Interview With Charlie Moir, Part 1

Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, on June 20, 2012
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Charlie Moir

Former Virginia Tech basketball head coach Charlie Moir, now 82 and retired for 17 years, relaxes at his home in Salem

Almost 25 years after his departure from Virginia Tech, Charlie Moir remains the winningest coach in Hokies’ basketball history, with 213 wins and 119 losses. In his 11 years, he took the Hokies to four NCAA tournaments and four NITs, and Virginia Tech won the Metro Conference tournament championship in 1979.

Some of the greatest players in Virginia Tech basketball were recruited by Charlie Moir, including four of the top five scorers in Virginia Tech history: Bimbo Coles (1986-90), Dell Curry (1982-86), Dale Solomon (1978-82), and Perry Young (1981-85). Curry and Coles both went on to long NBA careers, and Moir also coached great players like Wayne Robinson, Les Henson, and Al Young.

Moir’s Hokies waged epic Metro Conference battles with Louisville, Memphis State, Florida State and others before packed houses in Cassell Coliseum, and the Moir era of the “Hurryin’ Hokies” is remembered fondly by those who witnessed it. Moir was never able to consistently overcome the powerhouse programs at Louisville and Memphis State, but his teams often stood toe-to-toe with the Cardinals and Tigers, grabbing some memorable wins along the way. The Hokies finished second in the Metro three times and third two more times, and Virginia Tech was always a tough challenge, especially in raucous Cassell Coliseum.

A native of Francisco, North Carolina, Moir attended Appalachian State University, where he was a star in basketball and baseball.  After college, he spent three years in the Cincinnati Reds organization, then turned to coaching basketball. In 11 years coaching high school basketball in Stuart (Virginia), Ash Central (North Carolina) and Mount Airy (North Carolina), he posted an 11-year record of 224 wins and 43 losses.  Four times he coached high school teams to state championships.

From there, Moir transitioned to the college coaching ranks, first as an assistant at Virginia Tech (1963-67), then as head coach at Roanoke College (1967-73), Tulane (1973-76), and lastly Virginia Tech (1976-87).

At the end of Moir’s tenure in Blacksburg, the Hokies were placed on probation as the result of an NCAA investigation that found mostly minor violations in the program. (The saga of Moir’s basketball program is told in detail in part 3 and part 5 of our Year of Our Discontent series from 2005.) Moir came to a settlement with the university and resigned in October of 1987, ending his Virginia Tech coaching career at the age of 57.

Moir took a few months off and toyed with the idea of getting back into coaching, but instead he accepted a job as a salesman with Dillard Paper Company (now International Paper). He was happy at Dillard and had a very successful stint there, retiring at the age of 65. Moir and his wife Betsy live in the Roanoke area and now spend January through March in Florida each year, often catching the Hokies vs. Miami when Virginia Tech pays a visit to Coral Gables. Moir is close with his son Page, who played and coached for his father at Virginia Tech. Page took over the Roanoke College program in 1989, where he remains head coach to this day.

Among Charlie Moir’s most impressive career accomplishments: In 1972, Moir’s Roanoke team won the NCAA College Division Championship, and he was named National College Division Coach of the Year. He had a cumulative winning record everywhere he coached, and in 2000, he was elected to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. In 2006, Moir was elected to the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

The Hokies won 19 or more games in nine of Moir’s 11 seasons, including a school-record five consecutive 20-win seasons and eight postseason tournament appearances (four NIT’s and four NCAA Tournaments).

A couple of months back, on April 10th, I sat down and talked with Charlie Moir in a wide-ranging Q&A that covered his entire career. We will split the interview up into three parts:

  • Early coaching career and beginnings of his tenure at Virginia Tech
  • The mid-1980s and departure from VT
  • General thoughts on the Tech program, past memories and the state of college basketball


Part 1: Early Coaching Career and the First Years at Virginia Tech

You played Minor League Baseball in the Reds organization. Were you drafted?

I don’t think they had a draft back then. They had scouts follow you around, and I had a guy, Tex Miller. He had seen me play American Legion ball when I was graduating from high school. In fact, in high school I only had 11 grades. I started playing in the eighth grade, and I played four years and used up all my time. I went to summer school at Boone High School, and my brother was at Appalachian State then. I went to Appalachian State, and I signed [a minor league contract] after my sophomore year in college.

I played three years. I graduated from Appalachian State in 1952. I received my master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1960.

I was a better hitter than I was a fielder. I was a pretty good fielder, but I guess I lacked the speed. I felt like I had a chance to go a long way in baseball, and maybe I did, but I decided after I graduated from college and I got married that I wanted to coach. I always wanted to coach.

My first coaching job was at Stuart High School. My wife is from Stuart. We won a couple of state championships there. Then I went to Ash Central High School in North Carolina. I followed Bucky Waters at Ash Central High School. Then I went to Mount Airy and had a lot of success. We really had some great teams at Mount Airy.

