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. 



October 29th, 2010 at 8:53 AM ^

that was an exciting time in Michigan football and unfortunately it was too short. I love Lloyd and he did great things for the program but watching Wheatley run in the Moeller's the reason I wore number 6 for much of my football career. Still my favorite Michigan RB of all time.

Rufus X

October 29th, 2010 at 8:56 AM ^

I was on the support staff for 4 of the years Mo was there (Student Manager), including in every practice, many meetings, and on the field for every game, standing next to him in many cases.  Here's my take:

The good:

  1. A great human being, and you can't say that about all college coaches (Greg Mattison, not so much). 
  2. He could recruit like an absolute motha'...  He did it for the last few years of Bo's tenure (Desmond, Grbac, Everitt, Elliott, Alexander, Toomer, Hayes, Irons, Wheatley, etc.) and through his years he continued to do it, with a great staff of recruiters like Miles, Cameron, and Fred Jackson. 
  3. Don't forget he was a great position coach - DC for Bo and ILB coach with slow undersized guys like Steve Morrison, Erick Anderson, and others to his credit.
  4. He had a great staff - but he also did a great job of delegating.  When he was the head coach, Lloyd was his DC, and Cam Cameron and to a lesser degree Les Miles were his offensive minds.   And very innovative - Some forget we ran the no-huddle offense for much of the 1990-1992 seasons, the Sam Wyche version that Cam learned while an assistant under Wyche.

The not so good -

  1. Even in the no-huddle, he was still responsible for relaying the plays in from the sidelines, that Cam was calling... So in some respect he didn't delegate this detail that he should have.  As a consequence he would often disagree with the call coming from Cam, and they'd get in an argument on the headset before he relayed it in.  We had more wasted timeouts and delay of game penalties  than any no-huddle team should have.
  2. He was not media savvy, in fact he rarely completed a sentence without running on into another topic.  This was largely before the current hypermedia environement we have now with ESPN 1,2,3,U, etc, Foxsports, etc.... so he mostly got away with it.
  3. The way it went down at the excalibur club was absolutely astounding to me; he always preached to the players that they had to do things cleaner than other students, that the media attention made them special and as such they had to behave special, that there were always people looking to take them down, that they had to do things "the Michigan way" at all times.  On all our road trips, the coaches would often have dinner in the hotel restaurant/bar and most of them would have a beer or cocktail, but NEVER Coach Moeller.  His demise was so out of character because it went against anything he ever preached, and with this one exception he was always a man who did what he said, and said what he meant.   I still believe that if we didn't have those 4 loss seasons he would've worked his way out of it.

So on balance I believe he was a great coach, a very good adminstrator, and a pretty lousy media/alumni relations guy.  I still think he could've had a long successful career and might have won that 1997 championship. 

But of course I am biased...


October 29th, 2010 at 11:29 AM ^

When I interned at a radio station back then we talked about Moeller and one of the things brought up was that Mattison, not Moeller was the reason for Trevor Pryce and some of the defensive guys leaving.  I took it that my source was pretty trusted and accepted it as fact.  Plus Mattison bolting for ND kinda cemented his legacy in my mind.


October 29th, 2010 at 8:57 AM ^

After he was gone, because of the things he did.... he had a great hand on our success in the late 90's, and that indirectly carried us into the next decade. 


October 29th, 2010 at 4:15 PM ^

This has always been my sense as well.  Like, Carr loved Michigan so much that, when called upon, he was willing to take over the program, because that's what Michigan needed, not necessarily because that's what his own personal dream had been.  I think Carr would have loved to be a career DC for Moeller, and I think that would have been great for our program had it worked out.

Still, it's hard to complain too much about Carr's body of work either.  He maybe should have retired a year earlier, but then again, many said that about Bo, too.

Section 1

October 29th, 2010 at 5:17 PM ^

You're completely wrong about Lloyd Carr's ambition being simply to stay at Michigan, and preferring the background.

Carr was considered for the HC job at Notre Dame.  He allowed himself to be considered, before removing his name.

Carr also interviewed for the Wisconsin HC job that went to Barry Alvarez.

