Today is a great day to wish happy birthday to former Michigan Head Coach Gary Moeller. Gary Oscar Moeller is a Buckeye who was born in Lima, Ohio. After playing for Woody Hayes at Ohio State, Gary coached some high school football before becoming an assistant coach (1967) with Bo Schembechler at Miami of Ohio.
Mo came to Ann Arbor, with Bo, from Miami of Ohio in 1969 to help Bo turn things around at Michigan. It worked! Bo and Mo were like brothers and both men worked hard to put Michigan on an even keel with Woody and his Buckeyes.
Gary Moeller was with Bo for the first eight seasons of the Schembechler Era at Michigan. During that time, Moeller coached defensive ends and then coordinated Michigan’s defense from 1973 to 1976. The Wolverines posted an overall record of 76-11-3 from 1969 to 1976. Michigan went 55-6-1 in the Big Ten during that time and won, or shared, six conference championships.
Moeller left Michigan, with Bo’s blessing, to become the head coach at Illinois. The Fighting Illini football program had fallen on hard-times. Moeller was given a five-year contract to turn things around. However, the impatient Illinois administrators pulled the plug on Moeller after three years. Of course, a losing record of 6-24-3 was the real reason for his firing, but Schembechler said that Illinois didn’t give Moeller enough time. Bo was furious and he always remembered the unfair treatment of his coaching friend whenever Michigan played Illinois. In an unprecedented move, Bo hired Mo for a second run at Michigan which is something that Schembechler just didn’t do. Once an assistant left, it usually meant that he was gone for good!
Gary Moeller’s second stint as an assistant at Michigan lasted from 1980 to 1989. Once again, the numbers were impressive! With Bo out front, and Mo working hard in the background, Michigan posted a record of 90 wins, 29 losses and 2 ties. In Big Ten play, the Wolverines won 68 games, lost 14 and tied 2. Michigan added five more Big Ten championships during this time.
When Bo decided that he was going to retire in 1989 there was no need to conduct a nationwide coaching search. Remember, Coach Schembechler was also serving as the Michigan’s Athletic Director so he probably just walked down the hall to tell Mo about the “succession” plan. Although it wasn’t formally announced until January 2, 1990, Mo was Bo’s man and that was that!
Gary Moeller’s first team looked a lot like Bo’s last team, which is not surprising since Bo helped recruit most of the players on the roster. Just like his mentor, Mo won a share of the conference title in his first year. Gary Moeller kept things going great for two more years and two more conference titles. Things on the field slipped in 1993 and 1994 when Moeller posted back-to-back seasons of 8-4-0. Some of the natives in Ann Arbor were getting restless, but Moeller appeared to be safe. All that changed in late April 1995 when Coach Mo made one mistake at a restaurant in Southfield, Michigan. A few days later he resigned from one of the best coaching jobs in America.
Gary Moeller finished with a record of 44 wins, 13 losses and 3 ties at Michigan. His final winning percentage was almost seventy-six percent (.758). He was even better in the Big Ten. His Wolverines won 30, lost 8 and tied 2 for a winning rate of 77.5 percent. Mo’s teams also added three more Big Ten Championship Trophies to Michigan’s collection.
The bottom line on Gary Moeller is simple. He was a winner! During his twenty-three years on the Michigan sidelines (18 as an assistant and 5 as a head coach) the Wolverines posted an overall record of 210-53-8. That’s a winning rate of almost seventy-nine percent (.789). Michigan’s Big Ten numbers during the “Mo years” were ridiculous! Michigan won 153 games, lost 28 and tied 5. This worked out to a percentage of almost eight-four percent (.836). Oh yes, Michigan also won, or tied, for fourteen conference championships when Gary Moeller was coaching on the Wolverine sidelines.
Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about Gary Moeller today if he didn’t have some “firsts” that connect him to Michigan football. Check these out!
· Gary Moeller is the first, and only, former Buckeye footballer to be a co-captain and be the Head Coach at Michigan. This will never happen again, got it?
· Moeller was the first, and only, Schembechler assistant to leave for a head coaching job (1977 to 1979) and return to assist Bo (1980-1989).
· Mo was the first, and only, assistant coach to serve Schembechler as a Defensive Coordinator (1973-1976) and an Offensive Coordinator (1987-1989).
· Gary Moeller was the first, and only, “acting” head football coach to win a bowl game (1988 vs Alabama).
· Moeller is the first, and only, Michigan (and Big Ten) coach to win nineteen straight conference games (1990-1993).
· Mo is the first, and only, Michigan Head Coach to have a Heisman winner (Desmond Howard) and a Butkus Award winner (Erick Anderson) in the same season (1991).
· Gary Moeller is the first, and only, Michigan football coach to have twelve players selected for All-Big Ten honors in a single season. Actually, it happened twice! (1991 and 1992)
· Gary Moeller is first in overall bowl winning percentage for Michigan football coaches who have coached in more than two bowl games. He won four of five games and finished with an 80 percent bowl winning rate!
So, today is a great day to remember the accomplishments of Gary O. Moeller. He was a Buckeye who became a Wolverine for life. Moeller contributed greatly to the winning tradition at Michigan. Thanks for the memories coach. I hope you have a very Happy Birthday today! Go Blue!