After hearing about the upcoming release of Dick Brown’s book King of the Mountain: the Jerry Moore Story, I knew it was one I had to read. Obviously, the Appalachian connection makes it appealing. But even more enticing was the chance to read about a truly inspiring man – Jerry Moore. Author Dick Brown was gracious enough to send me a copy to review and I can say without reservation that it’s a must-read.
Whether you’re an Appalachian fan or just a fan of college football in general, you have to appreciate the story of Jerry Moore. The guy just loves to coach football. Even after helping to engineer the greatest upset in college football history, the only thing he wanted to talk about on ESPN the next day was getting ready for Lenoir-Rhyne. As an App fan and alum, you can’t ask for anything more from a coach than a clean program and a championship tradition. Because of his humble nature, the recent championships have brought so much attention to the school and the players, but (in my opinion) not enough to the man himself. Brown’s book takes a personal look at the man who Appalachian owes a huge debt of gratitude.
Despite reaching the highest level of success as an offensive coordinator at Nebraska, Moore reached new depths when his stint as a head coach at Texas Tech ended with him getting fired due to an impatient fan base. Moore actually quit coaching and considered giving it up for good. After a brief job in the business world, the itch returned to the Texan and it wasn’t long before he ended up at Appalachian State. Brown does a great job of giving you a glimpse into the emotions of Moore as he dealt with the ups and downs of the coaching profession.
One of the recurring themes in the book (and Jerry Moore’s life) is his ability to face a challenge and find success. Whether it was finishing with a 9-3 record in his first year at Appalachian after seeing 52 players quit or leave before the start of the season or overcoming a 4-7 year before going undefeated in the regular season two years later in 1995 or silencing the naysayers who said he was too old in 2004 to win the school’s first national championship, Moore’s faith has always carried him through tough times. His wife Margaret says in the book that Andy Matthews, one of the team trainers, once told her that Moore always coached better when his back was against the wall.
Later in 2005, Andy was sitting behind us at the semifinal game against Furman. I turned and said “Coach’s back is against the wall.” He smiled back, nodded his head and replied, “Yep.” We beat Furman and went on to win our first national championship.
Brown takes you through each season of Moore’s career at Appalachian, paying special attention to specific years such as the undefeated regular season and the championship years. He even dedicates a chapter to the exciting series of games between Furman and App State in the early 2000s. The Furman rivalry has always been my favorite, more so than even Western Carolina. Rushing the field after the Mountaineer Miracle will always be my favorite Appalachian memory. Reliving some of the greatest moments in Appalachian football history through Brown’s word was a special treat.
I really enjoyed reading Brown’s book and hearing the story about Moore’s career and his struggles to find the best place for him as a head coach. Throughout the book, it is very evident that Brown has immense respect for Moore and his approach to coaching and life in general.
I had the opportunity to talk with Brown about his experience writing the book.
GFWApps: What did you enjoy most about your time with Coach Moore?
Dick Brown: What I enjoyed most about our time was how relaxed and open he was about his life. He didn’t leave out anything and loved to talk about his youth in Texas. This is what allowed the story to grow from a book about his outstanding coaching record and winning teams at ASU, to a very poignant biographical story about his life.
I really enjoyed it when we could just sit in his office and talk about his life. When we were talking with the recorder off, he always seemed to come out with an interesting, unsolicited story that didn’t come up during my interview questions. We were just reminiscing when I got a lot of really good material. Those times were pretty rare after the first championship. The demand on his time by the big media reporters grew and grew after each championship. The Michigan win made it almost impossible to catch him for more than a few minutes at a time. In spite of that, he always made an effort to find time for my questions. That’s just the kind of guy he is, he bends over backward to accommodate all requests for his time. For me, that usually was around 5:30 a.m. It was tough, as I’m not an early morning person, but I knew it was the only way I could have his full attention for 30 to 45 minutes and sometimes longer. It was definitely worth it.
GFWA: What surprised you most about him?
DB: I think the most surprising thing was that he was willing to do the book at all. He had a lot on his plate, but he drove to Wilkesboro for our initial meeting and spent over an hour just talking. Even after ASU had won their first championship, he was still the same person, very laid back and easy to talk to. That never changed throughout the three-year process. If he was anywhere near Winston-Salem, he would make time to talk to me. That was pretty impressive for a busy head coach that just happened to be the winningest head coach in the Southern Conference. For much of the first year, he would always say that if I didn’t want to do this, it was okay, his feelings wouldn’t be hurt. I think after two seasons, he knew I was serious about writing the book.
GFWA: What do you think is the key to his success?
