Wooster coach Steve Moore. Photo by Matt Dilyard, The College of Wooster.

Witt grad Moore nears end of legendary coaching career at Wooster

Former Tiger coaches in last regular-season game in Springfield on Saturday

“It looks great,” Moore said Thursday. “Of course, that’s where my memories are, having played and coached in that old gym.”

Moore arrived at Wittenberg as a freshman in 1970 as a graduate of Monroeville High School. Almost 50 years later, he will coach there Saturday against his alma mater, Wooster’s biggest rival, for the final time in a regular-season game. No. 5 Wittenberg (21-1, 14-1) plays Wooster (17-5, 11-4) at 7 p.m.

It’s a big game for a number of reasons. Wooster handed Wittenberg its only loss, 98-86 on Jan. 18, but Wooster has stumbled against other North Coast Athletic Conference opponents. That’s why the Tigers are in a position to clinch the outright championship and top seed in the NCAC tournament with a victory this weekend.

What makes the game even more special is the Moore storyline. He is nearing the end of a 38-year career that has seen him join the ranks of the greatest coaches in college basketball history. Wooster made his retirement plans public last March, revealing at the same time Moore’s longtime assistant coach Doug Cline would take the reins. The Wooster-Wittenberg rivalry long ago turned into one of the best in NCAA Division III because Moore turned Wooster into a powerhouse to rival Wittenberg.

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None of that will distract Moore. All season long, he has been focused on this team — not the past or the future — as people ask him his thoughts about the end of his career or his post-basketball plans. For the record, he doesn’t know for sure but plans to spend more time with his family. One daughter lives in Wooster. Another lives in Raleigh, N.C. Each has two kids.

For now, though, retirement can wait.

“Quite frankly, I think about the next game,” Moore said. “I don’t know how to approach it any other way. You don’t think about what’s going to happen after the season right now. I just focus on practice today, getting better, getting ready for the next game, no matter who it is, no matter where it’s at. We made the announcement in the spring solely to end speculation with regards to recruiting. We knew coach Cline was going to be the head coach. That was the reason for it. It certainly wasn’t about me. This season is not about me.”

That may be true, but Moore deserves all the headlines and praise heading his way. He began the season ranked 12th in college basketball history (all divisions) in career victories. That record now stands at 863-250.

Moore is the second winningest active coach in Division III history, trailing only Franklin & Marshall’s Glenn Robinson (967-359), and he’s the winningest coach by percentage (.776) in D-III history.

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“It’s a tough profession,” Wittenberg coach Matt Croci said, “and to be in it this long and have so much success, he’s kind of been the standard bearer for coaching excellence in our league. He’s always been good to me. We’ve always gotten along, even when I was at Kenyon. Underneath all that Wooster Scot black and gold, he’s still a Tiger. His teammates are back a lot. I look forward to when he retires to getting him back to stuff with his teammates. He’s always working, and we’re rivals now, but they keep in touch with him. We do our golf outing in the fall, and we’re going to try to get him to come to that to hang out with his teammates.”

Those teammates remain close to Moore. He was a part of three Ohio Athletic Conference championship teams and was the starting point guard and captain as a senior in the 1973-74 season.

“Those men meant a lot to me and mean a lot to me and influenced my coaching,” Moore said. “I was a very average college player, but I had great teammates.”

Moore played for Bob Hamilton, who was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017. He later coached at Wittenberg under Larry Hunter, another Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame member, and was an assistant coach under Hunter in 1977 when the Tigers won their last national championship.

Moore said he not only learned the game from those coaches but also how to approach life in general. He also credited College Football Hall of Fame coach Dave Maurer.

“How fortunate was I to be on the athletic staff when Dave Maurer was the football coach and the athletic director,” Moore said. “That was awesome to be around him and learn what coaching and competition was about.”

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The Scots have reached the NCAA tournament 27 times in Moore’s 32 seasons and have won 18 NCAC championships. They reached the national championship game in 2011 and also played in the Final Four in 2003 and 2007.

Two of his players, 2008 graduate James Cooper and 2011 graduate Ian Franks, made the last NCAC All-Decade team (2004-13). Three more — John Ellenwood, Bryan Nelson and Ryan Gorman — made the previous all-decade team (1993-2004). He also coached two members of the first NCAC all-decade team (1984-93): Erich Riebe and Stan Aukamp.

Nothing got Moore more emotional during an interview Thursday than talking about the numerous players he has coached at Wooster.

“That is a great part of coaching,” Moore said. “Those guys have stayed in touch. They come back for games. Those long-lasting relationships are the most important things. They mean the world to me.”

As for the game Saturday, Moore said the Scots know they can’t count on shooting 63.3 percent from the field again. That was their number in the first game against Wittenberg. It was a season-best performance. They have gone 4-3 since that victory and have topped 50 percent twice in that stretch.

“We’ll have to do other things better to compete against them,” he said. “We just know they will be extremely motivated, of course, and will be ready to play a great game against us. We just have to prepare and do our best.”

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