Moeller served as both an offensive and defensive coordinator for Michigan football in the 1970s and 1980s and eventually as the Wolverines’ head coach from 1990-94. He went on to hold multiple coaching positions in the NFL, including a stint as the Detroit Lions head coach in 2000 before retiring after 2003.
He led U-M to a 44-13-3 record, three Big Ten conference titles and captured two Big Ten coach of the year awards. Moeller went 4-3 in seven games with Detroit, making him the first Lions coach to have a winning record in his tenure since Joe Schmidt did so in 1967-72. Only Jim Caldwell has accomplished this feat since.
“The football world lost a great man in Gary Moeller,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said in a statement. “Coach Moeller cared for his players and his teams and was devoted to the University of Michigan. He gave a lot to the game of football, excelling as both an offensive and defensive coordinator and head coach in the college and NFL ranks.
“We have lost a wonderful family man. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Ann, as well as their daughters Susan, Amy and Molly, and my former teammate and fellow captain Andy.”
Here’s a look back at the best wins from Moeller’s 38-year coaching career:
Jan. 1, 1993: Michigan bests Washington in Rose Bowl, 38-31
A year after Michigan fell to Washington in the 1992 Rose Bowl, the Wolverines returned to Pasadena and topped the Huskies, 38-31.
U-M’s win halted a third straight Rose Bowl title for Washington. The Wolverines found themselves trailing 31-24 after surrendering 10 unanswered points in the third quarter. Michigan tied the game with a 24-yard touchdown run by 1992 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Tyrone Wheatley, who’d later return to U-M as a running back coach in 2015. Wheatley ended the game with 235 rushing yards and three scores.
The Wolverines’ game-winning drive was capped with a 15-yard touchdown pass from future Super Bowl XXIX champion and NFL Pro Bowler Elvis Grbac to Tony McGee. Wheatley, now the RB coach for the Denver Broncos, was named the game’s MVP.
The win was Michigan’s seventh Rose Bowl victory. The Wolverines are 8-12 all-time in the bowl game, with their last win coming in 1998 over Washington State.
Nov. 19, 2000: Lions defeat Super Bowl-bound Giants, 31-21
Moeller was named the Lions’ head coach nine games into the 2000 season after the resignation of Bobby Ross.
In Moeller’s first game, he guided Detroit to a 13-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10, snapping a two-game losing skid. His second game at the helm ended in the Lions’ best win of the season, a 31-21 victory over the eventual Super Bowl runner-up, the New York Giants.
After Detroit jumped out to a 7-0 lead with a 5-yard pass from Charlie Batch to Walter Rasby, former Wolverine and 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard ignited the Lions’ offense with a 50-yard punt return in the second quarter. This set up a 1-yard scoring rush from James Stewart, growing Detroit’s lead to 14-0.
But the Lions weren’t done. Two more touchdown passes from Batch, who’d go on to win two Super Bowls as a backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers, put Detroit up 28-0. New York managed to climb back into the game with three touchdowns — including one from now-Lions coach Dan Campbell, then a Giants tight end — over the last quarter and a half of play, but it wasn’t enough.
New York finished the season 12-4 before falling to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV.
Nov. 23, 2000: Lions crush Patriots on Thanksgiving Day, 34-9
Moeller’s NFL success continued into his third game leading the Lions. Trailing 9-6 in the middle of the third quarter, Detroit ripped off 28 unanswered to defeat the New England Patriots, 34-9, on Thanksgiving Day in 2000.
Batch, who the Lions drafted with the No. 60 pick in the 1998 out of Eastern Michigan, suffered a rib injury during the game, but stayed in to lead Detroit to victory. Batch gave the Lions their first lead of the game with a 1-yard scoring pass to David Sloan, and ended the game 16-of-24 for 194 yards and a rushing touchdown.
The Lions put the Patriots away with a 101-yard pick six from Bryant Westbrook with less than four minutes to go. New England coach Bill Belichick the pulled starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe from the game, resulting in the NFL debut of Tom Brady. The future seven-time Super Bowl winner went 1 of 3 passing for six yards, his only passing statistic for the 2000 season.
This marked the first of two Thanksgiving Day victories for the Lions from 2000-10. The next came in 2003. From 2004-12, Detroit lost nine consecutive games on the holiday.
Moeller’s tenure with the Lions ended in early 2001 after new team president Matt Millen hired Marty Mornhinweg to the position. Moeller went on to serve as the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears before retiring.
Nov. 23, 1991: Michigan dominates Ohio State, 31-3
In his second year as Wolverines head coach, Moeller led U-M to its fourth of five straight Big Ten titles. The win that solidified the conference title came in a 31-3 thrashing over Ohio State, marking Michigan’s fourth consecutive win over the Buckeyes.
It also all but sealed Howard’s Heisman win. With less than five minutes left in the second quarter, Howard dashed through OSU’s special teams unit for a 93-yard punt return touchdown. He then struck the Heisman pose, a scene which has become famous in the world of college football.
Howard ended the game with three catches for 96 yards. U-M’s rushing attack picked up 202 yards and four touchdowns on 39 attempts, highlighted by Wheatley’s 81 yards and two scores. Grbac ended 8 of 14 passing for 123 yards. The game drew a crowd of 106,156 to the Big House in Ann Arbor.
The win set up the Wolverine’s first Rose Bowl bout against Washington, which they lost 34-14.
Sept. 10, 1994: Michigan beats Notre Dame, 26-24
Moeller’s final year with Michigan was headlined with a 26-24 win over then-No. 3 Notre Dame in South Bend.
Less than a minute of game time after the Fighting Irish took a 24-23 lead, Wolverine kicker Remy Hamilton nailed a 42-yard field goal to put U-M on top with two seconds left. The lead held, giving Michigan its first win over Notre Dame since 1991.
Michigan’s game-winning drive was led by quarterback Todd Collins, who committed to U-M over ND during his recruitment. He had 224 yards on 21 of-29 passing in the game.
The Wolverines ended the season 8-4 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten play. Moeller resigned during the ensuing offseason and was replaced by Lloyd Carr.
Chandler Engelbrecht is a reporting intern at the Free Press and can be reached at CEngelbrecht@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.