Gary Moeller. Undervalued? Easily forgotten? Overrated?

Submitted by lilpenny1316 on October 29th, 2010 at 8:01 AM

I know his tenure was a short one, and ended in a fashion that maybe Chris L. Rucker's should have (okay enough MSU garbage). But I was hoping to bring up one of the more undervalued coaches in Michigan history.

Outside of doubling as the dad on The Wonder Years, I thought Moeller did a pretty darn good job.  His first three years on the sidelines were unbelievable.  He went 28-5-3 his first three years.  His 1990 team lost three games by six points.  We had a shot at a split national title his second year if we won the Rose Bowl.  He 1992 team was undefeated, but those 3 ties kept us from a crystal ball or whatever hardware they were handing out.  The last two years were downers, but we still had a good feeling in January after our bowl wins.

I know there were highlights and lowlights.  Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook chief among them.  But he did what we would love.  He blew away OSU and MSU a few times.  We won three Big Ten titles and won a Rose Bowl.  4-1 bowl record.  He also threw the football.  We didn't feel like a predictable offense during his years.  And QBs saw what they could do at UM.  The groundwork for that pro-style offense was his baby.  Also, most of the key players from that 1997 team was recruited under his regime.

Maybe time heals all wounds.  Maybe I'm a crazy Lions fan that thinks he should have been given the Lions head coaching job.  But I never see his name mentioned.  It's as if Bo handed the keys of the program to Lloyd Carr.  I mean he chose Moeller for a reason.  Look at the 1989 head coaching staff:

Cam Cameron, Lloyd Carr, Jerry Hanlon, Bill Harris, Jim Herrmann, Les Miles, Gary Moeller.  Look at who he had available to pick.  I think his self appointed successor had a very short, very successful, and very easily forgotten regime.  We talk about the players, but not about their head coach, and to me I think it's a shame for him. 


The team the t…

October 29th, 2010 at 8:07 AM ^

He should get credit for introducing the radical concept of the forward pass in situations other than 3rd and long (not communist football, mind you).    I credit him with the roughly 20 years of great QB's and WR's from Michigan that this style attracted.  I thought he had some of the most talented Michigan teams of my lifetime as well.


October 29th, 2010 at 8:13 AM ^

We won 63-13 but we could've hung 70 or 80 on them that day.  I remember we had some running back named Buff or Huff in there during the 4th quarter.  We knew a kid on the Minny team and we saw his dad after the game.  He said that was "an old fashioned butt whippin".  

Talented?  My gosh they were ridiculously talented.  I would have loved to see them play the '97 team.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:00 AM ^

By the mid-to-late 80s, you saw Bo teams utilizing more of a pro-style offense (which I believe coincided with Gary's emergence as OC) as we recruited the likes of Jim Harbaugh, Demetrious Brown, and Elvis Grbac, but Moeller did take it to the next level.  The chain of great Michigan QBs started with Bo, but Moeller cemented it in place.  Todd Collins, Scot Loeffler, Scott Dreisbach....all Moeller guys.  Griese was a Moeller guy too, but he walked on, so I guess you can't give Gary too much credit for recruiting him.

Communist Football

October 29th, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

As somebody down below wrote, Moeller actually ran a no-huddle offense at M for a few seasons, before capitulating and going back to a more conventional style. I distinctly remember watching one Moeller game after he'd rolled out the no-huddle, and hearing the announcer say, "Gary Moeller will win a national championship with this offense." Unfortunately for him, his successor got to win that championship (though with a relatively pedestrian offense that year).


October 29th, 2010 at 8:17 AM ^

I am guessing Moeller wasn't very good at self-promotion and "handling" bosses, boosters, etc behind the scenes.  I also think he got totally screwed in the restaurant incident.  Michigan didn't have to fire him for it.  It sounded more like a case of trustees or admins looking for a reason and having one dumped in their lap. 

Also, he is the only Lions coach with a winning record since Joe Schmidt.  The sample was small, but that has to count for something. 


October 29th, 2010 at 8:46 AM ^

According to Bo, Moeller was fired for the restaurant incident while Bo was on vacation and he had no say in it.  Bo tried to get him his job back, but too little too late.  

