Oct. 26, 2011
By Bruce Madej
When Bo Schembechler came to Michigan as head coach in 1969, the Wolverines became known for their ferocious line play on both sides of the ball and then, of course, three yards and a cloud of dust.
So, it might come as a surprise to many that when Bo's quarterback, Don Moorhead, graduated from U-M in 1970, he set 24 records at Michigan including total offense (breaking the record set by Michigan All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up Bob Chappuis), most yards gained passing, most passes attempted and most passes completed.
So, how did that happen?
"Honestly, I didn't know what to expect when he (Bo Schembechler) came in (1969 season)," said Moorhead. "They didn't change the offense for me, I can tell you that.
"I think I held one record for running so many plays in one season," added Moorhead. "I was running the option, or throwing a pass on second or third and long. We hardly ever passed on first down."
Moorhead maintains it was a relatively easy task.
"All I had had to do was to run the belly option, the 'iso' option and down the line option. It sure got more sophisticated with the other quarterbacks that came through," said Moorhead. "All you have to do is look at those guys like Ricky (Leach), Steve Smith and let's not forget (Dennis) Franklin.
"The records were nice at the time, but I knew they weren't going to last."
Moorhead never really strayed far from home except for a six-year stint in the Canadian Football League.
The South Haven High School all-star was recruited by Colorado State, Western Michigan, Purdue, Stanford and Michigan State, but U-M assistant coach Hank Fonde really never had a worry that Moorhead was going anywhere else but Ann Arbor.
"It was really Michigan all the way," said Moorhead. "I really didn't get excited about the other schools; it was Michigan all the way."
After his pro career, he found himself back in west Michigan teaching. Now, the 63-year-old former All-Big Ten quarterback is retired from a 30-year teaching profession that included class room duties in history, geography and then physical education for the last 15 years of his career at Paw Paw High School. He and his family (wife Cheryl, and their three daughters -- Kristen, Jennifer and the youngest Tanner) have now made Oshtemo -- just outside of Kalamazoo -- their hometown.
"I was the head varsity coach, head JV coach and recently a head coach at a middle school program with football," said Moorhead. "And I guess I was like the old gym teacher because I also coached track, girls softball and basketball in the middle schools."
And while Paw Paw might have had few athletic stars to emerge from the city besides Detroit Tigers outfield Charlie Maxwell, Moorhead had one player that stands out as his best.
Jason Babin not only came back from a broken leg to play his senior season, he was a first-round NFL draft choice of the Houston Texans in 2004 and is now a defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"There is no doubt the game has really changed since I played," said Moorhead. "In fact, I think it was at our 10-year reunion, we went downstairs at Bo's house and we were watching film of the 1969 Michigan-Ohio State game.
"Bo said 'This is like watching antiques, the game has changed so much you wouldn't believe it.' The game had already changed that fast in such a short period."
Moorhead should understand change too. He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but they wanted him as running back. Moorhead would have none of that, packed his bags and went to the Northwest as quarterback for the British Columbia Lions of the CFL.
"Oh my goodness, now that change was like night and day," said Moorhead. "You have three downs, the field is wider, and you have 12 guys instead of 11, wow.
"I had to change my philosophy because you could have the greatest runners in the world, but you had to put the ball up in the air a lot and we didn't do a lot of that," added Moorhead. "The toughest thing I had to get used to was you have no timeouts in the CFL, so I had to call all my own plays in the huddle. You get up from a big hit standing there in the huddle and your mind goes blank. All you can do is take a delay of game penalty."
He played five years in B.C. and completed his career with one season in Edmonton before returning to Michigan.
Moorhead still stays in touch with his teammates, especially his college roommate, Paul Staroba. The two talk to each other almost daily. They also share a cottage in Hale, Mich.
"He pays for it and I do all the work," said Moorhead. "We have remained great friends."
Even though he knew he was going to Michigan all along, he never thought he would be a great U-M player.
"I did not think I would get to be the player I was," said Moorhead. "I always strived to be the best I can and there were better quarterbacks in the Big Ten and around the country.
"I just outworked them and my success was the result of the hard work."