ANN ARBOR - The roar of whispers is growing to a crescendo.
Speculation on Michigan coach Lloyd Carr's impending retirement has circulated this campus for years. After the 2004 season, Michigan was forced to call a press conference, in which Carr tersely said, "I'll make this short. I'm not sick and I'm not retiring."
Earlier this week, PA Sportsticker reported Carr was leaning toward retirement with a formal announcement coming as early as next week, according to a source close to the program. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that "two industry sources with connections to the program" told him they believe Carr would retire after the season.
His 1-5 record against Ohio State coach Jim Tressel also has done nothing but spin the rumor mill.
In the lead up to the much-anticipated matchup with the Buckeyes this week, Carr would have none of that.
"The only thing on my mind is this game," Carr said with a laugh at his weekly press conference Monday.
If he were to make his great escape after the Ohio State contest or the Wolverines' bowl game, Carr would be perfectly set up to do so.
Before the season, Carr renegotiated an earlier date for a significant payout on his current contract. He also secured new two-year guaranteed contracts for each of his assistants that will ensure they are paid for the 2007-08 season whether they are working or not.
LSU coach Les Miles, the odds-on favorite to replace Carr at Michigan whenever he decides to step down, also declined to address the Wolverines' coaching situation on the Jim Rome radio show Wednesday.
"I am completely and 100 percent focused on the task at hand," Miles said. "We play Ole Miss this weekend and the opportunities in front of my football team are great, and I'm not turning an eye in any other direction than this football team."
Miles is a Wolverine at heart, however, after playing for the late Bo Schembechler in the mid-1970s and then coaching under him for five years from 1980-81 and then 1987-89. In all, Miles spent 10 years as a Michigan assistant spread over two stints with the Wolverines.
He admitted he still roots for the maize and blue and likes their chances against the Buckeyes.
"I don't think there's any question," said Miles, who would owe LSU $1.25 million if he were to take the Michigan job according to the "termination by coach" section of his current contract.
"It's fundamental that we're Michigan. We're rooting for the Blue. There's no question."
Then there are those who will say at the age of 62, Carr still has plenty of fight left in him.
That point was illustrated Monday when Carr spoke of a tough lesson he learned as an 11-year-old growing up in the Detroit suburb of Riverview.
"Like my dad told me one day after I got beat up, you got to go back on that playground, and you've got to fight," Carr said. "I didn't want to go back.
"He was a bully, you know. I was afraid. But I did what he told me, and it was one of the great lessons of my life."
Carr said the same philosophy applies to his team now.
The Wolverines started the season 0-2 but fought their way back to put themselves in position to claim a Rose Bowl bid and an outright Big Ten title with a win over Ohio State.
Carr and the Wolverines will face a similar task of tackling adversity tomorrow. Michigan has not beaten the Buckeyes since 2003, the longest winning streak Ohio State has held in the rivalry since 1961-63.
"You've got a choice when you're down," Carr said. "You can lay down and stay there, or you can get back on your feet and fight. And that, to me, is really the essence of competition. You know, there's going to be days out there where you get beat up. And they're no fun."
No matter whether this is Carr's last game at Michigan Stadium, his players are standing firmly behind him.
"He got a lot of flak at the beginning and throughout the year, but people don't see what happens behind closed doors and how great of a coach and person he is," senior left tackle and co-captain Jake Long said.
"We just wanted to win all year for him and this game is big."
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