Bobby Ross had a reputation for being a fighter, but his lasting image in the NFL will be that of a quitter.
Ross walked out on the Detroit Lions yesterday, resigning his position as coach, one day after an embarrassing 23-8 home loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Ross was replaced by Lions assistant head coach/linebackers coach Gary Moeller. The 59-year-old Moeller, the former University of Michigan coach and Lima, O., native, received a three-year contract.
Ross, 63, was in the fourth season of a five-year deal worth $7.5 million. He compiled a 27-30 regular-season record and an 0-2 playoff mark.
Ross submitted his resignation in a letter to Lions owner William Clay Ford, even though there still are seven games remaining.
“This is all his own doing,” Ford said in an afternoon news conference at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. “I think he just felt that he just burned himself out physically and mentally, that he didn't have any more to give.
“I think he made the right decision ... I think it was a very wise choice.”
Ross, who replaced Wayne Fontes as coach in December, 1996, delivered what turned out to be his resignation speech after Sunday's game. He called it one of his most embarrassing losses ever, and said he wanted to reflect on some things with his wife Alice. Those comments fueled speculation about Ross's future.
“I am sorry ... for not giving you the championship trophy you so richly deserve,” Ross wrote in his resignation letter to Ford yesterday. “Your strong support was my constant motivation throughout my time here.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our coaches, players and support staff for their assistance. Their efforts were outstanding and most appreciated. Lastly, I would like to thank the many loyal fans of the Lions. Their show of support throughout was constant.”
Moeller said Ross “did get burned out to some degree. He's not hurting mentally in any particular way.”
“Sometimes, the pressures get a little heavy. By that I don't mean that he's not a fighter because he is a fighter. ... Did I see it coming? In some ways, possibly, because you hear a rumor here and there. It was surprising to me in a way but understandable as well.”
Moeller said he doesn't plan to make many changes right now, even though the Lions will enter Sunday's home game against the Atlanta Falcons on a two-game losing streak.
At 5-4, Detroit is tied for second place in the NFC Central with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I think we can grow as a football team and can be better,” Moeller said.
Moeller, a three-year letterman and captain in football at Ohio State, was fired as the Wolverines' coach in 1995, days after his arrest for an alcohol-related incident at a Southfield, Mich., restaurant that resulted in his arrest on charges of assault and battery and disorderly conduct.
Under Moeller, UM had compiled a 44-13-3 record in five seasons, won three Big Ten Conference championships, posted a 4-1 record in New Year's Day games, and won a Big Ten-record 19 consecutive games from 1990-1992.
Moeller also was the head coach at Illinois from 1977-1979.
Since leaving Michigan, Moeller served two seasons as the Cincinnati Bengals' tight ends coach before being hired by Ross to coach Detroit's linebackers in 1997. He was promoted to assistant head coach prior to this season.
“Believe me, I am very grateful to be a head coach again,” Moeller said. “It's something that I've wanted to do. I get my opportunity now, so I want to fly with it.”
Moeller said he's not worried about the Lions' fans, many of whom cheered in the third quarter Sunday when quarterback Charlie Batch was helped off the field with a mild concussion after getting sacked by Miami's Jason Taylor.
“I think we can get the fans behind us,” Moeller said.
Moeller takes over an underachieving Lions' team that has been outscored 115-60 in their four losses, three of which have come at the Silverdome.
Also, Detroit has trailed 23-0 in each of the last two games - both losses - and a combined 40-0 in the first half of those games.
“We have to come together as a team and fight this thing out,” middle linebacker Stephen Boyd said Sunday. “Everybody is disappointed, but we have to stay together. I don't believe this team will start pointing fingers. I think we'll figure this thing out.”
Ross said after Sunday's game that he had prepared the Lions thoroughly, had challenged them, and had expected a better effort against the AFC East-leading Dolphins than the one turned in by his team.
“I don't feel betrayed,” he said. “I feel like I've failed. I've let down. I didn't get it done.”
And with that, Ross was gone. For good.