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 11:16 AM ^

Here's a review of the 3 ties from 1992:

*AGAINST NOTRE DAME:  We were ahead 17-7 in the 4th quarter.  Then we fumbled the ball away to set up an Irish field goal.  On ND's next drive, they moved inside the 10.  On 3rd and goal, Ty Law was called for a phantom pass interference which gave ND a new set of downs and gift TD.  A common BS type call that saved ND's ass.  We got the ball in the final minutes and drove to the ND 30.  Then, for reasons still unknown, Grbac dropped back and threw an interception.  There wasn't a Michigan receiver anywhere close.  I still don't know who he was even trying to throw to.  We shouldn't have even thrown the ball.  Just do a couple more running plays and kick the game winning field goal.  Game ended 17-17. 

*AGAINST ILLINOIS:  We flew down the field easily on our first drive which ended in a 40 yard TD pass on the screen to Tryone Wheatley.  From then on, we continued to move the ball at will but fumbled it away on every drive until halftime.  Twice we were going in for scores from inside the 10 and lost fumbles in the endzone.  We had nearly 380 yards of offense in the first half but because of all the turnovers, we only held a 7-6 halftime lead.  The teams' confidence was shaken at that point.  In the second half, the fumbles stopped but Illinois was given new life because of all our mistakes.  It was a back and forth battle the rest of the way.  We trailed 22-19 in the final minute and were facing a 4th down inside the Illinois 30.  Moeller decided to have Peter Elezovic kick the field goal since a tie would give us the Rose Bowl trip.  This game would have been another blowout if we could have just held on to the ball.  Game ended 22-22. 

*AGAINST OHIO STATE:  In the first quarter, Grbac ran in for a TD and was injured.  I forget what his injury was.  To make matters worse, we missed the extra point.  Todd Collins came in and played well but playing the rest of the way without our senior QB was, I believe, the big difference in this game.  Kirk Herbstreit then becomes a hero for bringing OSU back to tie us after we were up 13-3.  If Grbac never got hurt, this game would have been over much earlier.  But in the end, this tie game was a blessing because it saved John Cooper's job.  Game ended 13-13. 


October 29th, 2010 at 10:31 AM ^

When I think of Gary Moeller the first thing that comes to mind is "Les Miles slept with his wife".  That does not bode well for one Gary Moeller. 


October 30th, 2010 at 1:32 AM ^

The rumor is that Les Miles slept with Moeller's wife, which Moeller found out about, which obviously caused problems in his marriage, which made him start drinking, which led to the Excalibur incident, which is why Lloyd Carr hates Miles, which is why Bill Martin made only a half-assed attempt to talk to Miles during the coaching search.

The theory is bolstered by the fact that Moeller called his wife a c*** while the cops were trying to arrest him, according to the police report (though he never mentioned Miles during his tirade). Also, Miles left for Oklahoma State when Carr became coach after supposedly being told by Carr that he was no longer welcome at Michigan. 


October 29th, 2010 at 10:39 AM ^

What sort of alternate universe are you living in? LC has as many national championships as Steve Spurrier does, and was a hair away from playing in another one. Both of which place him ahead of Bo Schembechler in that respect.

Does this mean that Bo never took us to the next level?

Carr's teams won outright or shared six Big Ten Titles. Fritz Crisler's teams won exactly one. Are you going to say that Crisler never took us to the next level?


October 29th, 2010 at 10:49 AM ^

for a longer time than he did. It's really unfortunate what happened how things turned out. I really believe if he was the coach for a longer time - he would have become one of Michigan's best coaches


October 29th, 2010 at 11:01 AM ^

And do you want to know what the biggest travesty in M land is ?  Is that Moeller is often treated like a persona-non-grata in major events, or so it seems when they speak about past coaches.  

I seriously often wondered if some sparty cocksucker didn't slip something into his drink at the Excalibur, for so many people have said drinking like that was so out of character for Coach Mo.  And if not, it was alcohol poisoning, and we have all done some stupid things, including yours truly, from it.


