Lloyd Carr, 61, has turned his focus from the BCS to Southern Cal, the team his Wolverines will play in the Rose Bowl.
DETROIT - It's not the quickest route to work, a little out of the way, actually, but Lloyd Carr embraces everything about it now. The drive takes him along the river, often passing ambitious souls, joggers and bikers, just before sunrise. In the months before the chilly air and dark mornings of fall arrived, it was a bonus anytime he'd spot snowy-white reflections on the water. Swans.
"It's such a beautiful drive, you end up coming in on Main Street," Carr says. "It's a great way to start the day."
It's early afternoon, and Carr, head football coach at Michigan, has just returned to Schembechler Hall for a noon appointment.
He passes on an assortment of gourmet chocolates sitting on a ledge above executive assistant Jennifer Maszatics' desk and walks into his office. Messy piles of papers and folders, and a thermos of hours-old coffee, clutter the carpet near his desk. It's paperwork that clearly has taken a back seat to preparing his team to play Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
There's distinct excitement in his voice as he talks about the New Year's Day game. "Today was a great day because we had a practice this morning!" Carr says in his Tennessee drawl, his voice rising when he reaches the word "practice."
But in a moment, Carr's demeanor will change. He will become introspective, poignantly and candidly so, because sometimes that's what life gives you: certain thoughts and emotions that can strike anytime. And Carr won't fight them, no way, but let them flow like that Huron River he drives past each day.
It's what happens whenever he thinks of his friend and mentor, the late Bo Schembechler. Which is a lot lately.
Schembechler, the legendary coach who led the Wolverines from 1969-89, died Nov. 17, a month ago today. He was 77.
"I mean, in the 27 years, from the time I went to work for him, he has just become who I am," says Carr, U-M's head coach since 1995, who was hired by Schembechler in 1980 as an assistant.
Carr, 61, brings up a personal moment, how he felt when he first came across Bo's name and phone number on his cell phone, shortly after his death.
"So I called Shemy, over Thanksgiving," Carr says of Bo Schembechler's youngest son. "I said, 'You know, Shem, I was going through my phone log on my cellular phone and came across Bo, you know? I don't think I'll ever take it out of there.'
"Shemy said, 'You know, the same thing happened to me. I'm going to leave it there.' "
Wearing a blue Michigan sweat suit and black tennis shoes, Carr shifts slightly on the sofa chair in his office. You search for signs of uneasiness on his face, but there's only a faint smile.
"It probably won't make any sense," Carr says of his cell phone and Bo. "But it's nice to, you know, it's nice to see him there."
At 7:30 a.m. last Thursday, Carr began practice with a brief lecture about some history about the Rose Bowl. He received what he expected: the team's complete attention.
Carr said: "I told them, '105 years ago, Michigan went to the Rose Bowl. They came out here, got on a train and it took them eight to 10 days, and they practiced along the way.' "
The players got the point, he said.
"The message was that, when we leave, we're going to get on a plane and be there in around three hours-and it took them eight to 10 days. So don't you think we're pretty lucky?"
Michigan, though, has been anything but lucky in bowls lately. The Wolverines have lost their last three appearances, their last postseason victory coming in 2002, when they beat Florida in the Outback Bowl.
Still, despite losing a chance for a rematch against Ohio State in the Bowl Championship Series title game, Michigan could win 12 games for only the second time.
The 1997 team ended its season with its 12th victory in the Rose Bowl against Washington State. The Wolverines were national champions (along with Nebraska) that season.
This year's group leaves Friday for Pasadena, Calif., and Carr sees a lot of similarities between the two teams.
"That '97 team was coming off - we had some four-loss seasons in there - and they wanted to change things," he said. "And this team was coming off a very disappointing year, so that similarity was there. But I have to tell you, this team has been as enjoyable as any team - any time, any year - that I have ever coached. They have great chemistry, a great senior class, and there's respect for each other."
Carr said he was proud with how his team dealt with Schembechler's death last month, on the eve of the Wolverines' game against No. 1 Ohio State. Michigan, ranked No. 2 at the time, lost 42-39.
It was reported that Carr wiped a tear off his cheek as he sat in the front row of the first bus that pulled out of Ann Arbor on the way to Columbus. It was true, Carr said, he had "the most trouble" then.
"It was hard to think of anything but him," Carr said.
But on Tuesday of the following week, on the morning of the public memorial service at Michigan Stadium, Carr said he woke up feeling Bo's strength and spirit.
"What I felt was how this man truly lived a wonderful life, and this has to be a celebration," Carr said. "And it was."
Carr's favorite moments with Schembechler over the years weren't football-related, such as all the times he'd visit Bo down the hall where Schembechler maintained an office after his retirement.
But rather, Carr savors the times the two spent away from football, when they could talk without being interrupted.