Gary Moeller, former Michigan and Lions coach, dies at 81

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Gary Moeller, who succeeded Bo Schembechler as Michigan’s coach and later led the Detroit Lions as interim coach, died. He was 81.

The University of Michigan announced his death, and no cause was provided.

Moeller was promoted from offensive coordinator to lead the Wolverines’ program in 1990 and was 44-13-3 over five seasons.

“Gary Moeller was a great family man, great friend, great coach, and a man of integrity and high character,” Lloyd Carr, who succeeded Moeller as Michigan’s coach, said in a statement. “I admired him, I respected him and I loved him.”

The two-time Big Ten coach of the year won a conference championship in each of his first three years and had four bowl victories, including the 1993 Rose Bowl over Washington. He resigned in May 1995, less than a week after he was arrested on charges stemming from a drunken outburst at a restaurant in suburban Detroit.

Moeller bounced back in his personal and professional life, becoming tight ends coach for the Cincinnati Bengals that same year. He went on to lead the Lions’ linebackers and was their interim coach in 2000 after Bobby Ross quit midway through the season.

Moeller was 4-3 as Detroit’s interim coach and was perhaps a missed kick away from keeping his job. He was fired after Chicago’s Paul Edinger made a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to lift the Bears to victory in the regular-season finale, knocking the Lions out of playoff contention.

“He also suffered bad breaks, and poor timing in his career,” former Michigan player and broadcaster Jim Brandstatter said. “But, you never heard Gary Moeller complain or make excuses. He was a class act. He was a good man.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Moeller to be their defensive coordinator in 2001 and he later coached the Bears’ linebackers for two seasons.

Moeller, who was from Lima, Ohio, played linebacker and was a captain for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. He was an assistant for Schembechler at Miami (Ohio) and joined him on his first staff at Michigan in 1969.

Moeller struggled in his first head coaching job, going 6-24-3 from 1977 to 1979 at Illinois. He returned to work for Schembechler and later made a successful transition to coaching offense and became an innovative coordinator.

With a relatively wide-open approach and willingness to throw the ball as head coach, he helped Desmond Howard win the Heisman Trophy in 1991 during a stretch in which the Wolverines set a Big Ten record by winning 19 straight conference games.

“He was one of the giants in modern football history at Michigan,” Brandstatter said.

He is survived by his wife, Ann, their daughters, Susan, Amy and Molly, and their son, Andy, who was a linebacker and captain for the Wolverines and an assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.