Mag Excerpt: Q & A with Gary Moeller

In the February edition of GoBlueWolverine the Magazine, Michigan Athletics historian, Greg Dooley chats with former Michigan headman about his memorable journey from Columbus, to Ann Arbor, and beyond.

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Q&A with Gary Moeller
By's Greg Dooley

After graduating from Ohio State in 1963, Gary Moeller began his coaching career at Bellefontaine High School in Ohio.  He joined Schembechler's staff at Miami (Ohio) in 1967 and made the move to Ann Arbor with Bo in 1969. Moeller succeeded Schembechler as head coach in 1990 and guided the Wolverines to four bowl victories in his five years, including a 1993 Rose Bowl triumph over Pac-10 champion Washington. Moeller's list of accolades includes directing teams to three Big Ten championships and five straight finishes in the nation's top 20. His teams set a Big Ten record by winning 19 consecutive conference games from 1990-92.

This season Coach Moeller and his teams were honored during the Iowa game. During the season Coach Moeller was kind enough to sit down and talk about a few memories of his days on the sideline:

Question: The 1991 and 1992 teams were very special, and the ’92 squad went undefeated 9-0-3. Was the ’92 squad the best you coached?

Gary Moeller: "I think they are very, very close. I think the 1991 team might be a little better because we had some skill but we played a tougher schedule, and we lost to Florida State and of course to a great Washington team in the Rose Bowl."

Question: Of course it is tough to argue against the ’92 squad because nobody beat you and you had the three ties. Do you wish you had the tie-breaker back then?

Gary Moeller: "Oh yeah, as you look back now. And even looking back further to 1990, we lost to Iowa and Michigan State. I went for two in those games to avoid the tie. So yes, I would have liked to have seen a tie-breaker but that wasn’t the way it was played."

Question: You had the fortune to go to quite a few Rose Bowls. It’s a special trip for fans. Is it special for the coaches—do you have a chance to enjoy it, or is it business?

Gary Moeller: "You do really enjoy it. But, and I understand the thing that Bo and other coaches told me, you’ve got to prepare. Get your work done early so you just need to polish it up when you are in Pasadena, because the concentration level isn’t there when you get to California. You don’t want to put in a lot of new stuff out there. You want to be ready to go. For the most part, we didn’t have a ton of success through Bo’s career, but we also played some darn good football teams and we were very, very competitive."

"It’s a special place to play; it’s a special trip. The environment is just unbelievable. And you get some play some good teams and compare yourself—players and coaches—in the same respect, on what kind of job you are doing."

"That’s a beautiful thing—to be out there in Pasadena. There’s a opening down there in Los Angeles where we’d always have a pep rally, in fact at home I have a picture of it, where you sit there and talk to all the fans who made the trip, and you see all the people and the band—it’s pretty neat."

"And you know that year we beat Washington out there, you talk about something about our fans. That was one of the first times I can remember that a Michigan football team going over to the corner of the stadium, and I think it just happened because the fans were hollering over there, and the players wanted to go over…and you know how they head over and sign The Victors? Oh yeah. Our crowd was wild and all our kids went over there to say thanks, and the fans were saying thanks to them. That’s one of the first times I remembered that happening."

Question: College football fans, and Michigan fans especially, in general love to collect memorabilia. Is there anything, beyond your championship rings and all that, from your days at Michigan that you have hung onto and have in your office that you cherish?

Gary Moeller: "Yeah, I gotta picture of Bo and I both pointing and hollering at the same time. It would have been in the last three of four years of when he was the coach. It looks like two older gentlemen [laughs]. When you go back to my playing days, which were in Columbus as you know and he was our coach there, and he really took me from my high school job in Bellefontaine, Ohio and Miami of Ohio, and two years later I was up here with him. He gave me a lot of opportunities and a lot of great advice, and put me in a position where I could excel. He’s just a special person to me. I look at him as a friend…I just think there’s so much he’s done and what he thought of Michigan."

"One of the greatest times I had after I came back was when we watched Michigan football together in the press box. One day up there I found out how much he truly loved this university. He said, “Hey Mo, come here. I wanna show you something.”

"The band was already out on the field and the players were coming out of the tunnel, and they’re playing The Victors and all that stuff. Bo said, “Now there—isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life? Look at the fans, look at band and look at this team coming out here. That’s what Michigan is all about.” It was as though he was just painting a portrait that was in his mind of something that he was so proud of."

"And Bo knew how much he had to do with that. I know there were some games when we first came in 1969, we had a few games, like against Washington, when we only had about 50,000 people in the stands. He knows he helped..with a lot of other people, but he was a major part of filling those seats up. He was very proud of that."

Question: Do you remember when you learned you were coming to Ann Arbor with Bo, do you remember that day?

Gary Moeller: "Yeah, he called a staffing meeting but basically he had gone around and talked to you, and talked about how he wanted you to go up [to Ann Arbor] and all that."

Question: Did he know you were going to come with him, or did you have a decision to make?

Gary Moeller: "No, no, I knew I was going to come with him. I was excited. I was just hoping I’d be one of the guys he picked! I was the freshman coach at Miami at that time, but, as a freshman coach you also coached a position [on the varsity], so I kind of had a double duty. But when offered me it was a great feeling. And yet, a lot of people said, ‘Wasn’t that different?’, going from Ohio State to Michigan. But I was with someone I really liked, obviously, and when you get a chance to coach in the Big Ten you don’t get too picky, really. Maybe to some school or another, but when you get a chance to go to Michigan? It’s really a no-brainer."

Question: Did it take you a while to get used to being a Michigan Man?

Gary Moeller: "Yeah , a little bit. And I had a great deal of respect for Ohio State but I also loved going back there to play against Woody or whomever, because you were competing against people you really respect and were semi-friends, so-to-speak."

To view this feature in its entirety, along with our 2012 Michigan Football Review, our Senior Retrospective, Michigan Athletics Director David Brandon shedding light on expansion, Craig Ross' breakdown of the State of Michigan Basketball, and much much more, check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine The Magazine.

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