Nic Cardwell’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
It was 2002, and Cardwell, then a senior at Robert B. Glenn (N.C.) High School, and his father were on a football recruiting trip to nearby Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. After a short wait in the lobby of the on-campus inn, a team representative—an “old guy,” as Nic remembers—greeted the Cardwells and sat down to chat with them.
Thirty minutes passed, and Cardwell’s mind drifted. Finally, the older gentleman got up and said, “OK, let’s go eat.” Cardwell quickly snapped to attention. Perplexed, he blurted, “Wait a second! I haven’t met the head coach yet.”
Jerry Moore, ASU’s longtime head coach, smiled. “You just did.” Cardwell, now a senior tight end for the Mountaineers, laughs at the memory.
“He didn’t get mad about it,” Cardwell said. “I had no idea I was sitting there talking to the head coach the whole time. He’s just a humble guy.”
Now, there’s an understatement.
Saying Moore is humble is like saying Boone and the surrounding central Appalachian area is a quaint little nature spot. This is a man who has reached the heights of his profession. But walk a country mile with Moore, and it’s doubtful you’d hear even a word about what he has achieved. In his Texas-bred twang, he’d regale you with plenty of stories of people he’s met and places he’s been—good ol’ Southern boys have a way of doing that. And at some point, he’d probably share Jesus with you, too.
But at the end of your trip, you’d part company completely unaware that you just met the two-time reigning NCAA Division IAA national championship coach and the architect of possibly the
greatest upset in the history of college football.
| "His legacy is not wins and losses and national championships... It's what a different he makes in kids' lives." - David Daly|
“I can tell you all I know in five minutes.”
It’s vintage Jerry Moore, this start to a recent phone conversation. When he is the subject, the 68-year-old coach will self-deprecate. But ask him about his faith, and it’s best to get comfortable. His is not a one-night-I-answered-the-altar-call testimony, but rather a long, winding spiritual journey through life’s deserts and oases, with his wife, Margaret, riding shotgun most of the way. It’s a trek through places like Atlanta, Fayetteville (Ark.), Lincoln (Neb.) and enough towns in the Lone Star State to give a cattle herder pause.
You’ll hear about his religious upbringing in Bonham, Texas, and how he “barely drank a Coke” in order to stay out of trouble and play sports. You’ll hear about his days as a wide receiver at Baylor (1958-60) and a failed tryout with the Dallas Cowboys. You’ll hear about his coaching start in 1961, the zigzagging climb up the ranks (five different schools from 1965 to 1988) and faith-testing periods like 1985, when he got fired from Texas Tech and the family lived on Margaret’s teacher’s salary for a time. And you’ll hear plenty about FCA—the heady days of a fledgling sports ministry and life-changing conferences, like the one in Nacogdoches, Texas, in 1967 where he got saved.
Ultimately, it’s a story about how God eventually replaced football in a football junkie’s heart. But in a half-century’s worth of recollection, you’ll never hear a boast about his personal triumphs.
“His legacy is not wins and losses and national championships,” said David Daly, FCA’s area director for Northwest North Carolina. “It’s what a difference he makes in kids’ lives.”
Still, the personal achievements have been sublime. Unless you’ve been marooned on an island the last three months, you know what happened on Sept. 1—the day the Big House felt small. Moore’s Mountaineers sauntered into the University of Michigan’s famed 107,501-seat stadium—the largest temple of college football worship in the country—and stunned the sports world with a 34-32 win over the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 5 at the time.
It was an upset for the ages. Not since the Associated Press expanded its rankings to 25 teams in 1989 had a ranked Division I-A (now known as the Bowl Subdivision) school lost to a Division I-AA (Championship Subdivision) challenger. The upset produced, among other things, front-cover treatment in Sports Illustrated and a decision by the AP to expand its poll to include Division I-AA schools.
“That Saturday in Ann Arbor,” senior quarterback Trey Elder said, “we might have been the only 60 to 70 people in the country who believed we could do it, but we did.”
