By now, everyone has heard the news. It spread like wildfire on Sunday afternoon after one of the most stunning losses, forget the playoffs, in Appalachian football history. Jerry Moore had coached his last game for the black and gold. This was not a quick, knee jerk decision, but a more calculated one that required an almost perfect execution. It must be extremely hard to try convince a coach that has meant so much to so many people that he needs to turn in his whistle. Jerry Moore is one of a kind and there will never be another man like him.
As we listened in the parking lot Saturday afternoon, stunned like we had all seen a ghost, you could tell something was different about the postgame interviews and fifth quarter show. Coaches occasionally get caught up in the emotions of their season ending, especially they way this one unfolded. Jerry Moore rarely showed it, but you could hear it in his voice. It was crackling and it was obvious that he had recently wept. At that moment, very few knew that the future of Appalachian football was about to have its most drastic change in program history.
Jerry Moore spent twenty-four years on the sideline at one school. It was a perfect situation when he came to Appalachian in 1989. He wanted to continue to coach, but the desire for the pressures to win at the highest level were almost unappealing to him. Appalachian had an excellent football tradition long before Jerry Moore, but he took it to a level that has changed the expectations of fans and the like for generations to come.
After roughly ten years on the job, Moore and Appalachian were constantly in the conversation as one of the best coaches and programs without a national championship. Several times the Mountaineers had great teams, but had fallen short in the playoffs. In the few years after the turn of the century, Appalachian’s success on the field had slowly declined as the Mountaineers win total had decreased by one for several seasons in a row. As current athletics director Charlie Cobb came on board prior to the 2005 season, it was almost certain that change was coming. Cobb gave Moore a chance to prove himself in front of his own eyes.
For whatever reason, the stars aligned perfectly in 2005. The Mountaineers were a blue collar team, short on talent, but full of heart. Along with the addition of Cobb in the athletics office, Kenneth Peacock was in his first full year of being chancellor. Their was a different type of excitement on campus. The new leadership was fresh and determined to make Appalachian a player in the classroom and on the field. With that, brought a renewed energy to the fanbase, one that packed the season opener in 2005 against Coastal Carolina with an over capacity crowd.
During the championship years, Appalachian spirit was at an all time high. It was as if the Mountaineers could do no wrong. In the 2000’s, at the height of Appalachian’s run, the NCAA announced a moratorium that would not allow schools to change subdivisions. For many years, long before Jerry Moore was in Boone as football coach, there were many outcrys for Appalachian to move back into Division I for football. Sure, the Mountaineers were always in Division I, but the I-AA monikor, and eventual rebranding to FCS, led many to believe that those schools were being ignored. There was a lack of television coverage and overall interest in the “little guys”. Jerry Moore was vocal throughout his career at Appalachian that he enjoyed the level of football that Appalachian played. He knew better, as he had experienced the cruel world that was big boy football.
With the moratorium in place and Moore’s job security at an all time high due to the national championships and deep playoff runs, Appalachian held its course and enjoyed their successes. However, the crys for movement to the newly named FBS were getting louder. The time was right to explore the possibilities. The Southern Conference had made additions that Appalachian was not exactly happy with. In the previous decade, Appalachian had lost natural long time rivals in Virginia Military and East Tennessee State. The Southern Conference added Wofford, Elon and Samford to make up for those losses; three schools that did not exactly fit Appalachian’s university profile.
As the moratorium was coming to an end, schools across the nation began talks of conference realignment. With Appalachian’s success on the football field, its marquee sport, the time was right for Appalachian to look into a different conference for its sports. Rumors spread of an exit plan for Jerry Moore, knowing that his interest in coaching for an FBS program was very low. He did not want to start over, so to speak. Since 2010, when Appalachian announced its intent to conduct a football feasibility study to evaluate its position in Division I, most knew that Jerry Moore’s days were numbered. It was a matter of time.
The last two summers, Appalachian’s name had been mentioned several times in conference realignment, from Conference USA to the Mid-American to the Sun Belt, but had been passed over for schools in higher profile media markets. After the 2011 season, in which Appalachian was dominated in a early playoff loss by Maine, several Appalachian caoches left to lead Western Carolina. There are several reasons as to why they left. They knew that Appalachian was in the midst of dramatic change, and they were potentially not qualified to be coaches in the FBS, so they left for their own job security. It was possible that Cobb wanted Moore to step down last year, as their agreement about his last season as coach was taking place at around the same time. On December 22nd, 2011, Mark Speir was announced as the coach at Western Carolina. On January 4th, 2012 Scott Satterfield returned to Boone as offensive coordinator and associate head coach. Moore had gone years without having someone titled as the actual offensive coordinator, and had never really named an associate head coach, although many believed John Wiley to be that person if the opportunity ever presented itself. Suddenly, the former walkon quarterback and quaterbacks coach during the championship years was back. Many asked questions about Satterfield being the head coach in waiting, although it was never formally announced, and never should have been.
Conference realignment came with a fury in the last couple weeks of the 2012 college football season. It started at the top with moves out of the ACC to the Big 10 and eventually has trickled down to the lower-tier FBS conferences. This somewhat sudden movement in realignment had many question where Appalachian could possibly be headed once again. However, Moore and Cobb had come to an agreement, to disagree with the future of the program. It is possible that movement could occur in the coming days, and the longer that there was speculation about the head coach at Appalachian and his feelings about which subdivision he preferred playing in, the larger affect it would have on the football program with National Signing day only 65 days away. There had to be a clean cut, and it needed to be planned out as much as possible.
The easiest thing to do as fans was to casually talk about the future of Appalachian football beyond Jerry Moore. Then reality hit. On a day that is usually reserved for massive grieving over the end of the football season, another bomb was dropped. Without warning, less than 24 hours after the end of football season, it was also the end of the line for their beloved coach. For the second consecutive offseason, Charlie Cobb is charged with the task to replace a football coach or coaches. These changes are unprecedented for the school, and extremely rare considering the time Jerry Moore spent on the mountain. Coaches in this day of college football do not last decades anymore. Moore is the last of a breed, not only as a football coach but as a man. His values will always grace this program even though his presence will not. He created memories that will never be replaced in the minds of his supporters.
Charlie Cobb is in a tough spot. Many candidates will inquire about this position, but the hire may have already been made eleven months ago. Regardless of the name, it has to be a home run. It has to continue to keep fans interested and their checkbooks open. On top of it all, it has be the correct choice. If Cobb intends to extend a fundrasing position to Moore, it will only make sense if a familiar face is in charge. A new face will most likely not be so welcoming of the former coach hanging around to critique his every fourth down and one. Good luck with your decision making process Charlie Cobb. And lastly, thank you Jerry Moore for being one of the best people that has ever graced this University with his presence.