Jerry Moore is hoisted by players after Appalachian State's win over Michigan.
East Tennessee State’s fledgling football program might be wise beyond years to consider talking to former Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore.
The 73-year-old Moore was let go at the end of last season despite leading the Mountaineers to at least a share of the Southern Conference title for the seventh time in eight years.
During the Moore era the Mountaineers became the first FCS program to win three straight national titles (2005-07), and they started the ’07 season with a stunning 34-32 upset victory against the fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Appalachian State is preparing to exit the Southern Conference at a time when East Tennessee State has announced its looming return to the league. The Mountaineers are moving up to the FBS level and joining the Sun Belt Conference and ETSU is reviving a football program that hasn’t fielded a team since 2003.
Could Moore switch ships of old rivals passing in the night? Moore said he spoke with ETSU consultant Phillip Fulmer multiple times early in the process, but hasn’t heard anything.
“If they’re not interested in me it won’t work,” Moore said. “I’d love to talk to them. … I can put a staff together and I know the Southern Conference. I still have a high energy level. I’ve always enjoyed recruiting and still have the energy and zeal to do that.”
Appalachian State assistant Dale Jones, a star linebacker on the 1985 Tennessee team that won the SEC and Sugar Bowl, coached 17 years under Moore.
“Coach Moore still can do it,” Jones said Tuesday. “There’s no question in my mind. He’s still got the desire. Shoot, he proved that last year. He knows what it takes to get a program winning at a championship level. To me, he’d be the perfect fit.”
Jones said age should be a factor when considering Moore – a positive factor in terms of wisdom he’s gathered for winning games and molding men.
Although Moore isn’t one of the names that have surfaced on a list that includes Gunter Brewer, Chris Beatty, Kurt Roper, Carl Torbush, Billy Taylor and Lance Leipold, Jones is convinced Moore is the preeminently capable candidate.
Jones said Moore knows how to assemble a coaching staff and roster, including a vibrant walk-on program, to win at the FCS level. Also, his familiarity with the SoCon – right down to the wide variety of offenses – would be beneficial.
San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Daniel Kilgore played for Moore at Appalachian State. He said four of the five captains his senior year were initially walk-ons.
“He knows how to win championships,” Kilgore said, “and he knows how to take young boys and turn them into men.”
Kilgore remembers visiting Appalachian State in the past couple of seasons during San Francisco’s bye week and noticing Moore in lifelong learning mode. During an informal setting in the film room, Moore was asking how the 49ers coaches did certain things.
“And he was sitting there taking notes,” Kilgore said.
Despite Moore’s success, he recalls generally having a fight on his hands with ETSU. The Bucs beat the Mountaineers back-to-back seasons (1996-97) when Moore already had the program rolling.
“I was shocked when East Tennessee State University dropped football,” Moore said. “I thought they were one of the tougher teams in the Southern Conference to beat. We had some knockdown, drag-outs. And then all of the sudden football goes away.”
Moore says ETSU has built-in advantages when compared to Appalachian State, including proximity to two interstates and an airport. After the Mountaineers beat Michigan, they flew back to Tri-Cities Airport on their way back to Boone, N.C.
Moore is confident ETSU has the president and the tools in place to get to the top of the Southern Conference before Moore would want to retire. He understands age probably being a factor, but is certain it shouldn’t be.
“I still would like to coach,” Moore said. “I’d like to coach where there’s an opportunity to have a great program and I think I could there.”
Jones said Moore still has the fire, and it’s apparently been glowing brilliantly since he wasn’t allowed to leave App on his terms after all of the program’s accomplishments.
“There’s a certain amount of competitiveness that drives you,” Moore said. “It hurt when it all happened like it did; there’s no question about it.”
The end of the Moore era at App could help springboard an era elsewhere.
“I can’t name a person who has more fire in him right now after everything,” Kilgore said. “He’s ready to make a statement.”
Kilgore has been to Appalachian State since Moore’s exit. He visited with players, administrators, secretaries and other staffers, and it seemed as if the man who’s become as much a part of the High Country landscape as Grandfather Mountain hadn’t left.
“It was like Jerry Moore was still in your presence,” Kilgore said. “He just has that effect on you.”
Moore indicated a desire to try and bring Jones with him if he landed the ETSU job.
“I’d like to try to get him over there,” Moore said. “He’s a legend in Tennessee.”
Jones has a job, and obviously wouldn’t speak to such a hypothetical. But he said Moore has the energy to get an upstart program up and running at a championship level in the Southern Conference.
“His age never became a factor (with job performance),” Jones said. “I’m biased, but he’s a great man and a great coach.”
Moore and his staff developed a good sense of the type of athlete and young men who could help win SoCon titles. The 49ers’ Kilgore, a Dobyns-Bennett graduate who wasn’t a full-time starter until his senior year, could be the poster boy for what he describes as Moore’s “blue-collar” program.
“We took kids nobody else wanted,” Jones said. “We had 15 kids in the NFL and I can’t think of one that anybody else wanted. Everybody gets caught up in all these numbers instead of the quality of a young man. Hard work … is how you win championships.”
And Moore isn’t ready to quit working.