Moeller and Bo were both before my time, but if Moeller getting fired kept Bo up at night for years, then I'd agree that he was undervalued.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:19 AM ^

I hadn't heard that about Bo.  Moeller was head coach exactly during my time in college and it was an interesting thing to experience, a head coach getting fired.  There were a lot of outstanding times in the Big House during my undergrad years (Kordell Stewart notwithstanding) and, because of them, Moeller is definitely underrated in my book.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:53 AM ^

Bo was on vacation?   That to me sounds like he deliberately went on vacation to save face for a firing he must have thought needed to happen, as odd as it sounds.  One doesn't go on vacation in a critical time like that. IN FACT, they cancel vacation, or they don't go in the first place. My gosh, to me this implies Bo either had no say at all or he wanted Mo out for that incident.  This one hurts.


October 29th, 2010 at 12:06 PM ^

Although you have to go into the way-back machine, before cell phones... internet... wi-fi.  According to several buddies in the Athletic Dept at the time of the "incident", Bo was on vacation and actually on a boat (ala Bill Martin).  When he arrived back on shore, he heard the news and immediately called Moeller and left a strong message telling him to keep his mouth shut and not to say or sign anything related to the University and coaching.  Bo indicated that he would take a red-eye back and he and Moeller would figure this out - this was "nothing to resign or lose your job over.".  By the time Bo got back into Ann Arbor, Moeller had already submitted his resignation to Roberson, who had told him to either resign or look at being fired which would leave a scar on Moeller, but more importantly to Moeller, on the football program.

Moeller was an excellent coach for Michigan and would have been a wonderful head coach for many years.  He was innovative, passionate, smart and willing to support his team and the University.  He was jovial but burned hot if his team was disrespected.

Rufus X

October 29th, 2010 at 12:34 PM ^

You also had to be living in Ann Arbor at the time.  I think Moeller would have survived, if not for the emergence of the audio tape from the police car.  I don't remember the exact timing, but it was about 3-5 days between the initial reports of him "getting beligerant in a restaurant" and the WJR playing the actual audio of the "do you know who I am" and "you can't do this to ME" drunken rampages.  At that point, I don't believe anyone could've saved his job.  Now, if he had won the National Championship the year before...

Section 1

October 29th, 2010 at 1:39 PM ^

On paper and in retrospect, it is sort of crazy to think of firing a coach over one drunken incident.  But it was the audio tape of what sounded like a wild scene (lasting all of about two minutes) that caused a wild storm of U-M administrators thinking that they had to do something.  I'd add -- a bunch of U-M administrators who apparently felt insecure enough in their jobs that they could not stand up on their own and invest some of their own credibility for a really good football coach.

I don't know of anybody who doesn't really, really like Gary.  I've had the chance to talk to him a number of times; he's just a great guy.

So yes; Moeller was undervalued, under-appreciated and his decades-long service under Bo Schembechler was terminated in less than a week, for something that would get a one-game suspension for an MSU player.

One other thing; as far as I am aware, Gary Moeller has been particularly loyal to Rich Rodriguez, and has been generous with his time, and friendly to, the new coaching staff.  Gary goes to almost all the games, home and away. 

Section 1

October 29th, 2010 at 1:59 PM ^

In the old pressbox, Gary had his own seat in the box that had been Bo's.  And he virtually never missed a game.  Not even a down.  And he was not there to entertain guests of the University or schmooze with donors.  He was there, watching the play, like an Assistant Coach would from the pressbox.

Lloyd never sat with him; Lloyd never sat in the same place, mostly.  Lloyd moved around, spent a lot of time with Mary Sue Coleman and some of the Regents, some time with Bill Martin, and wasn't even there all the time as far as I could see.

There's no mystery in this, for the most part.  Lloyd had a position, as Senior Associate Athletic Director, that Moeller didn't have.  Football games are monster fundraising events (and that is a HUGE part of the rationale behind the Stadium renovation).  And if Lloyd was working on that (I have no doubt that he was), that's probably what he was supposed to be doing.

Section 1

October 29th, 2010 at 9:45 PM ^

I said, "Coach, you'll finally be able to watch our coaches work on the sidelines!"  He laughed, and said yeah and that he was actually looking forward to seeing the game from that sideline.  He thought the weird thing was that his whole life had been built around watching games and game films from the West sideline.  It was like switching from right-handed to left-handed...

