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In Lincoln this week to share his spiritual testimony at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ annual banquet, Jerry Moore was also more than willing to provide a personal football analysis before heading back to North Carolina.
“I watched the film of Nebraska’s win over Clemson in the Gator Bowl, and I was very impressed,” Moore said, adding that Husker coaches were kind enough to let him watch film of Saturday’s Red-White Game.
Moore became so immersed in watching Nebraska’s spring game film that he decided to skip lunch because “play after play after play” one thought kept creeping into his mind.
“It was the way they were all running on defense – that’s what impressed me more than anything else,” Moore said. “If I were a betting man, I would say Nebraska is fixing to be really good on defense next season.”
And what does really good mean?
“Really, really good,” Moore answered in his native Texas drawl. “You can just see it on film. Even though everything was pretty straight-up and vanilla, you can tell by the way a team runs and pursues. These guys just have that air and that confidence about them. I don’t think it’s going to be easy for other teams to move the ball on ‘em . . . that’s what I think.”
What Moore thinks is meaningful. He is, after all, the coach whose Appalachian State teams won three straight NCAA Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national titles in 2005-06-07 and will be heavily favored to win a fourth national title in five years this fall.
Stunner in Ann Arbor Became an SI Cover
He’s also the coach whose team made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2007 for pulling off one of the greatest upsets in college football history – a 34-32 stunner at Michigan.
The Wolverines went into that game ranked fifth, and few in the Big House knew where Appalachian State even was. By the time the Mountaineers blocked a field goal in the waning seconds, 110,000 fans were almost forced to ask each other important questions as they left the stadium – “Who are these guys, and where are they from?”
“They” are a physical, motivated, well-coached football team, and they are from the back roads and high country of beautiful Boone, N.C.
Next question: “How’d Appalachian State get so good, so fast?”
Answer: Taking the blueprints out of a red book with an N on the cover and honing the philosophy and the fundamentals repeatedly over the last 20 years.
And just what can a Division 1 FCS team in the mountains pull from a power on the Great Plains?
“Everything,” Moore said, “starting with the walk-on program. It requires an awful lot of extra work for a staff and a program, but it’s certainly paid off for us.”
Let him count the ways:
· 23 of his 60-player travel roster were walk-ons on his first national championship team.
· 19 walk-ons traveled on his second 60-man national championship team.
· 24 walk-ons were part of his 65-man third national championship team.
Here’s the headline. Kevin Richardson, a 5-9, 190-pound walk-on running back who rushed for 4,804 yards and 67 touchdowns, was the consensus MVP of two of those national championship games.
“Walk-ons work so hard, and they care so much,” Moore said. “I learned that from Coach (Tom) Osborne, and I’ve tried to pattern what we do at Appalachian State after what Nebraska’s done better than anyone in college football history – welcome, develop, reward and play walk-ons who earn the right to be on the field.”
Walk-ons often set the tone in practice and become the glue that holds a team together. “Walk-ons help everyone will themselves to be better,” Moore said. “We have 120 players who are staying on campus this summer to prepare for next fall. Sixty-three are scholarship players, and 57 are walk-ons. Every player on our squad will be working hard this summer for two reasons – 1) to get better as an individual and 2) to get better – and closer – as a team.”
Chemistry and Camaraderie: Traits of a Champion
Moore senses the same chemistry, camaraderie and shared purpose developing at Nebraska.
“Bo Pelini and his entire staff know what it takes to be a champion,” Moore said. “They know that it’s all about what players are willing to give up. I know this – Nebraska is focused on the process, and their coaches and players are dedicated to getting better every single day.”
A feature presenter at Nebraska’s 2008 coaching clinic, Moore believes there’s an incredibly strong relationship that’s constantly reinforced between a passionate second-year head football coach and the driven second-year athletic director who hired him.
“I don’t know Bo like I know Tom,” Moore said, “but it’s obvious to me that neither one of them care who’s leading the parade – they just want to be in it.”
