I was deeply saddened to hear that my old high school football coach, Paul Moro, passed away earlier this week.
Still in his 60s, he was far too young to leave this life – but in my sorrow, I could almost hear “Coach Mo” responding to my grief.
“It’s not about what we want,” he would often remind us, “It’s about what God wants.”
Paul Moro was one tough guy. I was a sophomore at Yucca Valley High School, a 3A school in Southern California near Palm Springs. Coach Mo had just graduated from Long Beach State and was hired to be a physical ed teacher and coach. Our junior varsity football team was his first assignment, and early on we knew this new coach didn’t like losing.
Our new leader brought a new vision for the team, and he was determined to make winners out of our rag tag group of teenage boys. He succeeded. We were 8-0-1 that first year. But that one tie bugged me. It still bugs me!
We were playing Lake Elsinore, a midsized school in western Riverside County, CA. The weather was terrible. A lightning storm raged until a bolt hit close enough to strike the stadium lights. Trailing 6-0, the refs called for a delay. Once the game resumed, we finally scored in the last seconds of the 4th quarter to tie it up. Coach Mo decided to go for two points because the field conditions were too poor to kick the extra point. He looked at me and said, “Go in there and catch the pass.” At that time I was the back-up quarterback, the starting safety and a reliable receiver.
It was still pouring rain, but the play called for me to run an inside slant for those two valuable game-winning points. The quarterback threw the ball perfectly and my hands outstretched in front of my chest in a perfect triangle to make the grab. But the ball slipped right through my fingers. It was just too wet. We tied. Bang, the gun went off, and the game was over.
Coach Mo put his arm around me and said, “You would have caught that if it weren’t so wet.”
Wow, he believed in me!
But Coach Mo was more than an encouraging and hard-driving football coach. In fact, I believe God introduced me to him for reasons far more important than the gridiron. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest that the Lord used Coach Mo in a way that changed the trajectory of my life.
My high school days were unconventional. At the time, I lived with my brother. My mom had died when I was nine, and my stepdad walked out of our lives the day of her funeral. That put me into foster care and then back with my alcoholic father for my sixth grade year. Then, my dad died, and I moved in with my brother Dave. He had recently married his teenage girlfriend, who was pregnant. That was my home.
At just that time, Paul and Joyce Moro started to ask me to come over for dinner on a regular basis. He took a real interest in me as a person. He and Joyce paid for me to go to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp at Point Loma University. I accepted Christ there. He made THE difference in my life. It wasn’t my dad. It wasn’t my stepdad. It wasn’t even my foster dad. They had all failed. No, it was this football coach my sophomore year who called me out to be a man. Not just an ordinary man, but a man of character.
As it would turn out, that would be the only year Paul Moro coached me. I can remember the day he told me he took a new coaching job in Pinetop, Arizona. I was devastated. This father- like figure was leaving. I knew the feeling of saying goodbye to someone you love. I didn’t like that feeling. It was empty, lonely and nearly overwhelming.
He shared the news while I was at their house having tacos with Coach and his wife. But then he said something extraordinary. Coach Mo asked me to move with them. “You can be my quarterback,” he said. I desperately wanted to say yes, because I wanted “normal” to be my story. I wanted to have someone love me, care for me and be there for me.
But I was conflicted.
I knew it would hurt my brother if I moved. So, against my better judgment, I told Paul I would love to go, but that such an arrangement would crush Mike. The odd thing is, I never really talked to my brother about it, I just assumed it would hurt him.
Well, Paul Moro thrived at Blue Ridge High School. Over the course of his career, he led his teams to 13 state championships, was named the 2011 National Football Coach of the Year, and racked up the most wins in the history of Arizona high school football.
But beyond all of those great achievements is the greatest of achievements – all of us boys who became men under Coach Mo. He taught us football, but more than that, he taught us about character and the author of character, Jesus Christ.
I love you Coach.
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