And, I don't know how many other HC offers came Lloyd's way.  So that's that.  Again, nothing against you, or Lloyd.  The history is written.  I admired and defended the tenure of Coach Carr from beginning to end.


October 29th, 2010 at 6:23 PM ^

Carr was considered for the HC job at ND?  I find that awfully hard to believe.  The ND job came open in 1981 and 1986.  Both times, Carr was an anonymous position coach.  There is no way ND would have considered him.  Carr did not become a coordinator until 1987, when Lou Holtz was in his second season there. 

I've never heard anything about him interviewing at Wisconsin, either.  I heard once that EMU wanted him sometime in the '80s, but that was it. 

Even if Carr at one time harbored dreams of leaving Michigan for another job, by 1995 I think he'd ruled that out.  He was 50 years old, serving as DC for a man only four years older than himself.  By then he was not following a career trajectory that would normally lead to a major-level HC position. 

Section 1

October 29th, 2010 at 10:04 PM ^

Lou Holtz offered Carr a job as a Notre Dame assistant, with the promise that he'd make Carr a DC, and that, when Carr was ready, Holtz would get Carr a HC job.

As for Wisconsin, Carr interviewed there, officially, in 1989.


Natural Enemies: Major College Football's Oldest, Fiercest Rivalry-Michigan vs. Notre Dame


October 29th, 2010 at 9:02 AM ^

Im 40 years old so I remember quite well the Moeller years. I do think he was both undervalued and overrated...if thats possible. I do know this. When I'm watching football with my Michigan friends who constantly want to down RR and lift up what LC did, I ALWAYS mention that the 1997 NC team was built largely on Moellers recruits. I think he was very good at some things and obviously lacked in others. I agree. If he had better and more constistent seasons, he may still be there. Who knows.


October 29th, 2010 at 9:28 AM ^

When I'm watching football with my Michigan friends who constantly want to down RR and lift up what LC did, I ALWAYS mention that the 1997 NC team was built largely on Moellers recruits.

That's true, but you could make the argument that Moeller's 1990, '91, & '92 teams were built mostly from Bo's recruits.  The '93 and '94 teams were mostly his recruits and lost 8 games in those two years.  I'm not sure the correlation was fair, but it was getting made.

The other thing I remember back then was Gary would bring in big time talent, but he saw a lot of attrition year-to-year, which was uncommon for Michigan back then.  That coupled with the losing and there was a definate sense that the luster on the program had dulled a bit.

Rufus X

October 29th, 2010 at 9:50 AM ^

But many of the recruits from '90 - '92 were, in fact, his recruits as much as they were Bo's - and they fit his system since it was mostly the same system.  He was one of the main recruiters for high-profile recruits, expecially in Ohio and the Chicago area.  And yes Lloyd's guys were mostly Mo's, but the same holds true - Lloyd was a main recruiter for Mo. 

The difference is that Rodriguez truly had nothing at all to do with any of his players recruitment, and the offensive system change was so dramatic that you knew you were going to lose guys who didn't fit the system.  Now, on the defensive side of the ball, there's no excuse.  And there was plenty of talent left over from Lloyd on the defense, but Shaffer and Robinson squandered it.

Not sure I agree with the attition comment.  There were a few - Jon Ritchie transferred back "home" to Stanford - he was a hippy to begin with.  Eric Boykin was a head case and didn't really fit the system.  And there were a few incidental guys with discipline problems, but I wouldn't call it " a lot of attrition" unless I'm forgetting a few of them.


October 30th, 2010 at 2:36 AM ^

Back when "recruiting coordinator" was a separate position, we had a good one who liked to get guys from all around the country, thus higher rankings, but they weren't as bought into the Michigan ideal as those from around here, or that grew up as fans, so there was a bit more problems/attrition. But it was an epidemic.


October 29th, 2010 at 11:50 AM ^

But injuries, transfers (Thanks Mattison), and just bad luck made those years frustrating.  Yes beating OSU 28-0 in 1993 was sweet.  Yes winning those bowl games convincingly rocked.  But when you look at those two years, we beat the teams we were supposed to beat (Minnesota, Purdue, NW, etc).  All those streaks existing back to the 50s and 60s were still alive and kicking.

