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Gary Moeller, who replaced Bo Schembehler as Michigan coach and then took over Detroit Lions, died on Monday. He was 81 years old.
University of Michigan announced his death, and no cause was given.
Meller was promoted from offensive coordinator to program manager for the Wolverines in 1990 and was 44–13–3 over five seasons.
“Gary Moeller was a great family man, a good friend, a great coach and a man of integrity and high character,” Lloyd Carr, who replaced Moeller as Michigan coach, said in a statement. “I admired him, I respected him and loved him.”
The two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year won conference championships in each of his first three years and won four cup victories, including the 1993 Rose Bowl over Washington. He resigned in May 1995, less than a week after he was arrested on charges of drunkenness at a restaurant in suburban Detroit.
Desmond Howard, who won the 1991 Heisman Trophy while playing for Meller, lamented that the coach’s departure was part of his legacy at Michigan.
“The administration forced him to resign and everything went awry,” Howard said in a phone interview Monday night. “Bo was not in the city, and this would not have happened if Bo had been in the city, because he was so powerful and no one would have defeated him.”
Meller bounced back in his personal and professional life by becoming a tight ends coach for Cincinnati Bengals in the same year. He took over the Lions linebackers and became their coach midway through the 2000 season when Bobby Ross left.
Meller was the coach of Detroit in a 4-3 win and may have been on the verge of keeping his job. He was fired after Chicago’s Paul Edinger hit for a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to get up. the Bears to victory in the regular season finals, eliminating the Lions from contention in the playoffs.
“He also had bad breaks and bad timing in his career,” said former Michigan player and broadcaster Jim Brandstetter. “But you never heard Gary Moeller complain or make excuses. He was a great actor. He was a good person.”
Jacksonville Jaguars hired Meller as defensive coordinator in 2001, and he later coached the Bears linebackers for two seasons.
Moeller, originally from Lima, Ohio, played linebacker and captained Woody Hayes in Ohio. He was Schembechler’s assistant in Miami, Ohio and joined him on his first state in Michigan in 1969.
Meller had difficulties in his first head coaching job, running 6-24-3 in Illinois from 1977 to 1979. He returned to work at Schembechler and later successfully moved into offensive coaching and became a groundbreaking coordinator.
With a relatively wide approach and willingness to throw the ball as a head coach, he helped Howard win the Heisman Trophy in 1991 when the Wolverines set a Big Ten record by winning 19 straight conference games.
“He was one of the giants of modern football history in Michigan,” Brandstetter said.
Michigan won the national title in 1997 under Carr with a team led by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, whom Meller helped recruit to the school, as he did with Howard.
“Coach Meller went to Ohio, into enemy territory, and took two Heisman trophy winners in less than 10 years,” Howard said. “This is quite important and should be part of his legacy.
“He didn’t get credit for being as good a coach as he was, but those who played for him and were by his side knew that. They also knew that he was a good, great guy.”
Möller is survived by wife Ann, their daughters Susan, Amy and Molly, and their son Andy, who was a linebacker and Wolverine captain and assistant coach. Cleveland Browns.