, right alongside Lloyd Carr. But when Carr got the head coaching job in 1995, Miles promptly left to be an assistant at Oklahoma State, a less than lateral move.

If Carr wants to help Miles get the Michigan job, then he'd wait until January, after the BCS title game, to call it quits. Then the entire thing is seamless.

If he wants to hurt Miles' chances, then he announces his retirement within the next week.

That would put Miles in a brutal position and quite possibly eliminate him as a candidate. While coaches often switch jobs in the lull before the bowl season, no one has ever left a team before the title game. Even if you were crazy enough to do it, the move would probably kill you in recruiting forever.

In one quick announcement, Carr could whack the guy in a number of different ways.

Throughout college football it is believed Miles covets the job. In Ann Arbor, they are confident he wants it. The reasons are obvious.

LSU is a fantastic program, with great fans, great local talent and membership in a great conference; but if you compare the two jobs as a coach would (and not a fan) then this is a no-brainer.

Coaches want jobs that are both safe and smooth. They want to coach where they have so many advantages over most of their schedule (conference) that they almost can't lose and get fired. At the same time, they want to know that when they have a great team, the chance for a national championship is fairly clear.

This is why Michigan is considered one of the great jobs in all of football.

You almost can't screw it up and you can certainly win it all.

This isn't about LSU vs. Michigan, per se. It is about comparing LSU and Michigan's respective positions in the SEC and Big Ten.

In every single way that coaches determine the desirability of a job – proximity to talent, budget, fan base, recruiting appeal, media attention, tradition, and facilities – Michigan has long standing advantages over every team in its league except Ohio State. (Penn State is the only other contender).

Over time, Michigan and Ohio State should win the vast majority of games against the rest of the league and for the past four decades, they have.

A bad year in conference for Michigan is 6-2 or 5-3. Consider this year, when the Wolverines dropped their first two non-conference games in historically ugly fashion, then suffered injuries to their star quarterback and running back and still could go 7-1 in the league.

Tack on a non-conference slate which for the next 20 years will feature Notre Dame as the marquee opponent and you can practically pencil in 4-0 most Septembers. (Hold the Appalachian State jokes).

If you struggle and have injuries, you wind up 8-4 or 9-3, like this year. If you have a great group, the road to the BCS title game is as favorable as any in the country. Things may change year to year – a Penn State or Illinois or Wisconsin may jump up – but overall, history repeats itself.

Compare that to the dog-eat-dog SEC, where LSU's program is either even or at a disadvantage to Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia. Even great coaches have their programs slip in the SEC.

Factor in this is Miles' alma mater and get him back to his native Midwest (Elyria, Ohio) and his decision is fairly predictable.

Carr must know all of this. He knows how coaches think. He knows Les Miles. He knows why he has a great job. And he knows that, even if he isn't allowed to hand-pick his successor (and who knows, maybe he will be) there are other ways to influence who is going to follow him.

So if there is no announcement in the next week – either retirement or a promise to return for 2008 – then it stands to reason Carr wants Miles.

If he calls it quits, then the rumors of his preferred candidates being either Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, who played for U of M 1977-80, or Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz take on added value.

Regardless of when Carr steps down, Michigan would be wise to open its coaching search out nationally and avoid the classic trap school's fall into – the incestuous job hunt.

For some reason, school's love to "keep it in the family," which is often a recipe for disaster because it severely limits the pool of candidates.

As one of the premier jobs in the country, Michigan should draw up a list of the 20 best coaches in football and start from the top down, Michigan Men or not. Is Bill Belichick interested? Probably not. But if he was, would you exclude him just because at age 17 he wasn't some big, bruising linebacker that Bo recruited? Is he no good because he attended Wesleyan?

Why would you not feel out Bob Stoops or Tommy Tuberville or Jon Gruden or whomever? It doesn't matter who is on the list, or even if you wind up back where you started. But there should always be a real list. Anything less is a failure of leadership.

Because as much success as Miles has had he shouldn't just be handed the job.

Although, it is quite possible, Lloyd Carr is going to make sure he isn't, all while potentially leaving LSU's title hopes hanging in the balance.