(Eds: With AP Photos.)By LARRY LAGEAP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Jon Falk has been more than just an equipment manager for Michigan's football program since 1974.
For former coach Lloyd Carr, the man known as ''Big Jon'' kept an ear on players when coaches weren't around. For former quarterback Tom Brady, the guy with a booming voice in and around the equipment room inspired him to chase his next championship ring.
Falk is retiring from his behind-the-scenes position when the Wolverines return from playing Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday night.
''I feel melancholy about it because this is the only job I've known for 40 years,'' Falk said in an interview this month while packing up equipment headed for Arizona. "It hasn't really sunk in yet and it might not until we come back and I'm really not part of the team.''
The late Bo Schembechler, whose famous phrase was ''The team, the team, the team,'' recruited Falk away from Miami University in Ohio to be a part of his program.
Falk worked closely with Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Carr, Rich Rodriguez and current coach Brady Hoke, as well as thousands of players.
''In the locker room, there are a lot of things that a coach will never know unless he's got a guy working down there that he really trusts to tell him what he sees and hears,'' Carr said this week. ''When there were problems, Jon would know and he would let me know.''
When Brady has been asked which Super Bowl ring is his favorite, he says the next one - borrowing one of Falk's lines.
''He's just a great man who did a lot of great things for the school, and every player that came in and out of there was influenced by him in some way,'' Brady said Tuesday. ''He's a great representative for the school and touched a lot of people's lives, so it will be a big loss.''
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon agreed.
''It's a big, big job and Big Jon has been doing it so well for so many years,'' Brandon said. ''Jon is a legendary figure with a big personality, a big voice and a big love of Michigan. He is tremendously loyal to the program and he has seen it all over four decades with different coaches, and so many great players, and has been consistently passionate about Michigan.
''He will be missed, but it's a well-deserved retirement.''
The 64-year-old Falk recalled deciding to make this season his final one last summer after talking to his wife, Cheri, during a rare getaway to their home in northern Michigan.
''We were sitting there one day and she said, `You know Jon, we got this place and we haven't had a chance to enjoy it much because of football,'' recalled Falk, a native of Oxford, Ohio. ''My wife was right and the time is right.''
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Foxborough, Mass.
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