Paul Moro’s coaching career didn’t get off to an auspicious start.
Moro was named Pinetop-Lakeside Blue Ridge’s coach prior to the 1984 season. That was a good thing. He had been an assistant coach in the program for five years and loved the White Mountains. The problem: He was replacing a legendary coach in Tom Marsing, who led Blue Ridge to an undefeated season and state championship in 1983.
A hard act to follow? Try impossible.
“Tom was beloved,” said Jeff Ellsworth, a senior nose guard and offensive lineman on Moro’s first Blue Ridge team. “He was barrel chested, a ski instructor and he could bench press 500 pounds. To a high school kid, he was an iconic figure.”
Blue Ridge lost 22 seniors from Marsing’s state championship team, leaving Moro a rebuilding job in his very first season. The result: a 3-6 record and more than a few Blue Ridge fans wondering how long the new coach might last.
“It didn’t look good,” Ellsworth said.
Thirty-two years later, there’s a pretty good case that Blue Ridge hired the right guy. Moro became Arizona’s all-time winningest high school football coach Friday when Tempe Marcos de Niza handed him his 332nd victory with a 48-21 win over Chandler Seton Catholic.
Finally, after years of chasing, Moro is No. 1 on the list and Tucson Amphitheater legend Vern Friedli is No. 2.
“Being the winningest coach in Arizona history is just an amazing feat,” Moro said. “It’s one that God has allowed me to achieve, and I’ve just been blessed to be around great people and have a lot of great teams.”
Moro never wanted to treat his 332nd win as anything special. But it was. Marcos’ players showered him in ice water as the last few seconds ticked off the clock, friends had come down from Pinetop to share in the celebration, and it was the first game all year that Moro’s son, Adam, attended.
“I wasn’t going to miss it,” said Adam, who lives in Flagstaff. “I’ve seen all the hard work he’s put in, all the stress he puts himself under. But I think this means more to me than it does him. He likes winning football games and he loves the kids. He likes being able to impact their lives.”
Think about what Moro has accomplished: 13 state titles at Blue Ridge. An average of 9.7 wins a season for more than three decades. And he’s not finished yet. The number 400 appeals to him.
“Let’s speculate on that in about five more years,” Moro said with a chuckle.
“I just hoped in my career that God would let me win one championship, just one,” he said. “Because I never won one as a high school player. … After two or three years (at Blue Ridge), I didn’t think I’d ever win a championship. God decided to bless my life, and the rest is now history.”
A lot has changed since 1984. But Moro hasn’t. He’s still the quietest coach in the game, expressionless when things are going good or bad. A photographer Friday kept waiting for Moro to show some emotion on the sideline.
Wasn’t going to happen. Who Moro is now, he’s always been.
“He was a very positive coach,” said split end/free safety David Borrego, a senior on that ’84 Blue Ridge team. “He wasn’t an old-school coach that yelled at the kids or was demeaning and making the players feel like they’re not worth anything. He was always positive. I don’t ever remember him getting riled up, throwing his clipboard down or yelling at anybody.”
Borrego thought Moro would find his way as a coach. But 13 state titles? Three hundred and thirty-two wins? No one saw that coming.
“I guess it surprised me when it started to get rolling like a freight train,” Borrego said. “Once it started going nobody could stop it.”