Less Is Moore
Celina High's G. A. Moore, Jr., is a nice, quiet, low-key man who happens to be the most successful football coach in Texas.
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 Celina, and he went to school in nearby Pilot Point. “Both of those places are my hometowns,” he said. He grew up following the Mean Green Eagles of North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas) in Denton, about thirty miles away. He played football in high school and became friends with North Texas head coach Odus Mitchell, who used to invite him over to his house to play Ping-Pong. Moore played both running back and defensive back at North Texas in 1957 and 1958, splitting time in the backfield with future All-American Abner Haynes.
An injury cut short Moore’s playing career, but it didn’t dampen his love for the game, and by 1963 he had landed the coaching job at Pilot Point. From that time on, except for two years at Sherman High School in the mid-eighties (and a year he took off from coaching to consider entering the seminary), Moore has spent his career coaching in either Celina or Pilot Point. In 1974 he won his—and Celina’s—first state title, a co-championship with Big Sandy. He won back-to-back championships at Pilot Point in 1980 and 1981. He returned to Celina in 1988 (he first coached there from 1972-1976), and in 1995 he brought the Bobcats home their second title. Since 1998, they haven’t lost one.
At a little before 2:45, with kickoff fast approaching, Moore drove his coaching staff over to the high school in his Chevrolet double-cab pickup for a pep rally. The band played, and adults, students, and children hollered. Craig James, the great running back for Southern Methodist University who played in Super Bowl XX with the New England Patriots, spoke to the crowd. Now a broadcaster for CBS Sports, James lives in Celina, where his daughter attends high school (“I promise I won’t embarrass you, honey,” he said as part of his remarks. “By the way, who was that boy who called last night?”). When he talked about how special it was for him to win a state championship while playing for Houston Stratford, the crowd erupted. As the team filed out, kids wearing Bobcat Football T-shirts waited to touch each player on the shoulder, and they made a special effort to touch Coach Moore.
The crowd from the pep rally filled the stands at Pennington Field that night, cheering once again as the Bobcats ran across the soggy turf. During the night a line of storms had rolled through the Metroplex, and the low clouds that remained brought the first touch of fall to the last day of August. It felt like football.
“Well, we’re off to a good start,” Moore said in the minutes before the game. “We lost the coin toss. We never were very good at the coin toss.” On Hillsboro High School’s first set of downs, Celina held tight. When the Bobcats took over, they were led by Jordan Martin, a senior starting his first game at quarterback. On his first snap he fumbled the ball. It rested on the turf for just a moment, but Martin kept his cool, scooped it up, lowered his helmet, and plowed ahead for seven yards. That began a long drive, during which the Bobcats converted twice on fourth down. Adam Harvey, a bruising, 215-pound running back, scored on a short run. But Hillsboro rallied, and at halftime the teams went to the locker room tied at seven.
Moore knew that Hillsboro was gaining momentum. But in the locker room there was no yelling; there were no tirades. The coaches talked x‘s and o‘s as calmly as a math teacher explains the quadratic formula. Then Moore gathered his team around him. “We’re on the brink, and you know it. But I want you to look at the colors you’re wearing and what they mean to this community.” The Bobcats delivered. The defense kept Hillsboro in check, and Harvey rumbled ahead for a fifteen-yard score with 3:44 left in the third. Hillsboro drove late in the game, but Martin, who also started at defensive back, picked off the ball at Celina’s ten with one second on the clock.
Afterward, the team gathered at midfield to receive a trophy, and the school presented Moore with a plaque. It seems that every game in his career has a certain meaning now, and this one marked his 200th win at Celina. When he returned to the locker room, the players were waiting for him in silence. Someone had placed the trophy on the floor in the center of the room. Moore walked over to it, stooped down, and with hardly a glance, set it aside. Then he called his boys around him and thanked them for the win. A few kind words followed, and then a prayer. And though no one dared say it aloud, they were all thankful for having extended the streak. Then everyone, except maybe for Moore, began worrying about keeping it going next Friday night.