October 29th, 2010 at 11:02 AM ^

lilpenny...  you know what?   thank you for this post, for it really is important to say how undervalued coach moeller was.  please take the "overrated" part out of the title please.


October 29th, 2010 at 12:06 PM ^

I put "overrated" it in there because I didn't want to sound like I was slanted towards calling him a Greek god or something.  I thought he was a really good coach and could have coached Michigan well into this century.  But I knew he wasn't perfect.  So I wanted to see who or how someone could call him overrated or what issues they'd have with him.  Maybe I had more rosey picture of him that was reality.  So that's why I put it there.

But I think the man deserves his day in the sun.


October 29th, 2010 at 11:53 AM ^

It's a common misconception that Moeller was fired.  But he actually resigned after refusing to accept Joe Roberson's offer of a one year's leave of absence to "sort out his problems."

Bo heard about Moeller's arrest at first over the radio while he was packing to leave for a fishing trip in Mexico.  After several failed attempts to reach Moeller by phone, Bo left a voice-mail telling Mo where he could be reached and to call him any time.  He ended the message by saying, "Don't do anything until you talk to me."  Moeller never returned his calls.  Once Bo was down in Mexico, he got a copy of the USA today covering the Moeller drama and Roberson was quoted as saying the incident wouldn't cost Gary his job.  At that point, Bo stopped worrying about the issue and forgot about it.  But once he got back to Ann Arbor, he found out Moeller had resigned.  By then, there was nothing he could do. 

Things might have been very different had Bo not been on vacation at the time.  Even our rival coaches (George Perles at MSU and John Cooper at OSU)  thought Moeller got a raw deal and went on record saying so. 

Ty Butterfield

October 29th, 2010 at 12:29 PM ^

Thank you for starting this thread. I was actually kind of thinking about Moeller's tenure at Michigan the other day and wondering what would have been if he had been able to keep his job. Moeller's teams were the first Michigan teams that I really have memories of. The 1991 ND game in particular was amazing. I still remember exactly where I was when Desmond got tripped against MSU. I loved watching Elvis Garbac and Todd Collins. Those Michigan teams were really stocked with a lot of talent. I am not sure how long Moeller would have been at Michigan or how he would have adapted, but it is still nice to look back at his teams and be able to remember some of the great games.

Ben from SF

October 29th, 2010 at 12:30 PM ^

Coach Mo was the coach when I was a lowly undergrad staffer at the Daily.  Unlike Bo, who intimidated the press with his temper, and Lloyd, who dismissed the press with his intellect, Coach Mo was human, and sometimes too much so with his rambling news conferences and ADHD answers.  He was a class act though, in every sense of the word, and never ducked a question, even after that difficult Colorado game.

Coach Mo was also responsible for bringing Coach Lloyd to Michigan.  Mo spent two seasons at Illinois during the late 70s, and Lloyd was his DB coach.  When Bo brought him back to Ann Arbor after an unjustified sacking, Lloyd came back with Mo.

1994 was a rough year for Michigan football.  We had the Colorado game.  We had home losses to Penn State and Wisconsin, and we finished the regular season with a lackluster loss at Ohio State.  In addition, there were numerous arrests of football players on campus, including the infamous Shonte Peoples incident.  The mood on campus was negative, and it affected Coach Mo, deeply.

The Excalibur incident took place during the last week of school in April back in 1995.  Many athletic personnel goes on vacation during May; spring ball was over, May was a dead period in recruiting, and summer camps didn't begin until June.  Before Bo left for Europe, he specifically instructed Mo not to resign, and Bo will go to Duderstadt to fight for his behalf after he returned.  However, Joe Roberson, who was a new AD and was clueless about how to run major college athletics, exerted so much heat on Mo that Mo gave up.  When Bo returned, Mo had cleaned out his office.

The release of the drunken rant tapes turned Coach Mo into a national punchline.  The stench followed even after he went into the NFL and experienced success with the Lions.  That turd Millen, being a stooge of the media that he was, was never going to give him a chance.

