May 11, 2012

Borton's Blog: Irons-clad swagger

Surprise? Not really. That's not the label put on the 2011 Michigan football season by one of best linebackers in its notable defensive history. Jarrett Irons is more surprised when the Wolverines don't do well.

Irons played at Michigan from 1993-96. He got caught in an unexpected coaching transition midway in his career, when Gary Moeller's tenure gave way to that of Lloyd Carr.

The Wolverines endured some struggles in those seasons, but nothing comparable to the three years prior to Brady Hoke coming to town. When Irons became an All-American in 1996, it was clear to those inside that the program under Carr was on the upswing.

Quarterback Brian Griese suffered through a tough learning process in '96, and Michigan's offense labored through losses against Northwestern (17-16) and Purdue (9-3). But the defense rose up to take down Ohio State in Columbus, 13-9, and had Alabama on the ropes in the Outback Bowl, before a near goal line-to-goal line interception return put the Crimson Tide over the top, 17-14.

The following season, the Wolverines put it all together. While players such as Iron and All-American nose tackle Will Carr wish they'd have redshirted in 1993, thereby ushering them into the magic that was 1997, they have few regrets.

And even now, Irons noted, they expect a lot. That's why he wasn't stunned by what Hoke and the Wolverines accomplished in his first year back in town.

"I know those guys are great coaches," Irons said. "They instill a lot of trust in their team and their abilities. I wasn't surprised by that.

"But to make that turnaround like they did, I had a great sense of pride. It's different for the outside people looking in. They're like, 'Man, Michigan did a great job, and Brady coached these guys to 11-2.' The guys who know him, and know what his program is all about, we're not surprised. That's what we expect.

"That's what we've always expected. We're Michigan. That's how it's supposed to be."

NFL coach and front office luminary Bill Parcells always used to love getting former University of Michigan players onto his rosters, because of the pride with which they carried themselves. Irons makes it obvious that pride hasn't diminished one bit in the decade and a half he's been away from the Michigan Stadium surface.

He took the 2008-10 seasons hard. While fans undoubtedly suffered, he believes those who have actually been in battle wearing maize and blue suffered more.

"Anyone who hasn't worn that winged helmet, or coached on that sideline, or run down that tunnel, or had the responsibility of upholding that tradition, you don't understand what it feels like," he said. "We expect to win. We have to uphold that tradition for the guys that walked before us, that paved the way before us.

"That's what it's about. I'm glad, but I expected Brady to do well, and the team to do well. I expect them to do even better, and their expectations are even higher.

"The one thing about Michigan is, I don't care what role you play - whether you're a player, you're a coach, a trainer, a punter, water boy, whatever - if you're on that team in that athletic department, you understand that no one is bigger than the team. The expectation is for the position. It doesn't matter what position you play, the expectation is for the position.

"There have been great trainers and equipment people before that were in those roles. The expectation is for that position. You fill it to the utmost. You do it to the best of your ability, and you represent the University."

He's feeling good this days, like success is going to flow naturally again. It is, he insists, the way it's supposed to be.

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