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Friendswood’s Mullins ends storied career

May 14, 2019

Listening to Gary “Moon” Mullins recount more than a half-century of football memories is somewhat dizzying, thoroughly fascinating and entirely enjoyable.

Fifty years ago, Mullins took the first snaps in a career as a three-year starting quarterback at the University of Houston.

Forty years ago, he was coaching on the UH sideline in the Cotton Bowl watching Joe Montana resurrect Notre Dame from a 34-12 deficit to a 35-34 win in bitterly cold conditions.

Before those two milestone moments, Mullins guided Emory Bellard-coached San Angelo Central to the 1966 state football championship.

Thirty years after that state title, Mullins orchestrated the defense for Grapevine High School, which won state titles in 1996 and 1998.

Enveloping those highlights are numerous other accomplishments, varied treks and family album creations which have marked Mullins’ illustrious career.

A current Friendswood High School football coach, Mullins was feted with a retirement celebration at the school Tuesday, an event which capsulized a lengthy stay in his chosen profession.

If there is one defining instance in his storied football life, Mullins said it was fatherly wisdom.

“When you’re around great coaches like Bellard and (Bill) Yeoman, you can’t help but take quality things from them,” he said. “Those outstanding coaches helped me shape what I do.

“You just take that stuff and be your own coach. My dad always told me - and he taught me a lot of life lessons - that the things you’re strong in, stay in them. One of those was leadership, and I’ve always stuck to it.

“He said never get away from what you’re good at - that’s what put you ahead. You can’t be like somebody else - follow that leadership gift and everything will work around that.”

Mullins said family unity supplied him with the proper direction.

“My dad was named Fagan, but most people knew him as Moon,” Mullins said. “Because of the last name, everybody just attached the Moon part because of the comic strip Moon Mullins.

“I had two older brothers and one younger one, and all of them at one time or another have been called Moon.

“Daddy was always called Moon - unless mother got on to him for something.”

Gary followed closely in their footsteps.

“Dad and both of my brothers were a big influence on me,” he said. “Both of my older brothers were quarterbacks, and I was not one at first. I was a running back and played in the secondary.

“Coleman Nichols, a seventh grade coach, called my dad one day as asked if they could move me to quarterback, and he wasn’t sure about that. He didn’t want that pressure on me, but he relented.

“I stayed at quarterback the rest of the year, and Emory came down to the junior high and said if we stayed together as a group, by the time we went to high school, we would win a state championship. He had that much confidence in what he saw.”

Once Mullins reached high school, Bellard’s projection was realized.

“I think our ’65 team might have been able to beat the ’66 team,” Mullins said. “We lost to Permian that year, and they went on to win state with coach (Gene) Mayfield coaching them.

“The next year, Permian beat us again, but they slipped up in district. We got on a roll and beat Spring Branch with Donnie Wiggington, Carrollton with Bill Montgomery, who played at Arkansas, and we also beat Amarillo (Tascosa), which had Monty Johnson.

“It was a pretty good run.”

Mullins then took his talents to the University of Houston, where he stared on the freshman team, which posted a 5-0 record. The following year, Mullins wisely redshirted, paving the way for his career as the starting UH quarterback in 1969, 1970 and 1971.

“I didn’t start right away,” Mullins said. “Ken Bailey was still there and we had another senior quarterback.

“We played Florida the first game that year, and we got torched by John Reeves (quarterback) and Carlos Alvarez (receiver). The next week, Oklahoma State upset us in Stillwater, and I got in that game a little bit.

“The third game we played Mississippi State, and coach (Yeoman) says you’re going to start.”

That began a prolific career for Mullins, who led Houston to a 9-2 record in 1969, an 8-3 mark in 1970 and a 9-3 record in 1971.

In 1969, Houston won its last nine games and defeated Auburn, 36-7, in the Bluebonnet Bowl.

“We would have made three bowls in a row, but back then they picked the bowls early,” Mullins said. “We were 4-3 at the time, and that’s when they made their decision. We won our last four games.”

In 1971, UH lost to Colorado, 29-17, in the Bluebonnet Bowl.

Mullins was surrounded by great talent at UH in running back Robert Newhouse, tight end Riley Odoms and wide receiver Elmo Wright, each of whom enjoyed NFL careers.

Mullins knew it was his job to pilot the ship.

“My dad always said, if you’re going to be quarterback, then you ought to know what’s going on everywhere on the field,” he said. “That meant with the blockers, the receivers, the backs…everybody.

“I know I drove (Yeoman) crazy. I called timeout a lot when he’d send in a play. I wouldn’t necessarily change it, but I would call time and go to the sideline just to make sure that’s what he wanted to do. He always had the last word.”

Mullins said there was nothing unclear when it came to Yeoman.

“The guy had organization,” he said. “His background was military, and coaches did what they were hired to do. There was a broad paintbrush about where it starts with the coaches.