Section 1

October 30th, 2010 at 3:54 PM ^

When I saw Gary last, it was at the pre-season Economic Club meeting at the Junge Center, when Brandon did the narrowcast interview with Brandstatter.  We later had lunch in the Club level on the East.  And to be honest, in the fuller conversation, and I asked him generically about watching the games from suites.  Gary said he wasn't sure at that time what he was going to do; he said he had been invited to be in a suite (didn't mention Alro) and that's when I remarked about watching from the opposite side of the field, and we had the conversation as noted above.

I'm sure you're right; although my recollection from two tours of the East Concourse is that either Alro or the Glicks have a box on the East, too.  (Or am I just imagining their name on one of the suite signs?  Not sure.)

Bando Calrissian

October 29th, 2010 at 1:36 PM ^

There's also a dimension to the story involving Bo calling a (i will keep him) nameless Athletic Department official, that person not being home, Bo leaving a message with his child to call Bo back.  Kid forgets, call never gets returned.  Situation gets worse.

The full story of what really happened in the Gary Moeller fiasco is one of those things that will be laid out in a book someday, and we'll see just how badly he got screwed.  Nice guy who had one ugly incident, gets labeled an alcoholic (which, by all accounts, he was not), the media runs with the story (audio gets run every hour), Michigan handles it wrong, Moeller handles it wrong, his lawyers handle it wrong...

Just terrible all the way around.

Though I will also say there were a lot of people who were getting a little uncomfortable with the tenor of Moeller's program at the time.  There had been some off-the-field incidents, arrests, roughly paralleling the things going on in the basketball program at the time...  And weren't too displeased to see him go.  Not to mention the "no more 8-4!" crowd.


October 29th, 2010 at 11:03 AM ^

When Bo told Moeller that he was going to retire, he tried to plead with Bo to stay on and just hand over more duties to the staff and take it easy.  I think he loved Bo.

I just think it speaks to how highly Bo thought of him, that among all the future coaches on that staff and former ex-assistants (ie. McCartney at Colorado), he wanted Moeller to coach the team.

Maybe Duderstadt (sp?) wasn't a fan of Bo or something, but I think Moeller showed how much he cared by stepping down and not dragging the team in the mud and also getting Bo in the middle of it.


October 29th, 2010 at 12:51 PM ^

because I just finished reading Lasting Lessons yesterday.  Bo and Mo loved each other (no homo) and it comes out in the book.  Paraphrasing, Bo said something to the effect of "Normally I don't like running up the score, but after what Illinois did to Mo, I gladly put up 70 on them the following year."

Bo also talks about how Moeller refused to come back to reunion dinners after his firing because he was ashamed of what happened.  Bo begged all his alums to convince Moeller to start attending because he was part of the Michigan family until finally in 2004 (IIRC) he did.

Bo = Loyalty.


October 30th, 2010 at 2:14 AM ^

Was one of those who always felt sports should be reigned in, back to Ivy levels or worse. He wanted a football program that was under his thumb. So Roberson was his hatchet man. Problem for him was he didn't consult the Regents before making such a big decision. Not a coincidence that he wasn't around much longer either. Worst President in my school bound awareness lifetime.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:10 AM ^

I, for one, was crushed when Mo was fired.  Carr represented the program well and capably picked up the pieces in the chaos of Mo's firing.  But I was excited to have Mo as our coach.  And in retrospect, I definitely don't see his firing as completely justified.

I was also excited to have Mo coaching the Lions.  It's fitting that the only Lions coach with a winning record since 1972 was fired by Matt Millen and replaced with a coaching unknown who would go on to make a game decision to kick the ball to the other team to start sudden death overtime.

Anyway...Mo will always be one of my favorites.


October 29th, 2010 at 11:18 PM ^

I'm with you on Moeller, I think he got a bad rap and a bum deal but he didn't drag the program down in trying to fight for his job.

Now onto the Lions.  That whole incident soured me to Millen.  I mean it seemed like he was dangling Moeller on a pole while he was looking for a suitable replacement (in his mind).  "Well maybe we'll keep you" and "Maybe we wont", who knows.  I hate that kind of stuff mainly because Millen knew exactly what he was going to do....and that was clean house.  Given that he took a team that had every reason to quit (head coach running back in the NFL ever quits) and got them to within a field goal of the playoffs, I think he deserved a shot with the Lions.   But hey, Millen was the football expert and how did that work out for him?


October 30th, 2010 at 2:17 AM ^

Because they dragged it out past the point where all the positions on other staffs were mostly filled, so he couldn't just go and get a coordinator job someplace else. And Mullen knew this. Dick move. So glad the Lions might have people with brains actually running them now.