We had good players at Mount Airy. One kid went to Carolina, two guys went to Catawba, one kid went to Wake Forest. I was very fortunate to have good players there. I followed my brother at Mount Airy. In his last year they were 25-0. We lost three or four starters from that team, but we still went 25-0 in my first year, so Mount Airy won 50 consecutive games.

Let’s jump forward. I know you coached as an assistant at Tech from 1963 through 1967 under Howard Shannon.

That was a great experience for me, going to Tech under Bill Matthews and Howard Shannon. I was close friends with Bill Matthews. We played a little baseball and basketball together. He was from down in my neck of the woods. It was a learning experience, and Howie was also a good coach.

I was at Tech when they went to their first postseason tournament, the NIT with Glen Combs. The next year they went to the NCAA Tournament and lost to Dayton, who went on to lose to UCLA in the finals. That was a great experience. I learned a lot those four years under Bill and Howie.

I went to Tulane as the head coach after my time at Roanoke College, and it was Bill Matthews who contacted me about the Tech job. Frank Mosley was the Director of Athletics, but it was Bill who was more or less the reason for my hire.

When I was hired as head coach, Don DeVoe was still under contract at Tech. They wanted him to sign a long-term deal, but he refused to sign because I think he always wanted to go to Ohio State. When he wouldn’t sign that contract, Mosley decided that was enough, so they contacted me. I was a little bit reluctant at first. It was a tough decision, but my parents were getting up in years and I wanted to come back close to home.

I really enjoyed my time at Tulane. We had some good players there and we won some big games there, but I was very fortunate to get the Tech job. They had been to the NCAA Tournament the year before.

I had no prior relationship with Don DeVoe, but I later got to know Don, and he was an excellent coach. He did a good job. He really did.

Frank Mosley was a really good guy to work for. He was hard-nosed, but he would really support you. But I didn’t talk to him much. Moose Matthews was the guy I talked to.

CHARLIE MOIR’S FIRST SIX SEASONS AT VIRGINIA TECH
Season
Record
Conf.
Record
Postseason
Leading
Scorer
Other Key
Players
1976-7719-10IndependentNIT
Quarterfinals
Duke Thorpe
Phil Thieneman
1977-7819-8Independent--
Ron Bell
Wayne Robinson
Les Henson
1978-7922-94-6 (T-4th)NCAA
2nd Round
Dale Solomon
Wayne Robinson
Les Henson
1979-8021-88-4 (2nd)NCAA
2nd Round
Dale Solomon
Wayne Robinson
Les Henson
1980-8115-136-6 (T-3rd)--
Dale Solomon
Calvin Oldham
1981-8220-117-5 (4th)NIT
3rd Place
Dale Solomon
Calvin Oldham
Al Young
Perry Young
Totals116-59 (.663)25-21 (.543)2 NCAAs, 2 NITs----

When you came in, what were your thoughts on where the program was and where you wanted it to be?

Well, we were an independent of course. You strived to win 20 games to get an NCAA bid. Back then if you won 20 games you were probably going to get a bid. My first year we won 19. They had been to the NCAA the year before, but we lost Larry Cook and a few others.

I came in and I had Duke Thorpe, who was really an excellent player for us. Ernest Wansley was really an outstanding player, and he played ball in Europe. Marshall Ashford was an outstanding player for us, so I was very fortunate to have some good players. My first year there we had a real good recruiting year. We didn’t make the postseason in my second year, but out of my 11 years there we made the postseason eight times I think.

The most disappointing season I had there was about when Dale Solomon was a junior . We didn’t have good chemistry; we didn’t play as well as I thought we should have been playing. We went 15-13. We lost some games that we shouldn’t have lost. That was a disappointing year. Other than that, I was fortunate to have some good players.

You recruited Solomon to VT, of course. Did you also recruit Wayne Robinson?

Yes I did. Tech was recruiting him, and Sonny Smith had done a good job selling him on Tech. I’ll tell you a little story about Wayne. He was one of the first guys we went after, we got in there real early. We got to know his parents real well, which you could do back in that time. Wayne narrowed it down to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Wayne was from Greensboro. His dad is still living. His dad worked for Phillip Morris and his mother was a teacher. We had sold Wayne on Virginia Tech, and we had certainly sold his father. Wayne said “I’m going to sleep on it tonight and decide tomorrow where I’m going.”

Wayne got up the next day — and this is a story that his father told me — and said “I think I’m going to Wake Forest.”

His dad said, “You better go back and sleep some more.”

So he committed to Virginia Tech, and he turned out to be outstanding for us.

Did you recruit Les Henson? He and Wayne were in the same class.

Yes, he was from Massanutten Military Academy. The previous staff had been recruiting Les. He was a great athlete. Tic Price transferred from VCU that same year. We had some good players, and we recruited well. One year we signed Dale Solomon, who was at Fork Union. That same year we got Jeff Schneider. He was heavily recruited by several schools, in fact he visited UCLA. Gordy Bryan, he was a really good player from Philadelphia. Gordy didn’t start many games because we had so many good players, but he was a nice player. He could have started for some of the teams we were playing against, so we had some fine players.

