At the end of the 1989 football season, legendary coach Bo Schembechler decided to hang it up and pass the reigns to his good friend and long time assistant Gary Moeller. Gary Moeller had run the gamut of assistant coaching duties, from quarterback's coach to defensive back's coach, from offensive coordinator to defensive coordinator. Signs were good that a smooth transition was upon us. Even the names on the headsets would need little adjustment as a torn piece of athletic tape that served as designation of the man in charge required only a change in stroke from the sharpie marker. Bo to Mo.
Coach Moeller would go on to nurture the athletic prowess of some of the most prominent names in Michigan history: Desmond Howard, Tyrone Wheatley, Erick Anderson, Derrick Alexander, Elvis Grbac, Tim Biakabutuka, and even Johnny Cleveland's personal favorite, Tripp Welborne. Moeller also coached the team to three consecutive Big Ten titles in his first three seasons, building on Schembechler's 2 consecutive before the coaching change, for a grand total of FIVE CONSECUTIVE BIG TEN TITLES. A record that is unheard of in modern day football in any conference. Of note, four of those five titles were outright titles. Since 1980, only 18 of 28 Big Ten titles have gone unshared...of which 8 belong to Michigan, while the Buckeyes have only 3. But I digress...
Following the 1994 season, Coach Moeller's legacy began to be questioned. He was now dealing with a team that was comprised solely of players that he had recruited, and with limited success in terms of the great Michigan expectations. 1993 and 1994 were consecutive 4-loss seasons, each including 3 losses in conference. As for non-conference, a loss to Notre Dame in 1993 spoiled a preseason #1 vs. #2 matchup (T-Bone and I in attendance as pre-freshman) and The 1994 Hail Mary, well, we all know what that did.
On April 28th, 1995, Gary Moeller was coming off of a month of spring practice and found himself at Excalibur restaurant in Southfield, Michigan. If the rumors we heard on campus hold true, a good portion of a bottle of Grand Mariner later, Gary dropped a c-bomb on a waitress and began to act a bit unruly, prompting the arrival of Southfield's finest. Gary put his hands on an officer, which I implore you-the-reader to never do if in a similar situation...and the rest, they say, is history. A.D. Joe Roberson took swift action, and in the opinion of many, over-action, suspending Coach Moeller indefinitely before forcing resignation. All of this happened a full week before he was arraigned on the charges in question. Why?
The accounts depict a 54-year-old man loosed of all self-control, smashing drink glasses on his table, singing loudly and attempting to dance with women after his wife, Ann, left the restaurant to wait for him in their car. By the time police arrived at 10:16, the table at which the Moellers were seated had been served a dozen drinks. After punching an officer in the chest, Moeller was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery, to which he pleaded no contest on Monday. But it was a tape recording police made of Moeller at nearby Providence Hospital, where they took him for fear he was suffering from alcohol poisoning, that shows a man alternately abusive, tearful, incoherent and relentlessly vulgarâ€”and that ultimately forced him to resign the next day from his $130,000-a-year coaching job, which he had held for five years.
If the Wolverines had fewer losses in the previous two years, like 1 or 2, and if the team looked like it was gearing up for a National Title or even Big Ten title run...would we have seen the exit of Gary Moeller? It's tough to make the claim that the move was donor motivated. Then again...it's tough to claim it wasn't. Sports Illustrated's weekly column "This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse"would offer this gem:
One hundred twenty copies of the police report detailing the drunk-and-disorderly conduct that led to the arrest of former Michigan coach Gary Moeller were sold, at $15 each, during the first month the report was advertised in an Ohio State sports bulletin.
I'd hate to see the wildfire-like spread of that type of document in the internet era. No doubt that the term Moellered would have seen more press.
I remember with great accuracy Lloyd Carr's press conference when he was introduced as the interim head coach. Gary was his friend. He had this job because of opportunities Gary gave him in Illinois. Lloyd was angry...really angry. He had great disdain for the administration. In fact, that first press conference might have featured the most outspoken version of Lloyd Carr we ever got to see. Perhaps it was that reaction that put him on media lockdown for the bulk of his career.
In the middle of the 1995 season, following the worst win in history, a 5-0 victory over Purdue, the interim tag was removed. Two seasons later, Charles Woodson would win the Heisman, and Michigan would win the National Championship.
Without that one fateful evening, Lloyd Carr, only 4 years younger than Gary, would have never seen the field as a head coach. We can only wonder what the future would have entailed for the Michigan program, Coach Moeller, and his son Andy, a player that became a coach under Carr and just last year refused a breathalyser during a traffic stop. Perhaps we would be talking about the smooth transition from father to son, from Gary to Andy, the handing down of the reigns to the next generation. Perhaps we would have never had to ponder this statement made by Coach Mo in a 1997 interview:
I think Tom Goss is a great individual who will do a fine job at Michigan. He is not only a very good businessman, but he is very sincere and talented and through his honesty he has a lot to offer to the University. I think he is a wonderful choice.
Perhaps we'd be talking about a 60-year National Championship drought as well.