System Coach vs. Program Coach
In general terms a "program" coach is a head coach that oversees the football program, interacts with alumni and the community, serves as the face of the team and often the university. A "program" coach is sometimes viewed as a figurehead because he has often turned over a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities to his assistant coaches. Examples of "program" coaches are Joe Paterno at Penn State and Bobby Bowden at Florida State. On the other end of the spectrum are the "system" coaches. A "system" coach is a head coach who is strong in "X's" and "O's" but is often awkward in front of the press and has trouble communicating outside the realm of football. A prime example of a "system" coach is Texas Tech Head Coach Mike Leach who is an offensive guru but who is also a little bit off-center personally. Near the end of his tenure at Michigan, many people began to view Coach Carr as more of a "program" coach and not enough of an "X's" and "O's" type coach. Conversely, when Coach Rod took the Michigan head coaching position, people wondered if Coach Rod was polished enough to be the face of one of the premiere football programs in the nation. However, although each coach has obvious strengths in certain areas, neither coach should be pigeon-holed as simply a "program" coach (the knock against Coach Carr) or a "system" coach (the knock against Coach Rod).
Coach Carr joined the Michigan staff in 1980 as the secondary coach under Head Coach Bo Schembechler. In 1987, Coach Carr was elevated to the post of Defensive Coordinator. He excelled in that position for eight (8) seasons before being named Head Coach in 1995. Even as a Head Coach, Coach Carr was active in calling plays. Unlike Joe Paterno, who does not even wear a headset as he stalks the sideline during a game, Coach Carr was always very active in game-time decisions during his 13 years as Head Coach. Furthermore, the entire game plan was designed around Coach Carr's unyielding philosphy of "Protect the lead and the ball". Coach Carr had a system but it is one that often drove the Michigan faithful up a wall.
Coach Rodriguez arrives to Michigan with his vaunted "Spread Offense" that he helped innovate. He is widely viewed as an offensive genius for his offensive system. However, the Michigan faithful were not quite as sure if Coach Rod had the stature and professionalism to lead the Michigan Football program. Coach Schembechler and Coach Carr were among the most respected coaches in college football. It is a tremendous legacy that Coach Rod is following. It was not clear in the early going if Coach Rod was ready to be the face of one of the all-time premiere college football programs. For example, Coach Rod was quoted during a Spring Practice press conference as saying, "I don't like to pat guys on the butt, because they'll turn around and crap in your hand". Classy. However, Coach Rod redeemed himself during the "Rich Rod on the road tour" as he received high marks from the fans he met during his swing across the land. It appears that Coach Rod is quickly becoming more comfortable in his public role as the Head Coach of the top football program in the country.
Neither Coach Carr or Coach Rod should be pigeon-holed as a "program coach" or a "system coach". Although Coach Carr and Coach Rod have very different styles from each other, they both are well-rounded coaches. No matter the label, the fans hope that the tradition of winning will continue unabated during the Coach Rod regime. Go Blue!
*NOTE: Photo of Coach Rod and Coach Carr on the golf course by TONY DING/Special to the Free Press
**NOTE 2: Photo of Coach Carr and Coach English on the sidelines during the 2006 OSU game by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News