Coach Moeller is a good man, and I wish we do more to bring him back to the family.

Maximinus Thrax

October 29th, 2010 at 1:20 PM ^

Moeller could very well have been the best coach we have ever had, had he been given the chance.  I think that Millen's firing of him was just the first glimpse of what a complete dumbass he was going to be.  I mean, the Lions won like 4 or 5 straight to end that season as soon as Moeller was installed as head coach.  But Millen had to get his man in there....some clown that nobody had ever heard of who rolled in on his Harley in some grand show of force.....then fell flat on his face. 


October 30th, 2010 at 2:56 AM ^

Lloyd had been around the program, and actually was tighter with McCartney as the in. He actually was with West Virginia a few months and didn't come to Michigan with Moeller directly.
<br>And Roberson was just an administrator. He wasn't doing anything the President wasn't telling him to do.


October 29th, 2010 at 12:39 PM ^

I would like to throw something out there that I haven't seen said.

I was pretty young at the time, but one of my earlier memories of Coach Mo was either 1992 or 1993. Coach Moeller and the other coaches were on the sidelines of the game and the camera kept zooming in on shots of their watch faces with the number 5 on the glass of the face signifying 5 consecutive Big Ten champions. I don't remember if it was '92 and they were going for number 5, or if it was '93 and they were showing that they wanted to defend the 5 championships.

And Coach Moeller was the coach for the last 3 of those 5 straight. Haven't seen anything like that since Moeller's been gone, and like many have mentioned, those years gave us some awesome memories.


October 29th, 2010 at 2:33 PM ^

If Gary Moeller had been able to keep himself out of trouble, there may never have been a Lloyd as head coach.  I'm too young to remember anything but the tail end of the Bo era, and while Moeller had a couple mediocre years, he always took care of business against OSU.  He is way undervalued and it's not even close.


October 29th, 2010 at 3:49 PM ^

Bo always had high praise for his former assistants, but he may have considered Moeller the greatest of all.  He served as both his defensive coordinator (on the great '85 defense, no less) and offensive coordinator ('87-'89).  It was an easy decision for Bo to name Mo as his successor. 

Mo was a very innovative offensive coach.  He introduced the no-huddle to Michigan, and was so effective with his mass, situational substitutions that the Big Ten had to create a "too many men in the huddle" penalty because defenses couldn't keep up.  And of course, he recruited the bulk of the 1997 national title team (including Mr. Woodson).  He holds a fine place in our football history. 


October 29th, 2010 at 4:10 PM ^

What I remember best was how Mo would get really fired up during the game, especially screaming at the refs when he didn't like a call... he'd freak out even more than Bo. Sometimes it seemed like he was so busy screaming that he'd forget that he needed to do something else, like send in the plays.


October 29th, 2010 at 11:46 PM ^

Good technique:

Eyes up.
High, tight coil level.
Flexibility in maintaining your cord slack.
Good closing speed to arrive at Coach Moeller's side before he starts bellowing for you.

Can't wait for Brian's full UFR breakdown to see where you grade out.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:04 PM ^

I was a freshman in '73 when we went undefeated and tied OSU 10-10. Bo was a great regular season coach but was dreadful in bowl games. As a result almost every year ended with a loss and a sour taste. My feelings were that there was a lot of relief when Bo retired and Mo was given a chance.

Does any one else believe, as I do, that there was  zero tolerance for Mo's ugly behavior as a result of Woody's punching the Clemson player? It only takes one incident if it is bad enough.


October 29th, 2010 at 10:55 PM ^

As someone born in the late 80's, I didn't know much about Moeller.  I've been a fan of UM my whole life but didn't really start paying close attention until my junior year (04) of high school school and by that point there wasn't much talk of Moeller.  All I knew about his "firing" was from my dad telling me that the coach of the Lions had been the coach at Michigan and had been fired for some type of public drunkeness incident.  Thank you to everyone that added something to this thread because I really learned a lot of stuff that I had no idea about.  At the same time, I hate all of you for informing me of how awesome of a coach Moeller was and how much success he could have had.