And the other thing is we had just entered a new era of college football with lower scholarship numbers and kids looking at others schools to play football.  So you wouldn't stockpile Michael Taylor, Elvis Grbac and Todd Collins on the same roster.  You wouldn't have Ed Davis, Jesse Johnson, Tyrone Wheatley and Ricky Powers on the same team.  They would go elsewhere and get that playing time because they weren't walking on at Michigan.

I guess my thinking is that his mindset, especially offensively would have still translated well in the late 90s and this century of college football.  And I think there would have been no clamoring for RichRod (who I do like a lot) to shake things up.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:50 AM ^

Since Carr was the defensive coordinator under Moeller, I'm guessing Carr had a little something to do with getting some of the defensive players to UM.  Your statement makes it sound like Carr came from outside the program when he was hired as HC.


October 29th, 2010 at 1:58 PM ^

In fairness, Carr was on Moeller's staff and played a huge role in recruiting/molding the seniors on that team (particularly on defense) even if he wasn't the head coach in '93 and '94.

And Carr was a great recruiter himself for most of his tenure; Rivals and the other recruiting services didn't exist in the 90's, but if they did, they would probably rank our '98 class #1 or #2. 


October 29th, 2010 at 3:45 PM ^

I'm also 40 and was quite close to the program, and almost walked on as a kicker. Saying Moeller was overrated is quite an insult, because it is polar opposite from the truth.  All what everyone wants from Rodriguez which seems to be old school M tradition with new age dominance, Moeller had. 


October 29th, 2010 at 9:05 AM ^

And I didn't know much about his tenure (except as a casual adolescent college football fan who thought Desmond was the shit) until I was called upon to GSI a class on the topic. From that perspective, learning about the Moeller experience exclusively on paper, it would seem "undervalued" would be the only applicable of the three answers given. This is especially the case considering that many of my students — who, though they were literally babies during his  tenure, had been lifelong UM fans — didn't know much about him either. He has a relatively unenviable spot, historically speaking, but still it would seem that someone with his track record as a coordinator and head coach, he'd be more widely recognized. 

UM Indy

October 29th, 2010 at 9:10 AM ^

4th and 1, throw it to Desmond in the end zone.  The man had balls.  I went to Michigan from 1990-1994, he's the only coach I knew and we all loved the offensive innovation and the domination over Ohio State.  He would have had Lloyd's career, if not better, without the unfortunate incident.


October 29th, 2010 at 9:12 AM ^

I've always wondered what would have happened at Michigan if the incident hadn't happened...As someone else noted, he was the coach who brought passing to Michigan football.  It would have been very interesting to see how he adapted as the game changed over the years. 

Webber's Pimp

October 29th, 2010 at 9:22 AM ^

I was there for Moeller's first 4 years. We had powerhouse squads (we put up fantastic offensive numbers) and actually came very close to winning a National Championship. My answer to you would be that he was both underrated and overrated. I  say underrated in the sense that the product on the field that presided over was as good as any we've seen in A2. But he was also overrated in the sense that we never won a National Championship during his tenure (and we probably should have - especially during the 1990 season). But let's not forget that from 1990 through 1994 (my undergrad years in A2) Michigan tied or won outright the B10 title in 3 of those years. If the measuring stick is success in the B10, Mo was underrated. If the emasuring stick is national titles he was over rated. 


October 29th, 2010 at 9:38 AM ^

You wont see it on this post since I'm replying, but you can edit your own posts if no one has replied to them 

To the left of the "Reply" button you should see a little blue "Edit" if you click that you can change your original text as long as no one has replied to your comment already

(not trying to be snarky, just helpful)


October 29th, 2010 at 9:40 AM ^

Moeller was a GREAT coach...I was a sophomore when he took over.... his teams were very tough and to me he was a young Bo.  Mitch Albom went off on the M AD for letting him go and said it was a travesty.  Alcohol poisoning is bad stuff, and Ive always wondered if some spartan cocksucker didn't slip him a drug at that restaurant.    The only digressive word I'd ever have regarding his tenure was this... I was at that Colorado  Kordell bomb game, and I could not believe he only sent three rushers after him, giving him the time to chuck that ball.  

