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Beyond The U: Winston Moss

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A Heart & Soul Winner, from Linebacker to Coach

AFC-NFC Pro Bowl
Winston Moss coaches Team Irvin, 2016 NFL Pro Bowl
Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Legend of The U

Winston Moss has always been a winner, and a heart & soul player on whatever football team was lucky to have him on the roster. These characteristics have led him to continued success from high school to college to the pros. A champion at The U and a champion in the NFL, Winston Moss is one of the University of Miami’s most underrated legends.

OLB Winston Moss (99) making a tackle vs UF
St. Petersburgh Times

Winston Moss grew up in South Miami, playing football with his four brothers in the street. He became an All-State linebacker at Miami Southridge High School under famed coach (and future Cane Assistant Coach) Don Soldinger. In his senior season of 1982, Moss helped lead the team to a 10-1 record and the state championship game. He was also the state champion in the shot put that year.

Moss was one of the most recruited prep linebackers in the nation. He signed with Coach Howard Schnellenberger and his hometown Miami Hurricanes. During his freshman year, he was one of only a few first-year players to contribute during Miami’s national championship run that season. His five tackle game versus FSU while playing defensive end was key in helping the Canes to a needed victory on the road to the title game. Moss played solid D as Miami beat Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, winning their first national championship.

Under new Coach Jimmy Johnson the following season, he became a starter for good and rotated between defensive end and linebacker. During his junior year he moved into the strong side LB spot and had 75 tackles. Moss stayed at that position in 1986 for his senior year, as part of the fearsome Hurricane defense that terrorized opponents during that undefeated season. While other players showboated or taunted, Moss went quietly about his business accumulating 87 tackles. He was named MVP of Miami's homecoming game win over Tulsa with 9 tackles. Led by Heisman Trophy winner QB Vinny Testaverde and the D, the Canes went on to play for the championship but lost to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Winston Moss finished his Miami Hurricane career as a 4 year letterman with 248 tackles, 10 tackles for losses, 2 sacks, and 3 fumble recoveries. On a team filled with star players, he was considered the heart and soul. But he wasn’t done playing football yet - he was just moving on Beyond The U.

Pass the Bucs

Winston Moss
Moss in the old-school Tampa uniform.

Moss was drafted in the second round of the 1987 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fun 1987 draft facts: Tampa 1st round pick, #1 overall, was fellow Cane Vinny Testaverde. Tampa’s 12th round pick was a quarterback from Alabama named Mike Shula.

In the late 1980s, the Buccaneers were, to put it mildly, terrible at football. An inept Tampa coaching staff played Moss out of position as a pass-rushing defensive end. He managed to accumulate 10 ½ sacks and 1 interception over the four seasons from 1987 to 1990. The Bucs put up won-loss records that were far from inspiring - 4-11, 5-11, 5-11 and 6-10. The losing and mismanagement of his skills took a painful toll on Moss. "I couldn't take it there anymore after my fourth season, so I asked my agent to get me traded," Moss said.

Before the 1981 season, the Bucs obliged and sent Moss to the Los Angeles Raiders. "I didn't believe it when my agent called and said that I had been traded," Moss said. "I had to call Tampa Bay's office to confirm it before I allowed myself to celebrate."

Welcome to L.A.

Raiders V Vikings
Moss (#99) helps crush a Viking ball carrier

In Los Angeles, Moss found a team that needed his particular set of skills, and was wise enough to use him properly. Head Coach Art Shell was excited to get his man. "We felt he could run and cover backs out of the backfield. So when the opportunity came to go get him, we did.”

Moss started every game for the Raiders in his first season and finished third on the team in tackles with 80, while adding 3 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries. The Raiders made the playoffs but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round. The next season, firmly entrenched as a starter, Moss finished second on the team with 90 tackles, and added in 2 sacks.

Moss was named a Defensive Captain going into the 1993 season and became the leader of a young linebacker corps. He posted 102 tackles and left no doubt that he was a key cog in the defense. The Raiders again reached the playoffs, this time losing in the Divisional round to the Buffalo Bills. The 1994 season ended with the Raiders out of the playoffs, and Moss contributing 74 tackles and 2 sacks along with valuable stability to the LB group.

Over four seasons in Los Angeles, Moss started every game but one. With the Raiders preparing to move back to Oakland in 1995, he exercised a buyout option in his contract and became a free agent.

