A Great Coaching Legacy Got its Start Here
Joe Moore with the 1959 Richfield Springs football team. He's flanked by co-captains Ed Huxtable, left, and Doug Palmer
The new Richfield Springs football coach in 1959 stirred things up. Not everybody liked it. He pushed his players hard. The young coach was a fanatic about exercise.
"He was relentless to the point you'd almost hate him," recalls John Houghtaling, one of the players. "He was so hard about pushing exercise and conditioning that it even caused some hoopla at a school board meeting."
Those boys 40 years ago were getting a glimpse of the future.
When he died last month at age 71, that football coach, Joe Moore, was celebrated and mourned across the country. Sports Illustrated once called him "the best line coach in college football."
"Joe Moore was one of a kind. He was an old-fashioned coach who loved the game and loved his players," Coach Lou Holtz told the Mercury. Moore was on Holtz's Notre Dame coaching staff from 1988-96.
"The years he was with me we always had a good offensive line.
His former players that went on to the pros would always come back to see him in the summer and want to work on pass protection with him. The country not only lost a great person, but they lost a great coach," Holtz said.
Buffalo Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahue said, "I have never seen someone get more out of the guys he coached than Joe Moore was able to." That rang true to those who saw him up close at that first coaching job 40-plus years ago. But to Houghtaling Moore's legacy went way beyond football.
"The lessons I learned from him were more than about couching, but of course you don't realize it until much later," he said, "It was about self-discipline and sportsmanship and 'pulling it out of your gut' when you didn't think you had any more to give," Houghtaling said.
Of course, football counted too. Moore coached football at RSCS for two years. The second year Richfield Springs tied for the Center State League Championship, the school's first league title in eight years.
'He was tough, very tough," said Ralph Osterhoudt, who was a starting running back on Moore's Richfield teams. "Within two weeks (from the start of practice) we were in shape to play for the rest of the season." Moore, he said, had a way of bringing out the best in individuals - and in teams.
Moore left Richfield to take the head coach job at McDowell High School in the Pittsburgh area. He had nine straight winning seasons there and went 41-4 over the last five years. He went on to Upper St. Clair High School where his coaching caught the attention of Jackie Sherrill.
In 17 years of coaching, he compiled a 119-32-4 record. Before joining the collegiate coaching ranks at Pitt, his high school teams put together a string of 26 consecutive victories.
Moore went on to a distinguished career that included impressive tenures with Sherrill at Pitt (1977-85} and Holtz at Notre Dame (1988-96).
"He had a tremendous ability to relate to kids," Sherrill told the Mercury in an exclusive interview. "He got them to play a lot better than they thought they could."
Sherrill called Moore "probably the best judge of talent I've ever seen."
He recalled a time when Moore quietly challenged his (Sherrill's) hard and fast rule about not even bothering to consider offensive line prospects under 6-4. Moore wanted to show him a prospect, but Sherrill wouldn't get out of the car. "He's not 6-4," Sherrill said of the player who was barely 6-1. "Yes he is," Moore insisted.
Sherrill gave, watched - and recruited - the player, who grew, matured and turned out to be a team mainstay "He was a great predictor of talent," Sherrill said.
Bill Fralic the star Pitt tackle (1981-84) and named among the 100 greatest players of all time by the College Football Hall of Fame, echoed the assessment. “He was a great motivator, and probably as great a coach as I’ve ever had the opportunity to play for,” Fralic told the Mercury. “He’d get you to try to be the best you could be, and not just at football. He believed that if you were going to do something you should do it well.”
Bernie Kish, executive director for the College Football Hall of Fame, got to know Moore at Notre Dame. “He was an old school kind of guy – tough, hard-nosed but the kids liked and respected him. He turned out good kids. They were hard workers and of good character, and that held them in good stead their entire lives.”
Moore’s collegiate coaching came to an end acrimoniously. Fired by new Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie at age 64 in 1996, Moore sued the university for age discrimination. He won the case. His attorney Rick Lieberman later wrote a book, “Personal Foul: Joe Moore vs. the University of Notre Dame,” that recounted the case. Writing of Moore in the August issue of Blue & Gold Illustrated, the Notre Dame sports monthly, Editor Tim Prister said: “He could stare a hole through you or he could be as bashful as a little boy. He could chastise an offensive lineman into tears or he could love him like he was his own. …In the 22 years I’ve been covering Notre Dame football, Moore was one of the most intimidating coaches I’ve ever encountered. He was also one of the most shy.”
In Richfield Springs, those words ring true to men who were with Moore at the very beginning of a long great career.