Western Pennsylvania is steeped in football tradition. The cradle of quarterback legends Joe Namath, George Blanda, John Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly. Beyond marquee QBs, the region I call home could fill Canton with its own dedicated wing of current and future members: Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, Mike Ditka, Russ Grimm, Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic, Aaron Donald, Jack Ham, Sean Lee, Joe Schmidt, and Ty Law to name a few. We’ve enjoyed a pro team with six Lombardi’s and two collegiate teams with multiple national titles.
The stacked legacy and legendary names of western Pennsylvania football make it easy to gloss over one of the most impactful native sons of the sport. In the region’s coaching tree, there sits a giant who enjoys both icon status among the football elite and unsung status across the general fan base. No offense to Cowher and Ditka, but the most accomplished football coach from western PA is a position coach who became the godfather of offensive lineman. He’s the greatest name in the region’s football history that you probably never heard of: Joe Moore.
Coach Moore’s Story
Coach Moore is an exemplar of western Pennsylvania. He was raised during the Depression in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood and married a Rankin girl. He started coaching high school football in upstate New York, moved on to Towanda and Erie in Pennsylvania, and then became the head coach at Upper Saint Clair (USC) high school in suburban
Pittsburgh in the early 1970s.
Coach Moore built a successful program at USC and set the stage there for his successor, Jim Render, who became the winningest football coach in Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) history. Moore’s defensive captain during his first year at USC was a kid by the name of Kirk Ferentz, who went on to great things at Iowa, becoming its winningest coach and today stands as the longest tenured head coach at a single FBS program.
Moore’s legendary collegiate coaching career started at the University of Pittsburgh in 1977, where as part of Jackie Sherrill’s staff he led an epic nine-year run of unprecedented talent development of offensive linemen. The names he nurtured to greatness at Pitt are a generational who’s-who of the O-line: Bill Fralic, Mark May, Russ Grimm, Emil Boures, and Jimbo Covert.
After Pitt, Coach Moore spent two years coaching the offensive line at Temple, and then in 1988 began a nine-year run at Notre Dame. Over those nine years for the Irish he sent all but two of his starting linemen to the NFL. One of the most articulate and passionate ambassadors to the Coach Moore legacy through the years has been Notre Dame two-time All-American Aaron Taylor. Coach Moore’s coaching tree bloomed from his tenure with the Irish: Andy Heck was a player for Moore at Notre Dame who went on to a lengthy NFL career as a player and won a Super Bowl as the O-line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Joe Moore was a direct, to-the-point man. He was an intimidator, but in a good way. There were zero airs and graces about him; he simply oozed western PA. He had the perfect personality and style for instilling greatness and realizing raw potential with rough, unpolished talent. His style was optimally suited to develop boys into men.
One of his most famous sayings captured his philosophy of linemen with, “there is no greater feeling in life than moving a man from Point A to Point B, against his will.” He loved teaching the fundamentals and was a master at manipulating players mentally to motivate and prepare them for competition.
As he would often say, those around him would love him at times, hate him at times, but kill for him all the time. His linemen through the years may have had Jackie Sherrill or Lou Holtz as their head coach, but they all played for Joe Moore.
The Joe Moore Legacy
Sadly, we lost Joe Moore much too early in 2003. Although the man may be gone, his memory lives larger than ever. His memory is evident both publicly and privately.
Coach Moore’s public memory is embodied in the Joe Moore Award (JMA). The JMA is awarded annually to the best collegiate football offensive line unit. The award is presented by the Joe Moore Foundation for Teamwork and recognizes the toughest, most physical offensive line in the country. The JMA is the only major college football award to honor a unit or group, not an individual.
Another visible aspect of Moore’s legacy is the Joe Moore O-Line Camp, held every summer in suburban Pittsburgh. The camp provides high school players the chance to be instructed in the craft by an impressive list of former Joe Moore players, headed by NFL Hall of Famer Russ Grimm. The star-studded coaches who regularly attend the camp are testament to the lasting impact their coach had on them decades ago in college.
However, Coach Moore’s most important legacy is one that escapes public notice: his family. The Moore’s raised three boys in suburban Pittsburgh, and today the extended family has grown to include the coach’s grandchildren. I know the extended family well; they are close friends. I can tell you the best part of the Joe Moore legacy is that his grandchildren are the type of individuals you would want to live next door to, befriend, or have your young kids emulate.
In his chosen profession, Joe Moore achieved greatness. In the endeavor of his family, Joe Moore exceeded greatness. I hope we are all as fortunate.