Where it really appeared to take off is when you added Dale Solomon. It really looks like you hit your stride in terms of depth and talent around your third and fourth years. Would you say that’s accurate?

Yeah, that’s accurate. Another player we had at that time who didn’t start, but who was a pretty good player, was Micky Hardy.

And you entered the Metro Conference during the Solomon/Robinson years.

Yeah, we did. I had coached in the Metro at Tulane. My last year there, we were in the Metro. At that time it was just getting organized and we didn’t play a full Metro schedule. We beat Georgia Tech twice during the regular season, and then they beat us during the Metro Tournament.

At Tech, we were independent my first two years and then we got into the Metro. We won it in our first year. We beat Louisville in the semifinals and Florida State in the finals. That team had great chemistry, and the guys worked hard. In the first game of the Metro Tournament against Cincinnati, Dale Solomon’s grandfather passed away. He wasn’t even there for that game. Cincinnati had a great player by the name of Pat Clements. Tic Price did the job on Pat Clements. I don’t think we were expected to win that game, but we did and then we played great against Louisville and Florida State.

Florida State had a good team, but we just had a great tournament. We probably underachieved early in the year, but we just developed into a good basketball team. We beat Jacksonville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost to Indiana State in the second round. Indiana State’s coach was Bill Hodges, and he lives here in Roanoke now. Bill and I are pretty good friends.

They played that game once on ESPN Classic and I taped it. You were very competitive with them early on.

We were. When you watched Larry Bird play, you didn’t realize he was that good. I probably had three or four guys switching off trying to guard him. He had 29 points if I recall, and 15 rebounds or so, and maybe 10 assists. He was just a great player, and better than I thought. You look at him and you didn’t think he was that good, but he knew how to play. He had a nose for the ball and he could shoot it.

(Editor’s Note: Bird had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in the Sycamores’ 86-69 victory over VT.)

The year after that was when Solomon was a sophomore, and I believe Robinson and Henson were seniors. You made another NCAA Tournament. That was the year you were down 48-30 at halftime to Western Kentucky and came back.

That’s right, and I think Dale Solomon had about 20 points in the second half. Gene Keady was the coach at Western Kentucky. He went on to Purdue and did real well. We had a fabulous second half. I remember that Billy Packer was sitting at the press table close to our bench, and the other broadcast guy asked him how Western Kentucky would play in the second round. He responded “this game’s not over yet.” I heard him say that from the bench.

You lost to Indiana in the second round that year. Tell me about that experience.

Well, they had one really good player, and I can’t recall his name. I know that it was neck and neck. We played real well. We got a call that upset me, offensive basket interference. We had a chance to win the game. It was a game we could have won. (Editor’s note: Isiah Thomas led Indiana to a 68-59 victory over the Hokies.)

Then you started getting players like Al and Perry Young.

Al Young was a really good athlete. I remember Bill Dooley saying that he was the best athlete who had ever played at Virginia Tech for any sport. And he was. He could do a lot of things.

Perry Young was a good player. In recruiting Perry, it was between us and Northeastern. Jim Calhoun was coaching at Northeastern. He worked hard on Perry. Perry was considering them, and then in the last minute Lefty Driesell tried to come in. Perry was a great athlete, and he was from Maryland. He was a good player for us.

Al Young got drafted by the NFL.

Yeah, I know he did. In fact, Bill Parcells used to call me. Al was an All-American football player in high school. He had signed with North Carolina to play football. He went to Fork Union, and about four weeks into the school year Fork Union coach Fletcher Arritt called me. He and I were good friends, and we still are good friends. He said there was a guy at Fork Union that I needed to take a look at. So we got after Al and he committed early. But he was an outstanding football player.

He went on and he was drafted by the Giants. Parcells would tell me to call him, and when I did it went right to him. He didn’t have a secretary answering his phone. Al was the last player cut from that team. He almost made it.

When Al was in his senior season, I tried to get him to stay on for his fifth year and play football. He would have been a great football player for Tech. Dooley wanted him also. He had tremendous speed.

I always thought Al was the perfect complement to the other guys you had, because Al was a true point guard.

He was a true point guard, and you just couldn’t press him. Louisville used to run that 2-2-1 press, and we took them out of that press because we had a layup drill when they did it. Al would get right through that thing and we’d have 3 on 1 or 3 on 2.

He was an unselfish player. One thing he did, he absolutely helped Dell Curry become a better player. We ran a special play where Curry would come off a pick, and Dell had a quick release. Al would hit him perfectly every time. The year after Al graduated, I tried to convert George Caesar to point guard, and he couldn’t make that pass to Dell where it needed to be.

Al wanted to play good defense, be a true point guard and he wasn’t selfish. Although he had been a good scorer in high school, he was fine with playing the role of point guard. He was perfect for us at point guard.

Coming Up in Part 2: Moir adds Dell Curry, Bobby Beecher, and Keith Colbert to the duo of Al and Perry Young

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