Moore is among those who see Pelini as a hybrid of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. “I didn’t know Coach Devaney well, but Bo appears to have the same kind of fire Bob was known for,” Moore said. “Plus, he has Tom’s ability to take something complex, simplify it and teach it.”
More importantly, Pelini and his staff exemplify the values Osborne lives by.
“Tom came to Boone three weeks ago to speak to our banquet in North Carolina,” Moore pointed out. “You should have been there to see our players listen to what he had to say. He talked about what he believes in most – character – and our kids were sitting on the edge of their chairs to hear every single word that man said. I’ve been trying to communicate that same message for 20 years, but they never listened to me like they listened to Coach Osborne. He’s everything that a coach ought to stand for and everything a man ought to be.”
FCA Convention Triggered a Strong Friendship
Moore first met Osborne at an FCA Convention in Estes Park, Colo., when he was an assistant coach at SMU for Hayden Fry and Osborne was Devaney’s offensive coordinator at Nebraska.
Devaney had handpicked Osborne to succeed him after the 1971 season and had asked Osborne to keep his coaching staff intact.
Osborne, therefore, knew there would be just one opening – the spot he would vacate to become head coach. In his usual, straightforward style, Osborne asked Moore to fill that anticipated opening before Nebraska dismantled Alabama, 38-6, in the Orange Bowl.
Moore had received Fry’s blessing to go to Nebraska and work for Osborne, and he had cleaned out his office and put the boxes in his garage, so they were ready to be shipped.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Lincoln.
Devaney’s confidants convinced him to stay one more year, so he could win a third consecutive national championship. When Devaney told his designated successor that he’d decided to try for a rare three-peat, Osborne quickly called Moore to see if he’d talked to Fry yet.
Informed that the conversation had occurred, Osborne apologized to Moore and reassured him that the opening would still be there in his first year as head coach. The only difference was that first year would now be 1973, not 1972.
“Can you get your job back for one more year?” Osborne asked Moore.
“You have to remember that I held Coach Fry in the highest regard,” Moore said. “He was so gracious to understand why this was going to be a good move for me, but now, I was going in to ask him if we could wait a year for it all to transpire. I was scared to death. I thought I was fixing to be unemployed.”
Once, Twice a Gracious Head Football Coach
Fry listened to Moore’s candid account and gave him an immediate answer. “Get your stuff and bring it back to your office,” Fry told Moore. “We have work to do.”
After spending six years under Osborne, Moore became head coach at North Texas in 1979. Two seasons later, he became Texas Tech’s head coach for five non-winning seasons.
That was followed by three seasons in a high-paying, non-coaching job that made Moore yearn to get back into the only profession he truly loved. He decided to call the two coaches he trusted most – Osborne and Arkansas’ Ken Hatfield – for advice. Hatfield hired Moore, who spent one year as a Razorback assistant in 1988 before the Appalachian State head coaching job became the answer to Jerry Moore’s prayers in 1989.
Moore has poured his heart and soul into making Appalachian State a football power that averages nearly 30,000 fans a game in a stadium that has only 22,000 permanent seats. The Mountaineers also have a new $50 million athletic complex and practice in a new indoor facility. Moore says the local bookstore even sells $2 million a year in school-related gear and memorabilia.
No wonder Moore has become a household name in North Carolina and such a popular figure at Ohio State and Penn State – two Michigan rivals which combined to buy 48,000 T-shirts imprinted with the 34-32 score and the date that a little-known school in the Blue Ridge mountains caused the Big House to crumble in front of a nation’s flabbergasted eyes.
With an enrollment of 15,000 students, Appalachian State has become so popular that the school’s administration was forced last year to turn down 17,000 student applicants who wanted to live, study, laugh and be happy in Boone, but couldn’t be accommodated.
In large part, Jerry Moore is responsible for that resurgence – the same force he sees re-emerging at one of college football’s foremost powers.
Nebraska will be back, he said, maybe even in a big way . . . and probably sooner than most people are thinking.
“With Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini, Nebraska has leadership, and they have confidence,” Moore said. “You can see it in the film. You can even feel it in the air.”