October 31st, 2010 at 11:30 AM ^

I seriously think Moeller deserved a shot at head coach on the Lions.  I can only imagine what he would have done with an entire season where he could put his imprint.  But hey, I'm not Matt Millen and nor would I want to be.  It just seemed like Millen wasn't sure he could get the coach he wanted so he kept Moeller around so that he could say, "I guess I'll keep you".  Moeller being the good team player stuck around although part of me wants to say that he should have seen the writing on the wall and bolted.   But before Millen tried to see if he could create a team created with all wide receivers, he soured me to him.  And as he ran the team into the ground, it only got worse.  People may say he's a great guy and what not but great guys don't do crap like that to people that bailed the team out of a tough spot.  But maybe alot of that falls on Mr. Ford and not Mr. Millen.


October 29th, 2010 at 8:18 AM ^

I have a buckeye friend (one) that told me that Coach Moeller scared the hell out of tOSU nation. Look what he did with the Lions when he took over mid season. The guy can flat out coach football. Would have been interesting to see what he could have done long term in Ann Arbor.


October 29th, 2010 at 9:04 AM ^

Being too young to remember much of  Bo, Mo was coach during my first real experiences with UM football. Loved that guy. He was not at all afraid to keep the pedal to the metal until things were way out of hand. Unfortunately he took that trait with him to the restaurant that one night.

Louie C

October 29th, 2010 at 11:08 AM ^

I started following UM football during Mo's era too. I remember feeling dong punched when he was let go. I also remember going "Lloyd Carr?! Lloyd Carr?!?!" Looking back, it's funny seeing how things turned out.


October 29th, 2010 at 9:37 AM ^

I was matriculating at U of M during the Moeller years and they were glorious times.  We owned OSU and MSU to the point where the biggest game of the year was Notre Dame.  We saw less success against them than I would've liked, but I think we might have had a moment or two go our way....

Wolverine In Exile

October 29th, 2010 at 8:47 AM ^

a cross between Jim Tressell & Bob Stoops.

Moeller could recruit and coach, and modernized the Michigan program to the point that when Lloyd came in, it was a machine that kept running consistantly (8-10 wins/yr) provided you didn't throw a wrench into it. Not the most charismatic guy and lost his share of games he should have won, but overall a successful coach who probably would have had a shot or two at national championships-- not sure if he actually would have won any, but would have gotten close. Kept the old guard alumni happy. Had a good repore with the media.

My fondest memory will be the 1992 undefeated season. 3 ties in one year was just unfathomable. Add in the opinion that Cooper basically played for the tie at the end of The Game that year just to piss off Moeller and prevent us from moving up in the polls (we had a shot to move back into the Top 3 before the bowl season, and some would argue our ass kicking of Washington (who was #2 to the Gino Toretta led Miami Hurricanes as late as Week 8 in the season) in the Rose Bowl would have garned some #1 votes-- not enough to win the national championship, but some #1 votes nonetheless). Stupid bowl Coalition. 5th consecutive Big Ten championship, Tyrone Wheatley and Elvis Grbac at their best, and an OL that boasted 3 10-yr+ NFLers, and of course, Ninef Agakhan.

Blue boy johnson

October 29th, 2010 at 8:48 AM ^

Undervalued. If Herman Moore,( I think it was Herman Moore), catches that pass, the Lions make the playoffs, and the Moeller Steamroller is still roaming the sidelines in Honolulu blue and silver. Millen might never have been hired, Barry Sanders doesn't retire, and the Lions win a couple of Super Bowls because Moeller decides to draft Tom Brady.


October 29th, 2010 at 9:46 AM ^

He was already retired.  I was at that season finale where Herman dropped that pass.  Crazy you mention that because I brought that up with a friend last week.  I said that drop may have led to the next 10 years of FAIL.

But I never thought of a Moeller/Brady connection.  Wow, that's a good one


October 29th, 2010 at 11:09 AM ^

Maybe his style wouldn't have worked in New York.  I don't know.  But I think he was the perfect coach here.  This town would have embraced him.  That Lions team wasn't the greatest by any stretch, but they played hard and found ways to win.  And I know the Giants fans wanted no part of them in the playoffs so they were glad they didn't make it.

I guess he couldn't stop calling people kids after raising Fred Savage for five years :)