Eye of The ‘Hawks

Winston Moss Seahawks
Moss stalks a Charger running back

Moss signed a three-year, $4.225-million deal to join the Seattle Seahawks to play under new Head Coach, and former Miami Hurricane Coach, Dennis Erickson. Moss slid into the starting line-up for the next three seasons and turned in his usual consistent performances. The Seahawks under Erickson from 1995-1998 were mediocre, with records of 8-8, 7-9, and 8-8; and failed to make the playoffs.

Moss totalled 190 solo tackles and 3 sacks over his time in Seattle. He was a 3-time Defensive Captain. He received the 1996 NFL Players Association Unsung Hero Award and the 1997 Steve Largent Award; given by the Seattle Seahawks annually to the team contributor best exemplifying the spirit, dedication, and integrity of former Seahawk wide receiver Steve Largent.

In 1997, after 11 seasons in the NFL, Winston Moss decided to hang up his cleats at age 32. For his career, Moss recorded 768 tackles, 20½ sacks, six INTs and a fumble recovery for a TD. He played in 155 games and started 146.

Coach ‘Em Up

Erickson, smartly recognizing Moss’ football knowledge and leadership ability, added him to the coaching staff for the 1998 season as a Defensive-Quality Control assistant. The following season Mike Holmgren took over as the Seattle coach and Moss stayed on the staff, making a valuable connection that would help him later in his career.

New Orleans Saints 2005 Headshots
Moss as LB Coach for the New Orleans Saints

In 2000, Moss moved his coaching career to New Orleans. He was again hired as a Defensive Assistant/Quality Control for the Saints. After one season, Moss was promoted to Linebacker Coach to replace the departed John Bunting. Moss spent a total of 6 seasons coaching LB’s in The Big Easy under Head Coach Jim Haslett.

When Haslett and his staff were let go following the 2005 season, Moss was hired by Mike Holmgren protege Mike McCarthy to become the new Linebackers Coach for the Green Bay Packers. McCarthy had also been the Offensive Coordinator with the Saints during Moss’s tenure, and was impressed by his leadership of the defense - so much so that Moss was given the additional title and responsibilities of Assistant Head Coach in 2007. In 2015 Moss received a promotion to Associate Head Coach - a true #2 position behind McCarthy.

Moss has been an invaluable member of the Green Bay staff. In a testament to his coaching abilities, the Packers rank No. 1 in the NFL in interceptions (206), No. 4 in total takeaways (285), No. 1 in opponent passer rating (79.7) and No. 7 in points allowed per game (21.2) since Moss was named Assistant Head Coach. He has been instrumental in the development of star Packer linebackers A.J. Hawk, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, and Clay Matthews, to name a few.

Green Bay Packers 2011 Headshots
Packers Associate Head Coach/Linebackers Winston Moss
Photo by NFL via Getty Images

When asked about his coaching philosophy, Moss said:

"I think there's an experience factor. I think I keep it very, very simple. I'm very demanding. I'm very consistent. I'm very fair. The main thing that I focus on is identifying what each and every single person goes about their skill-set and goes about their way differently...Obviously, once I have that one-on-one relationship with them to where on a day-to-basis that I can focus on them, then I will be able to grow with them and find out. It's all going to be a relationship in which it's going to be based upon trusting one another and getting to know one another. From there, we would anticipate everything working out very well."

Moss was part of the coaching staff as Green Bay beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011, by a score of 31-25. The Packers D recovered 3 turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown. Moss added a Super Bowl ring to his National Championship ring and joined fellow Canes legends like Michael Irvin in that exclusive club.

Moss remains with Green Bay today, preparing his team for the 2017 NFL season. His name has frequently come up in recent years in connection with both Defensive Coordinator and Head Coach opportunities with other teams. Among the rumored teams were the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, and his alma mater Miami Hurricanes (as a potential Head Coach candidate post-Al Golden). Much like fellow Cane teammate and Packers personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, Moss has remained with Green Bay where he continues to build his reputation for excellence.

U Family

Moss received a Head Coaching opportunity with a Hurricane twist in 2016, when he replaced an ill Mike McCarthy at the NFL Pro Bowl. That year the Pro Bowl format was changed to a fantasy draft, and Moss found himself coaching Team Irvin, selected by former Miami Hurricane and Dallas Cowboy Hall of Fame WR Michael Irvin. Moss led his squad to a decisive 49-27 win on a sunny day in Honolulu over the team led by Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice.

Moss and Irvin rep The U, 2016 NFL Pro Bowl
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Winston Moss was inducted in The University of Miami Sports Hall Of Fame in 2015. A champion in college and the pros, with a 30 year NFL career as a player and coach, Winston Moss continues to grow his legend of heart, soul, and excellence far Beyond the U.