“He’d say ‘here’s your chunk, and your chunk, and your chunk. Coach these guys up and get them ready.’ Coach Yeoman didn’t go into a lot of detail, but he orchestrated how it all worked.”

Mullins said Houston’s vaunted veer offensive scheme originated as much by accident as anything.

“He and Billy Willingham, the offensive line coach, came up with it as a mistake,” he said. “One day at practice, they ran a base option, and a kid busted an assignment blocking down inside.

“They ran the same base again, and they saw this thing expose itself. Then they saw the defense had to either tackle the fullback or take the quarterback.

“It sort of progressed from there. They came up with a blocking scheme about how they could get the ball to the perimeter, and then get the ball in the hands of Warren McVea or some of the other great backs we had.”

Mullins, later as a coach for UH, recounted one game when Baylor, and in particular, Mike Singletary was destroying UH running backs in the first half.

“At halftime, Billy and coach got together and said we’ve got to cut this zone option loose in the second half,” Mullins said. “That’s the only way we can tie Singletary down or he’s going to kill us.

“It worked, we moved on down the field and won the game.”

Mullins served as UH assistant through the 1978 season, finishing his tenure at UH with the 1979 Cotton Bowl loss to Notre Dame.

“Joe Montana got hypothermia in the first half and he didn’t come out of the locker room until after the third quarter,” he said. “That’s when everything came apart. The only way Notre Dame could win the game is exactly the way it happened.

“There weren’t many fans, and you’d look into the stands and see blankets iced to the seats. People just left them. It was just horribly cold, miserable.”

That game helped established Montana’s legacy.

“You could see then that he was good, but I don’t believe you ever think he would become what he became. The offense in ’Frisco fit him quite well.”

After departing UH, Mullins worked five years at Mississippi State with Bellard and then went to Southwestern Louisiana four two years as offensive coordinator.

“Prior to USL, I found a nice little Mississippi girl and got married,” he said. “We got married - let me check my ring because my sweet wife always wants me to remember - in 1984.

“When we were planning the marriage, I said you pick a date - as long as it’s not in spring training. She said let’s get married on her birthday, which was June 9.

“We spent two years at USL and had our first child, Megan, the second year.”

Mullins worked his way back to Texas and landed at Rosenberg Terry, where he served as an assistant for three years before becoming head coach.

The lengthy stint (1992-2008) at Grapevine ensued before Mullins relocated to Friendswood beginning with the 2009 season.

“My wife had an opportunity to come back here and work at UTMB,” Mullins said. “I said fine, let’s go. I called Steve Van Meter, and long story short, that’s where it is today.

“It’s been a good experience, and you find those wherever you go. The kids are the main drive. You see them grow and come together as a team.”

Todd Dodge, the current head football coach at Austin Westlake, crossed paths many times with Mullins when Dodge was at Southlake Carroll and Mullins was in the Metroplex.

“Moon is one of my all-time favorites,” Dodge said. “This is my 33rd year, and we’ve seen a lot of football.

“Moon is one of absolute fantastic football coaches in the last 40 years in this state. Obviously, he already had a great reputation from his playing days at the University of Houston and San Angelo.

“Moon is one of the most versatile guys I’ve ever seen. At Grapevine, he was the DC, then the OC and later on, the head football coach.”

Dodge said he knew his squad had to be prepared when pitted against his longtime friend.

“When you played a Moon Mullins-coached team, you better strap it up,” Dodge said. “He had a great knack for putting playmakers in the right position on offense and defense.

“I just have the utmost respect for that man. And he always had that great smile on his face.”

Friendswood head coach Robert Koopmann says Mullins’ value can’t be measured.

“There’s not anything Moon hasn’t seen on the football field,” Koopmann said. “From coaching in the SEC to a head football coach in high school, everything he brings to us is going to be missed.

“He sees things that others don’t on both sides of the ball, and the kids just love playing for him.”

Koopmann said one would be hard-pressed to find a better coaching example than Mullins.

“No one outworks Moon,” the FHS head coach said. “He’s the one grabbing cones before anyone else. He’s the one getting stuff ready before anyone. I tell young coaches all the time ‘watch Moon’.

“He certainly doesn’t have to do that at his age, but that’s the way he was brought up. That’s old-school coaching, and that’s the way he is.

“I think people would be shocked to know his age. Moon has a lot of secrets, and I think his age is one of them. But it doesn’t matter. Nobody outworks him.”

Mullins’ next chapter likely requires revisions, but he’s up for the challenge.

“We’re looking at changes in the family,” he said. “My daughter is going to Texas Tech. With an empty nest, we may be making a move to the Fort Worth area. We have two sons with their wives and a grandchild there.

“Who knows, I may move into the private academies and coach. I feel like I have a good five or six years left. I still enjoy it, and I enjoy the kids. I don’t have any issues hindering me from doing it. I’ve got a lot of friends working in private schools so that may be a new venture for me.”