College Football: App’s Moore a popular man
By Mike Cranston
BOONE ó Jerry Moore spent an estimated 25 nights a month on the road this offseason at various speaking engagements, discussing Appalachian State’s three consecutive national titles, the monumental win over Michigan and his mastery of the spread offense that has produced a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
The 69-year-old can’t go anywhere in this tight-knit community without getting congratulatory handshakes and questions about his dynamic quarterback, Armanti Edwards. He can watch the ongoing $50 million stadium renovation project from his office window, and knows every seat is already sold this season.
And if Moore ever gets a free moment, he sometimes chuckles at how just three years ago, he feared he was about to be fired.
“There was a lot of uncertainty, staff-wise whether we’d be retained,” Moore recalled this month. “There were a lot of rumors and a lot of stuff flying around. We had never been bad. We just kind of hit the wall a little bit.”
Moore had continued the Mountaineers’ tradition of being a consistent team that routinely made the playoffs in Division I-AA, now called the Football Championship Subdivision, since he arrived in 1989. But Appalachian State only made it past the second round once under Moore. After going 7-4 and missing the playoffs in 2003, Moore contemplated a big change.
A football junkie, Moore watched as many games as he could. When he popped in a Utah tape, he immediately fell in love with coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense. He was mesmerized watching Alex Smith work from the shotgun and decimate opposing defenses by spreading the field and using multiple receivers.
While his shoestring budget didn’t allow for a trip to Salt Lake City, Moore worked through a mutual friend to secure an invite to West Virginia, where Rich Rodriguez was running the same offense.
After learning the nuances from Rodriguez, Moore decided to dump the power I-formation, which Moore had used since he worked under Tom Osborne and Hayden Fry decades ago.
Then came the 2004 opener ó a 53-7 loss at Wyoming.
“We played so poorly, you just wondered if what you’re doing is really good,” Moore said. “We had put so much into it, all spring, two-a-days. My first thought was we should go back to the I-formation.”
Moore decided to keep it for another week, and quarterback Richie Williams starred in a 49-21 win over Eastern Kentucky.
“Probably if we didn’t have that success we would have gone back to the I,” Moore said. “I think I would have said. ‘Well, we tried it for two weeks. Our jobs are on the line.”‘
But after a season-ending loss to Western Carolina left them 6-5 and without a playoff berth, Moore didn’t receive a contract extension. Then 37-year-old Charlie Cobb, a former offensive lineman at North Carolina State, became athletic director.
“I think Charlie coming in, there was no question that wasn’t great for us,” Moore said. “It could have gone either way.”
Cobb acknowledged dealing with Moore’s status, entering the last year of his contract, was one of his top priorities.
“I got some e-mails and notes from people when I took the job and they wanted coach gone,” Cobb said.
Cobb soon met with Moore, 29 years his senior.
“I said, ‘Coach, we need to talk about this before the season starts,”‘ Cobb said. “He said, ‘Charlie, I’m going to coach somewhere next year. If I’m not wanted here, you and I will both know. You won’t have to come to me.”‘
The Mountaineers had only four home games in 2005 and visited two major schools, Kansas and LSU. After starting 3-2, Cobb felt Moore deserved more time, and told him he wanted to extend his contract.
“I believed in him,” Cobb said.
The rest, as Moore describes it, is a “fairy tale.” Appalachian went 9-1 the rest of the season ó the only loss coming to LSU ó and won its first national championship.
During that season a kid named Edwards, whom the big schools wanted only as a cornerback, was trying to decide whether to go to Appalachian State or Southern Conference rival Georgia Southern.
Edwards chose Appalachian ó because of Moore’s offense.
“Everybody is spread out and anybody can get the ball at any time,” Edwards said. “It’s fun going out there and running it.”
The speedy Moore helped lead the Mountaineers to a second national title as a freshman. Then last year, Edwards shredded Michigan’s defense in perhaps college football’s biggest upset. Edwards went on to account for 3,536 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns.