Legendary Lakeside Blue Ridge football coach Paul Moro is stepping down after 30 years as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach to assume the same position at Division II San Tan Valley Poston Butte in the Florence School District.
Moro, 61, ranks second on the list of Arizona high school football coaching victories at 319-52 (.857) just 12 shy of the retired Vern Friedli, whose teams went 331-158-3 (.673).
Moro has guided Blue Ridge to the Division IV/Class 3A state title game each of the last six seasons. The Jackets were 12-2 in winning their record 13th state championship under Moro this season.
In a story on azcentral.com, Moro said he wants to live near the Valley both to help ease the pain of his wife’s arthritis and to live near his father.
There may never be another program as successful as Blue Ridge has been under Moro.
But give Jake Swartwood some time and maybe he can build something special in Payson.
Moro suffered through three consecutive losing seasons — going 10-18 — when he took over as Blue Ridge’s head coach in 1984. But then 27 straight winning seasons followed.
The Longhorns have gone 10-12 in Swartwood’s two years at the helm, including this year’s 4-7 record. He’s already produced a winning season — 6-5 in 2012. And PHS has reached the Division IV state playoffs in both of his seasons at the helm.
If Payson wins just one game in 2014, Swartwood will have topped Moro’s win total in his first three seasons at Blue Ridge.
Moro’s blueprint for success was this: stay at one school and surround yourself with quality coaches, most of whom will remain with you for many years, be a good tactician and show your student-athletes love and respect.
He built a real football culture at Blue Ridge by getting kids to commit to putting in the work it took to become champions.
They respected him and he respected them.
“I love teenagers,” he told me a couple of years ago. “If I forget to put a player in the game, I’m really upset. I won’t sleep at night.”
And they knew that. So they want to succeed for him. That requires a lot of time and effort, especially in the weight room. The Yellow Jackets weren’t always the most talented players on the field, but they were usually the strongest.
Of course, he’s a very smart tactician. He gives his players the best chance of succeeding by calling the right plays. And, if the Jackets lost to a team in the regular season and wound up facing them again in the playoffs, his teams usually won those rematches because he is a master at making the right adjustments.
But he realized early on how important quality assistant coaches are to any program’s success. So he surrounded himself with good coaches.
“I don’t know that there’s anything really special about me,” he said. “I just think I’ve got people that are really good around me. I’m able to get people to work together.”
Moro said having most of the same staff together year after year is a key.
“It creates consistency,” he said. “And when you’re consistent and you’re not changing, you’re not changing discipline policy, you’re not changing this, you’re not changing that. The consistency makes it easier. It’s not that you can’t change. But the consistency makes it easier for the players.”
It’s not clear who will take over at Blue Ridge. Moro had several capable assistant coaches, including longtime line coach Bob London and former Show Low head coach Danny Hawkins. Moro is believed to be taking at least some of his Blue Ridge assistants with him to Poston Butte.
We’ll just have to wait and see who winds up taking over for a legend.
Either way, he’ll be in the same boat as me — since I came to Payson to fill sports writer and coach Max Foster’s semi-legendary sneakers.