By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
To the end we'll fight the sunrise
You're the light inside of me
And I can see the world in your eyes
I've been waiting far too long
For a night like this
Fight The Sunrise
Gareth Emery/Lucy Sanders
BOONE, N.C. — The sunrise came unexpectedly for Jerry Moore on Sunday morning after a 51-year football coaching career.
Following a heartbreaking, 38-37 overtime loss to Illinois State in the second round of the NCAA Division I Football Championships on Saturday afternoon — a defeat that Moore described as unlike any he had ever encountered in his iconic coaching run.
The frenetic crowd went forbodenly quiet as ASU senior kicker Sam Martin lined up for what seemed like a routine extra point that would send the game into a second overtime.
But a slightly high snap and a protection breakdown in the middle of the line resulted in a sudden, game-ending, blocked kick.
"I've never lost a game like that," Moore explained.
Illinois State players literally ran onto the field while the ball was still bouncing around, live behind the line of scrimmage.
Moore looked for a senior to hug and console on the Appalachian State sideline.
"If you were spectators it was a great game to watch," Moore said in his post-game press conference. "If your an Appalachian State Mountaineer it was a tough way to end your season."
None of us in the Mountaineer Room at Kidd Brewer Stadium, not even Moore, knew it was also the last game for this coaching legend.
At one point, Winston-Salem Journal columnist Lennox Rawlings — a legend in his own right — asked the 73-year-old coach about his future?
"I haven’t thought about anything but coming back," Moore said. "I know I’d like to coach next year. I know I’d like to coach one more year. I think at this point in my career I have to take it one year at a time. I don’t want anything except that I want this program back. I’ve still got an energy level that I look forward to recruiting, and a work ethic. I don’t put any less hours in today than I did 15 or 20 years ago, and I think my intensity around players is still there."
Who knows if Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb read this early on Sunday morning, but Cobb summoned Moore to his office for an 8 a.m. meeting.
When it was over, the Mountaineers had a vacancy for a head football coach for the first time in 24 years.
Moore and Cobb broke the news to the stunned football staff and players that afternoon and Moore was soon on his way out of Boone on a prescheduled trip.
Moore was traveling to New York City to introduce one of his former players, Texas Tech defensive lineman Gabe Rivera, who was being honored Tuesday night at the National Football Foundation's annual awards gala at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Rivera was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame this summer.
Word began to leak out around town about 4 p.m. that Moore would not be back to coach another year.
The news was as shocking to most local residents as if the president had been assassinated.
This writer's email account started churning with new messages, while my iPhone was both ringing and dinging with new text alerts.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter began a meltdown and Football Championship Subdivision message boards started raging with speculation.
Welcome to the era of New Media.
The convoluted statements released by the Appalachian Sports Information department at Cobb's request and the nebulous responses by the athletic director — in his eight year at the school — during the press teleconference did little to stem the tide of comments, or answer the flood of questions.
"After 2011, we (Cobb, Moore and ASU Chancellor Dr. Kenneth Peacock) talked about a long-term strategy of the football program,” Cobb said during the conference call Sunday. “We came to the conclusion that 2012 would be his last season."
But it was the next part of Cobb's statement that left most wondering what the rush was to announce this on Sunday?
"After yesterday’s gut-wrenching loss, we felt the need to make the decision and announcement and that it’s time to move forward as quickly as we can with the greatest respect for Coach and (Moore’s wife Margaret) as we can."
The more Cobb talked, the more confusing the footing got, particularly when the AD was asked point-blank if Moore had been fired?
"I really think it’s more accurate is the fact we sat down and analyzed where we were in the long term vision of where we want the program to go and the proper thing for (Moore) to do is go out as a champion," Cobb said. "That’s what we’ve done. It’s never a great time, but there has to be a stopping point."
Sources that included football staff and others with knowledge of discussions with ASU board trustees and other prominent alumni painted a picture that decision-makers at the university were not dissatisfied with the results that Moore's team was producing on the field, but by a continuance of embarrassing off-field incidents and a reluctance by Moore to make desired changes.
"We had a lot of long, deep conversations that frankly I hope stay between (Moore) and I," Cobb said. "And it was the opportunity, and probably for me and especially in time, it’s going to mean a whole lot more the ability (for Moore) to go out a champion, and certainly that was what these kids were able to do."
A win over Furman in the last regular-season game at home for the Mountaineers allowed Moore to win a share of his 10th Southern Conference title and he was carried off the field on the shoulders of his players, ending what had been a tumultuous year behind the scenes.
One point of contention, sources said, was the make up of Moore's final coaching staff.
In one meeting last December, following a season-ending second-round playoff loss to Maine, he was reportedly asked to fire two assistants, his son Chris and offensive line coach Bob McClain.
Sources said Moore responded by saying he would make his own decisions regarding his staff.
Cobb took that decision out of Moore's hands by firing Chris Moore and McClain himself, something that put additional strain on the relationship between athletic director and head coach.
Eventually, Moore was presented with a scenario for ending his storied career by Cobb and Peacock.
With a young, but talented team surrounding him, Moore would be allowed to coach one final season.
This is where a failure to communicate began to surface.
"I think there is a difference of opinion," Cobb said of Moore’s comments from Saturday. "We had several discussions that were involved. At the end of the day, one person wants one thing and one wants another, so we have to agree to disagree."
What Cobb thought was clearly an agreement for one final year apparently wasn't viewed the same way by Moore.
"We came to an agreement, what I thought was an agreement," Cobb explained.
But at the Sunday morning meeting with Cobb, Moore insisted he wanted to coach one more year.
"Coach, we've been down that road before," Cobb said he told Moore.
With Moore at the end of a three-year contract that runs through June. 2013 and pays him $230,000 annually, the university's decision is basically that the popular coach will not have his contract renewed.
Cobb spoke on Sunday of a desire to have Moore fill some other role for the university and sources said that Moore had been offered a fundraising position that would pay him $150,000 some months back.
One close friend of Moore's who had spoken to the coach on Monday night said Moore was in good spirits and was ready to move on with his post-coaching life.
There was another part of Sunday's teleconference that sources said was inaccurately portrayed by Cobb.
Cobb said that the decision for Moore to step down after the 2012 season was not announced, because Moore didn't want the fanfare of a "farewell tour" to distract the team.
"Coach wanted no part of that," Cobb said. "He wanted (the season) to be about the kids and not himself and I agree with him."
But sources said that university officials had tried for months to get Moore to acknowledge and announce that this was his final year.
But Moore apparently held out hope that he could change his mind and convince everyone to give him one more season.
The end of Moore's coaching career isn't all that dissimilar to how Grambling's Eddie Robinson, or Bobbie Bowden of Florida State ended their tenures.
The biggest difference is that the public actually knew when those legends were coaching their final game.
It is always hardest for a legend to realize when it is time to quit fighting the sunrise.blog comments powered by Disqus