Fred Jackson will never forget to enlist Chris Howard.
Howard was a top candidate for the class of 1994 and reduced his high schools to three: Michigan, Notre Dame, and Texas. His family welcomed the coaching staff at all three schools to deliver the final pitches before he made his decision, last saying was Jackson, Wolverine quarterback coach at the time, and head coach Gary Mueller.
They left Howard’s home in Louisiana with commitment.
Jackson, who returned to the Michigan staff as an analyst this spring, told MLive on Tuesday. “(Gary) showed parents something these other coaches haven’t done.
“I will always remember him being able to finish his job as an employee. You go home with Gary Mueller, and you, Ohio State, Notre Dame and the kid, and Gary Muller might be about to close and get him. He was a great recruiter. The kids loved him. He had a way about him. I don’t know exactly. The way he described it, but the kids really liked it.”
Howard led Michigan in the rush during the 1997 Wolverines National Championship season, and although Mueller, who died Monday at the age of 81, is no longer with the program, he helped lay the foundation for that 12-0 campaign.
(Michigan split the title with Nebraska, which finished 13-0 and won the coaches poll while the Wolverines won in the Associated Press poll.)
Overall, Mueller, who was inducted into the Lima Senior Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018, spent 23 years in the Michigan football program, including five as head coach from 1990-1994. He finished with 44-13-3 and three major titles.
“When you think of the 97 team, his hand in that 97 National Championship was pretty heavy because my entire class, the class that came in 1994, was completely recruited by Mo, a former Michigan and New Michigan offensive lineman,” said radio football analyst Jon Jansen. to MLive.” The class that was coming in ’95 had been largely recruited by Mo. So you look at this team 97 with the seniors and the juniors of the fifth year, Brian Grace, Glenn Steele, Rob Sweet, Ben Huff, Zach Adamy, those were Mo’s guys. Up in my class, we had Mark Campbell and Jeram Thoman. There were just some huge components to this team that were put in place by Gary Mueller.”
Like Jackson, Janssen praised Mueller’s hiring prowess. Jansen said Lloyd Carr, who was the head coach of the 1997 team, was an assistant under Muller and formed a dynamic duo in the recruiting track.
“It was fantastic,” Jansen said of Mueller. “I remember him sitting in my living room with Coach Carr and my mom making apple pie. They had dinner with us and I couldn’t believe the head coach of the Michigan soccer team you see in the Rose Bulls screaming and yelling at the players, watching TV, that was a big part of my impression of what those were like Men.
“Then through the hiring process, I got a chance to meet them. I just remember how easy and comfortable it was to have a conversation with Mo. There was respect. He could go after you, but every time I talked to him, it was easy. He had this presence about him that made people of comforted around him.”
Mueller was an effective recruiter, but his connections to Ohio also helped him extract some of the state’s best talent, most notably Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. Mueller was born in Lima, Ohio and played in Ohio under Woody Hayes.
“The Ohio pipeline has slowed if not stopped after Gary Mueller because 26-year-old Bo (Schembechler) and Mueller, that’s what they knew,” author and Michigan athletics historian John Bacon told MLive. “Both of them grew up in Ohio, and know Ohio high school coaches. It’s undeniable that Ohio State football is better than Michigan State, you get Woodson, you get Desmond Howard and countless others to go north. And that’s what Mueller did.”
What Jackson will remember most about Mueller is his footballing acumen. Jackson has more than 30 years of college-level coaching experience, including stops in Toledo, Wisconsin, the Navy, Purdue, and Vanderbilt. Defensive Coordinator, Offensive Coordinator and Center Coach under Schimbichler, Muller said he was the most prominent coach he has been associated with.
“He was a great motivator and a great innovator,” Jackson said. “Going back to the early ’90s, we were one of the few teams that stood on the line and called plays without crowding and we did it with different symbols that allowed our attack to be very successful. It was all because of Gary Muller. When you think of Mo, I think of being in the boardroom. With him. He was very clever. He was an attacking guy and he would put on a play that he thought would be a great offensive play. Then he just crosses his mind and stops him. He was very clever on both sides of the ball.”
Mueller resigned as Michigan coach in May 1995 after an alcohol-related incident at a Southfield restaurant and went on to coach nine seasons in the NFL. Jansen said that although his tenure in Michigan ended abruptly, it would not taint his legacy.
“You always think of football coaches as terrible,” Jansen said. “He had that deep voice where he could kind of growl at you a little bit, but he was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. He really cared about your graduation and how you were going on campus. He’d ask you about your relationships, whether it’s your boyfriend or girlfriend or your parents. He was a really football coach, but he was trying to get good guys out on this program.”