For Moore, it was simply another significant notch in his already impressive belt.
Entering this season, his 18-year record at ASU was 154-68, the best coaching mark in Southern Conference history, with a career record of 181-116-2 in 25 years. Last year, the Mountaineers became only the third program in the 29-year history of the Division I-AA national championship to win consecutive titles, giving Moore his second straight National Coach of the Year
Yet, there is not a hint of pretense, arrogance or superiority in him—just a folksy, aw-shucks charm. This is a man who says, “Okey-doke.” And when he, invoking Lou Gehrig, claims that he is “the luckiest guy who ever lived on this earth because I’ve had great support,” you believe him.
“Everything that happens here trickles down from him,” Cardwell said. “But he’s humble. He knows how to deflect [praise]. If we had a head coach who didn’t know how to handle praise, I don’t know where we’d be. But he keeps a new, fresh attitude of: keep working hard.”
|“They showed Nic Cardwell in the middle of that team on that field, eyes closed, praying like you’d never believe...That's why Jerry's here." - Margaret Moore|
Margaret Moore sounds almost apologetic. She is sharing how her husband wakes up between 4:00 and 4:30 every morning to meet with God. In the quiet, pre-dawn darkness, he prays Proverbs before arriving at the office around 5:30. But, Margaret concedes, there is an exception: “He does sleep in on Fridays ’til 6.”
The words of Scripture breathe life into Moore’s earthly efforts.
“As you read through those, it just keeps coming up—God’s faithfulness and God’s timing, being patient,” he said. “Just yesterday, I read that I can make all the plans I want, but God is the one who finalizes plans. I know that.”
Moore plans plenty, but in a good way. Forty years after he sponsored his first Monday night FCA Huddle at Southern Methodist (his first college coaching stop), he continues to advance the Gospel on campus. He frequently invites Christian speakers to come to ASU, pays the annual Huddle fee himself and hands out copies of Psalms and Proverbs to his players. He also speaks at many FCA events throughout the Southeast.
He even offered to personally provide Sharing the Victory with some duplicate photos of the post-game prayer at Michigan. Imagine that: the reigning national coach of the year offering to make a Kinko’s run for the media.
“Anytime he can fit in sharing his faith or speaking for FCA, Coach Moore is going to do it,” Daly said.
Moore’s soul is truly ignited when coaching touches a personal level. Of course he wants to win. But he knows that fame is fleeting. His biggest coaching joy goes much deeper.
“I enjoy watching guys achieve things when no one else gave them a chance to do it,” he said. “I don’t think the national championships or beating Michigan is the highest achievement. People might think that, but I don’t see it like that. I like seeing the improvements we’ve made.”
Boone is perfect for Moore. After so much bouncing around early in his career, he feels at home in this rural paradise in the Blue Ridge Mountains. No, it’s not Happy Valley, Gainesville or other renowned college football meccas, but he hasn’t cared about chasing prestige for a long time. With strong family and church bonds locally—and, of course, the Mountaineers—his roots run deep in the High Country.
“We’ve got this little main street—King Street—and that’s it,” he said. “It’s just really a small mountain town. But you go into any store and people can’t stop talking about football. And that was before Michigan.”
Moore will likely end his career in Boone, staying on the sideline “as long as my staff and I think I’m effective and as long as I think it’s fun.”
When all is said and done, Moore’s legacy at ASU won’t simply be about big, shiny objects locked away in trophy cases. Those fade and collect dust. Rather, it will be about something much more lasting and powerful. His imprint perhaps is best described by a moment caught on TV after the Michigan game, when several dozen ASU players gathered at the large “M” at midfield.
It is an image etched into Margaret Moore’s mind.
“They showed Nic Cardwell in the middle of that team on that field, eyes closed, praying like you’d never believe,” she recalled. “That’s why Jerry’s here. That’s what he told God. That’s what Jerry looks at. Sure, he wanted to win. He wanted to win big-time. But he wanted those kids to give God the glory.”
Photos courtesy of Appalacian State University
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.