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Their Turn for Job Insecurity

Michigan's Carr and Miami's Coker realize that past titles don't guarantee anything.

September 16, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Win a national championship. Then wait.

Less than a decade after being hoisted on players' shoulders -- a mere five years, even -- some coaches are sitting on an uncomfortably warm seat, their futures the subject of endless talk-radio debate, Internet message board rants and newspaper columns.

Consider Lloyd Carr.

His 1997 Michigan team shared the national championship with Nebraska.

But his 2005 team went 7-5, and the posters at are poised to pounce if No. 11 Michigan loses today at No. 2 Notre Dame, where the Wolverines haven't won since Carr became coach.

"I think as coaches, we all understand, regardless of what the past is, the constant pressure is always there. That's a part of the job that we do," said Carr, whose troubles with road openers and Ohio State haven't endeared him to fans.

How about Larry Coker?

He won his first 24 games at Miami, and 54 of his first 64. His Hurricanes fell just shy of winning consecutive national championships after claiming the 2001 Bowl Championship Series title and reaching the title game again the next season, losing to Ohio State in two overtimes in an epic Fiesta Bowl.

Yet shortly after a season-opening 13-10 loss to Florida State this month, on the heels of two 9-3 seasons, Coker was already pleading for patience.

"I want to make sure our fans don't give up on this football team," he said, one game into the season. "We've got work to do. We've got to improve. We can improve."

Now might be a good time. The No. 17 Hurricanes play at No. 12 Louisville today.

"I think there is a lot riding on this game," Coker said. "For one thing, we are underdogs.

"Louisville is an up-and-coming program. They are trying to get to where we have been established. And that's a national powerhouse. We haven't been living up to that the last couple of years. I think a game like this against a team like that, to go out and get a win will be extremely important. Not just for this season, but for this program in general."

Those are the words of a coach who has the third-best record in the country since he took over at Miami in 2001.

Only Texas Coach Mack Brown and USC's Pete Carroll have a better winning percentage during that stretch.

Carroll has won two national championships in five years at USC, one shared and one outright. He sees what is happening to other coaches.

"It would never happen here," he said, but he was teasing. It already did, to John Robinson, whose 1978 championship didn't mean much when his second stint ended with his firing in 1997.

"I think it is only natural," Carroll said. "Nobody wins forever, although you try. It is so uncommon, that it is almost normal. To have a run and make your way and have good seasons, back to back and stuff like that, [you have] potential and then it subsides. Transitions and attrition and stuff like that occurs."

Stuff like that could include the potential fallout from allegations that Reggie Bush accepted improper benefits from agents, but that would come later.

"We have the chance to see if we can hold a program at a high level longer than everybody would consider normal," Carroll said. "You fight against whatever that is that changes. I'm thrilled to be in the middle of that competition, trying to figure that out. To see how well we can stay up in the top end of this thing and produce really big, successful winning football teams and see how long you can go.

"There is no goal in mind. I'm sure there was no goal in mind for those guys either. You just want to keep rolling and do the best you can."

Sometimes your best isn't enough. Carroll had to look no further than the recent history of Nebraska, the team USC plays today at the Coliseum.

"I think Frank Solich was 10-3 when he got let go, so expectations are extraordinary," Carroll said. "That's only to the fault of Bob Devaney and Coach [Tom] Osborne, the extraordinary numbers they were able to put up for year after year, so it makes it really difficult on the next guy."

Solich was actually 9-3 during his last regular season in 2003 and didn't coach the bowl victory, but you get the idea. He was 58-19 in six seasons, and his 2001 team reached the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl -- where it lost to Coker's Miami team.

Now Coker and Carr have done what such coaches as Solich and Robinson did before them when the fans started to howl. They rearranged their coaching staffs.

Michigan has new offensive and defensive coordinators. Miami has a new offensive coordinator, Coker having fired four coaches after a 40-3 loss to Louisiana State in the Peach Bowl. Among them was offensive line coach Art Kehoe, an institution who had been part of five national championships.

Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the votes of confidence from athletic directors are sincere. Sometimes they're not.

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