Gary Moeller, former Michigan and Lions coach, dies at 81

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Gary Moeller, who succeeded Bo Schembechler as Michigan coach and later coached the Detroit Lions, died Monday. He was 81 years old.

The University of Michigan announced his death and no cause was provided.

Moeller was promoted from offensive coordinator to lead the Wolverines program in 1990 and was 44-13-3 over five seasons.

“Gary Moeller was a great family man, a great friend, a great coach and a man of integrity and character,” Lloyd Carr, who succeeded Moeller as Michigan coach, said in a statement. “I admired him, I respected him and I loved him.”

The two-time Big Ten coach of the year won a conference championship in each of his first three years and had four bowl victories, including the 1993 Rose Bowl against Washington. He resigned in May 1995, less than a week after being arrested on charges of drunkenness at a restaurant in suburban Detroit.

Desmond Howard, who won the 1991 Heisman Trophy while playing for Moeller, lamented that the coach’s departure was part of his Michigan legacy.

“He was pressured by the administration to resign and it was all messed up,” Howard said in a phone interview Monday night. “Bo was out of town and it wouldn’t have happened if Bo was in town because he was so powerful, and no one would have knocked him down.”

Moeller bounced back in his personal and professional life, becoming the tight ends coach for the Cincinnati Bengals that same year. He then coached the Lions’ linebackers and became their coach midway through the 2000 season when Bobby Ross quit.

Moeller was 4-3 as coach of Detroit and may have been one miss away from keeping his job. He was fired after Chicago’s Paul Edinger made a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to lead the Bears to victory in the regular season finale, knocking the Lions out of the playoffs.

“He also suffered bad breaks and bad timing in his career,” former Michigan player and broadcaster Jim Brandstatter said. “But, you never heard Gary Moeller complain or apologize. He was a class act. He was a good man.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Moeller to be their defensive coordinator in 2001 and he then coached the Bears linebackers for two seasons.

Moeller, who was from Lima, Ohio, played linebacker and captained Woody Hayes at Ohio State. He was Schembechler’s assistant in Miami (Ohio) and joined him on his first staff in Michigan in 1969.

Moeller struggled in his first head coaching job, going 6-24-3 from 1977-79 at Illinois. He returned to work for Schembechler and later successfully transitioned into coaching attack and became an innovative coordinator.

With a relatively open approach and willingness to run the ball as a head coach, he helped Howard win the Heisman Trophy in 1991 during a streak in which the Wolverines set a Big Ten record. by winning 19 consecutive conference games.

“He was one of the giants in modern Michigan football history,” Brandstatter said.

Michigan won a national title in 1997 under Carr with a team led by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, whom Moeller helped recruit from school as he did with Howard.

“Coach Moeller went to Ohio, enemy territory, and stole two Heisman Trophy winners in less than 10 years,” Howard said. “It’s quite important and it should be part of his legacy.

“He didn’t have what it took to be as good a coach as he was, but those who played for him and were around him knew that. They also knew he was a nice, great guy.

Moeller is survived by his wife, Ann, their daughters, Susan, Amy and Molly, and their son, Andy, who was a linebacker and captain for the Wolverines and an assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns.

Charles P. Patton