G. A. Moore, Jr., the head football coach at Celina High School, exudes all the flash and sparkle of a dirt farmer. On Wednesday mornings he attends a five-thirty prayer meeting at a local youth center. On Thursday mornings he meets with the booster club for a five-thirty breakfast in the high school cafeteria, where he gives credit to everyone but himself. He regrets that during the season he sees little of Lois Ann, his wife of forty years, though it helps that she sometimes scouts games with him.
Yet the 62-year-old Moore is never more in his element than he is now, just minutes before the start of the 2001 season at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Kickoff Classic in Bedford. His players kneel around him in concentric circles, holding hands without saying a word. He speaks in a voice that radiates authority yet manages to remain downright polite. He doesn’t trot out tales of past battles. He doesn’t invoke Lombardi. Instead, he asks the team members to bow their heads in silent prayer. “When this is through,” he says, standing before them in gray Wranglers and a gray knit shirt, “the most important thing is that you can look in the mirror. After a play, help them up and pat them on the seat. If they say something trashy, walk away.” He urges them to play hard and, above all, represent their hometown. Then the boys jostle toward the door, whooping and bounding as if on pogo sticks, ready to take on Hillsboro High and be cheered by moms and dads and girlfriends and little boys who are waiting their turn.
The players can be forgiven if their enthusiasm clashes with their coach’s remarkable calm. The Celina Bobcats have one of the best programs in the state—if not the country. Going into the season, they have won three consecutive 2A Division II titles. They boast the state’s longest winning streak—41 games—putting them just nine wins shy of breaking the mark set by Chuck Moser and Abilene High in the fifties. If the team doesn’t stumble, Celina will make history on November 2 against Valley View. In 37 years as a head coach, Moore has racked up 374 wins, more than any high school coach in the state who is still walking the sidelines. He is just 23 victories away from eclipsing Gordon Wood as the winningest coach in Texas high school football history. And if he can win three more state titles, he’ll break Wood’s record of nine as well.
Ten hours before kickoff, Moore stood in front of a microwave, waiting for it to ding. He had already been to a meeting with the superintendent to discuss a licensing agreement with a soft drink company, and he was ready for an early lunch that consisted of leftovers, two slices of bread, and a Diet Dr Pepper. As he settled in behind his desk, we talked about Celina, a town of 2,254 residents that rests among the cornfields and pastures of north-central Texas. For now it is safe from the sprawl of communities such as McKinney or Frisco, which threaten it like Sherman on the march. At the start of the school year, Celina High enrolled 345 students. Of the school’s 195 boys, 107 came out for football. They do it to play for Moore.
But when the conversation turned to his place among the giants of Texas football, Moore seemed to lose interest. I knew this would be the case. I had called him the previous season, back when people were first taking notice of the streak, and asked him how many games his team had won. There was a pause. “Well, I’m not sure exactly,” he said as honestly as he might repeat his wedding vows.
During my visit, he was no more forthcoming when I asked about Wood’s record. “To be honest, I don’t know how to talk about it,” he said. “He has been on such a pedestal since I was in high school. My coach even took me to see his team play.” Of his own phenomenal success, he said simply, “I was fortunate that they let me run a program I wanted to run,” he said. “When you have support from the town—packed stadiums, caravans to the games, active boosters—then the kids play harder.” He did brag about his assistant coaches, most of whom have either worked with him for more than fifteen years or played on his teams. His two youngest coaches, Hank Hollywood and his son Gary Don, started for Celina’s 1995 title team. And he did allow that there just might be one reason for all those victories: “What it comes down to, I guess, is I just don’t like to get beat.”
As Moore picked at his leftovers, I began to hear the swelling of a crowd outside. His office is part of an indoor practice facility that is used by the athletic department, and I thought that some of his players had sneaked away from class early. Then something cracked against his door. Moore kept working at his lunch. We continued to talk, then came another pop. I thought back to my coaches in school who could fly into a rage if you knocked on their door the wrong way. But Moore’s face never changed. When it happened a third time, I felt obliged to ask. “Oh, that’s the girls’ P.E. class playing stickball,” he said, paying as much attention to it as he would the school bell. “They come in during bad weather.” Nothing, it seems, gets to G. A. Moore.
He was born and raised in Mustang, a town just a few miles away that the state map doesn’t bother to mention. Aside from his first coaching job after college, a one-year stint in the tiny town of Bryson, Moore’s entire life has been spent within a short drive of the ranch that has been in his family for generations and where he lives with Lois Ann. His mother was from