ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Gary Moeller, who succeeded Bo Schembechler as Michigan’s coach and later led the Detroit Lions, died Monday. He was 81.
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, great friend, great coach, and a man of integrity and high character,” Lloyd Carr, who succeeded Moeller as Michigan’s 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 over Washington. He resigned in May 1995, less than a week after he was arrested on charges stemming from a drunken outburst at a restaurant in suburban Detroit.
Desmond Howard, who won the 1991 Heisman Trophy while playing for Moeller, lamented that the coach’s departure is part of his legacy at Michigan.
“He got pressure from administration to resign and the whole thing was messed up,” Howard said in a telephone interview Monday night. “Bo was out of town and it wouldn’t have happened if Bo was in town because he was that powerful, and no one would have overruled him.”
Moeller bounced back in his personal and professional life, becoming tight ends coach for the Cincinnati Bengals that same year. He went on to lead the Lions’ linebackers and became their coach midway through the 2000 season when Bobby Ross quit.
Moeller was 4-3 as Detroit’s coach and was perhaps a missed kick away from keeping his job. He was fired after Chicago’s Paul Edinger made a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to lift the Bears to victory in the regular-season finale, knocking the Lions out of playoff contention.
“He also suffered bad breaks, and poor timing in his career,” former Michigan player and broadcaster Jim Brandstatter said. “But, you never heard Gary Moeller complain or make excuses. He was a class act. He was a good man.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Moeller to be their defensive coordinator in 2001 and he later coached the Bears’ linebackers for two seasons.
Moeller, who was from Lima, Ohio, played linebacker and was a captain for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. He was an assistant for Schembechler at Miami (Ohio) and joined him on his first staff at Michigan in 1969.
Moeller struggled in his first head coaching job, going 6-24-3 from 1977 to 1979 at Illinois. He returned to work for Schembechler and later made a successful transition to coaching offense and became an innovative coordinator.
With a relatively wide-open approach and willingness to throw the ball as head coach, he helped Howard win the Heisman Trophy in 1991 during a stretch in which the Wolverines set a Big Ten record by winning 19 straight conference games.
“He was one of the giants in modern football history at Michigan,” Brandstatter said.
Michigan won a national title in 1997 under Carr with a team led by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, whom Moeller helped to recruit to the school as he did with Howard.
“Coach Moeller went into Ohio, enemy territory, and snatched up two Heisman Trophy winners in less than 10 years,” Howard said. “That’s pretty significant and that should be part of his legacy.
“He didn’t get his due for being as good of a coach as he was, but those who played for him and were around him knew it. 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.