And let me say this... take away that alcohol poison incident, and Carr would've never been coach, and we likely would have taken another coach from the rib of OSU again, maybe Tressel.   

Wolverine In Exile

October 29th, 2010 at 9:57 AM ^

"we likely would have taken another coach from the rib of OSU again, maybe Tressel."

I never thought about that, but the way you say it, it's possible. Everything else being equal, I would probably say no. Moeller would likely have had the same success against Cooper that Lloyd had. Cooper was fired in Winter 2000. That would mean Moeller would have been in his 11th season as Michigan head coach and would have been 59 years old.. still good coaching age. I think more likely is that if he retired from Michigan in 2003 like when he got out of NFL coaching for good, you're looking at for the 2004 season either a HC Les Miles who would have finished his 3rd yr as Ok St's HC, a HC Cam Cameron (who would have been brought back to the Michigan family after his Indiana failure much like Bo brought Moeller back after Illinois), or a transition to a caretaker Lloyd Carr admin as new offensive coordinator Jim Harbaugh was brought in as a coach-in-waiting...


October 29th, 2010 at 10:23 AM ^

I was at that Colorado  Kordell bomb game, and I could not believe he only sent three rushers after him, giving him the time to chuck that ball.

Or to quote one of my long-time U-M fan friends, "If only Ty Law hadn't gone for the intercept!" [sic]


October 29th, 2010 at 9:58 AM ^

Are still feeling the aftershocks of Moellers firing. Lloyd was a good coach. Moeller was a great coach. Bo spent 20 years building Michigans reputation up after our fall. He handed the team over to the guy he knew was going to lead Michigan down the same path or onto greater heights.

Lloyd was in the right place at the right time & did a good job but never took us to the next level. Yes we won a National Championship in 1997, but tell me I am wrong in thinking we didn't have the talent to do that on more than one occasion? Moeller was that guy, its too bad his time ended like it did. 


October 29th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

But I honestly believe that if Moeller is coaching that 1999 team, we're playing in the Sugar Bowl for the national title.  Look at what he did with Grbac and Collins.  That 1999 team mirrored the 1992 team so much that it's scary.  All the talent at the skill positions.

I just think he would've stuck with Brady in the MSU game.  That Brady/Henson deal made no sense.  It's like we stopped saying we do things the right way here and caved in to the talented kid who hadn't taken a college class yet.  And even if we lose, I think we blow the doors off Illinois to the point that their spirit is completely broken.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:03 AM ^

Yes definitely. Never feel like he gets mentioned or the respect he deserves. Have had this conversation with my friends on a few ocassions.

Also, his stint with the Lions in my opinion is only more evidence. He got that team to win. It was just unreal the difference when he was coaching and when he wasn't. Couldn't believe they didn't keep him on.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:15 AM ^

That 1990 season - MSU trip of Desmond, hangover loss against Iowa cost them

91 was a damn good season but FSU just overwhelmed them but the first half of that game was one of the most exciting first halfs I have ever seen.

I think Michigan fumbled 6 times against Ill in 92, Elvis gets hurt on a QB sneak against osu and they tie both games

93 Ricky Powers fumbles lost 2 games (Illinois the who the hell is Johhny Johnson game and the next week against Wisc.) That Illinois game was similar to the NW shootout years later substitue Powers for AT

94 Hail Marry just killed them, PSU had a team for the ages. Injuries killed them that year, Wheatley was barely healthy for the majority of the year after he decided to come back for his Sr year.

I thought sure as hell Cameron was going to be the next coach and really was disappointed with who they hired I couldn't believe it.

The same thing that Brady and Griese said about Loefler is what Collins and Grbac said about Cam. Maybe they thought he was too young or something, I don't know.

I will never forget Carr's speech on ESPN after the Moeller incident.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:22 AM ^

Can somebody explain this season to me?  I'm too young to remember it.  Should we have won some of those ties?  Was the team to conservative, or did we sneak out of some games M should have lost?


October 29th, 2010 at 10:40 AM ^

It's been a while so my memory isn't that great.  OSU - Grbac got hurt and Collins played a lot of that game.  ND - UM had the ball at the end of the game and sat on it instead of trying to get down field for a FG attempt.  Illinois - don't remember.