DB: No question, it is his unshakable faith in God. That is the key to his success. He was raised in a Christian home and his high school coach was also his Sunday School teacher, so it was ingrained in him from his early youth. Jerry liked to say, “Coach put the fear of the Lord in us on Sunday and worked the devil out of us on Monday.” He doesn’t go around preaching to anybody, he lives his faith and is always there for his players. His faith just seemed to grow stronger with each curve that life threw his way. Being fired at Texas Tech at middle age after successful runs at SMU and Nebraska shattered his self confidence. As Coach told me, “We just put ourselves in God’s hands.” The same was true when fans were yelling for his scalp after a disappointing season in 2004, and look where he is today. That’s awesome.
Another attribute to his success is that Coach Moore is a serious student of the game and a visionary who is always looking for ways to improve his team. Introducing the no-back spread formation was a gamble he was willing to take, because he felt the Power-I formation he had used for over 15 years had taken the Mountaineers as far as it could. Installing the new formation wasn’t a snap decision. He had been studying other teams using various forms of the spread formation by going to their campuses to watch them work and pick the football brains of coaches who were successful with the formation. After a bumpy introduction of the new offensive formation in 2004, he could have scrapped the idea, but he kept refining it until it took the Mountaineers to three straight national titles.
GFWA: What makes these young college kids so willing and eager to play for him?
DB: The fact that he is still able to relate with his young players so well is one of his strongest personality traits. Players come to ASU because they want to play for Jerry Moore. They know he will give them a chance, just look at the long list of walk-ons that have starred for the Mountaineers. Kevin Richardson comes to mind, but there have been many others over the years.
Coach Moore is able to recruit at many of the same high schools year after year because coaches know him and believe ASU is the best place for their athletes. He is also popular with the parents of the players. More than once when I walked into his office, he would be talking to a player’s mother on the telephone. They don’t worry about their sons when they play for Coach Moore. Ask any of the players and they will tell you that Coach Moore is like having a father away from home. Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t coddle them. He works them hard and is a strict disciplinarian. The team rules apply to everyone as we saw when Justin Woazeah, a four-year starter didn’t make the trip to Chattanooga last year because of some team rule infraction. He is tough, but fair and every player knows where they stand with Coach.
GFWA: What was the most rewarding part about writing this book?
DB: There were many rewards for writing this book. First, I was just lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. It’s just an amazing story and I feel fortunate to have been able to write it. I had started writing the book built around the 2002 Furman game called the Mountaineer Miracle, when ASU intercepted a two-point extra point pass attempt and returned it 82 yards to snatch a victory from sure defeat with only five seconds left on the clock. That was typical of the series with Furman from 2000-2004.
The fact that Coach Moore gave me free run of the field house and to talk to his players and coaches showed what an open book he is. I just enjoyed getting to know him and enjoyed the camraderie with his family and everyone in the athletic department, they are a great group. It was kind of like being an extended member of the family. After three years of following him and his staff around I am going to miss it, especially being down on the sideline to soak up the real drama of the game up close.
GFWA: What do you want readers to take away from this book?
DB: i want readers to discover Jerry Moore the man, not just the winningest coach in Southern Conference history, or the stoic sideline figure and humble coach at post-game interviews, whether the Mountaineers won or lost. I want them to know that he is truly a dedicated Christian that affects everything he does as a husband, father and coach. He travels hundreds of miles, uncompensated, as an inspirational speaker to groups large and small all over North Carolina and neighboring South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Sometimes Margaret wishes he could just say no, but she understands his dedication to what he is doing and how much he enjoys it. She says if she had it all to do over, she wouldn’t change a thing. Their faith has bonded them into a great team and they give God all the credit for their great life together.
While I never had the opportunity to enjoy as much time as Brown did with Coach Moore, I was able to interact with him occasionally when I was a student at Appalachian. As a public relations major at Appalachian State, I also worked as a beat writer for the student newspaper, The Appalachian. I was a sportswriter and was one of the beat writers for football. I’ll never forget how friendly and accommodating Coach Moore was to a young student newspaper reporter such as myself. He always treated me the same as any other reporter.
One day, I had scheduled an interview with him in his office at Owens Field House. Coach Moore was just making his lunch (heating up a can of soup in a microwave) and actually offered me some. He gave me as much time as I needed and answered every question I have. That story might sound trivial, but it really made an impact on me. In today’s world of multi-million dollar paydays and intense pressure for college football coaches, the opportunity to interact with a head coach like that is quite rare. I doubt that Nick Saban or Charlie Weis have the time or willingness to spend an hour over lunch with a student reporter.
Brown’s major book launch will be on the weekend of the first home game against Jacksonville on September 6th. He’ll be at the ASU Bookstore at 10 a.m. and will move over to the stadium around 1 or 2 p.m. at the bookstore’s table in Kidd Brewer. Thanks again to Dick for a great read!