Interview With Charlie Moir, Part 3

Will Stewart,, on June 22, 2012
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Charlie Moir watches the on-court action during a game

In part 1 and part 2 of our interview with Charlie Moir, he talked about his coaching career at Virginia Tech, and may of the great players he coached. In this final installment, Charlie talks about recruiting Ralph Sampson, a job offer he once received, and his thoughts on the challenges in building a winning program at Virginia Tech.

Let’s talk about the recruitment of Ralph Sampson. What do you remember about that?

I felt like we were always close to getting him. We probably saw every game he played, someone was there. Frankie had developed a good relationship with the family, especially his two younger sisters, and a cousin who was involved in the recruitment. Frankie would go up there sometimes and have lunch with the cousin, and we felt like he was on our side. At the end, I don’t know, he probably wasn’t.

I felt like we had done a good job. He had a great visit to Tech. Most people don’t know this. When he went to Virginia to visit, he was supposed to be there on Friday and Saturday night, but he left on Saturday on his official visit. He didn’t stay there the full time.

I still recall, if we had gotten Sampson with the players I had, we would have had a heck of a shot at the NCAA’s. I would have Robinson, Solomon, Henson, Price … I would have been so damn deep I wouldn’t have known what to do. And having a player of that caliber at Virginia, I’m sure that helped Terry Holland’s recruiting.

Here’s a question from one of our subscribers: Why did you, Coach Moir, not get more personally involved with the recruitment of Ralph Sampson? I was in school at VT at the time, and Frankie Allen handled his recruitment. Ralph’s mother was very impressed by Terry Holland and she liked the fact that UVA stressed academics and her son was recruited by Holland. Frankie Allen did a great job but Coach Moir missed a huge opportunity in my opinion.

I thought I was very involved. The dad was hard to get to know. He worked up there for some company, and the guy who owned that company was a Virginia Tech guy. I went by there a couple of times, but the dad wasn’t really up to snuff. I don’t think he had anything to do with recruiting. I got to know the mother real well. When Ralph visited, he came down to my home with his mother and his father. Dr. (T. Marshall) Hahn stopped by.

So we worked Ralph. And Frankie did. And Frankie was more involved than I, because I couldn’t get away as much as head coach. I forgot who we were playing now, but it was in Lawrence, Kansas. Frankie stayed behind in Virginia to see Ralph play and then came in about 4am the morning we played in Kansas.

We probably saw him play every game, and I felt like I was involved, as much involved as Terry. And he did have a great visit to Tech. Back then we had what was called the foster parents program, which you can’t have now. He was introduced to who would be his foster parents [at Tech], and they really hit it off well. Even after he went to Virginia, they hit it off well.

The program was put on probation when you were head coach, but 20 years later you were inducted into the Tech Hall of Fame. What do you think is your legacy at Virginia Tech? Do you still feel warmly received by the Virginia Tech community? Were you surprised when you were inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Well, I guess I was. They’ve had so many people worthy of being in the Hall of Fame, probably more so than myself. But I felt like I had a great career at Virginia Tech, even as an assistant. That really helped me at Roanoke College and Tulane, and then coming back to Tech.

I was really fortunate to be there. I felt like I had a good relationship with Dr. Hahn, Dr. Lavery … I think I had an outstanding career. It was a great experience for me. I had some success there and developed a lot of good friends in Blacksburg and other areas of the state. I feel like they all have respect for me. I feel fortunate to have been at Tech and to be in the Hall of Fame there.

What would have happened if you had stayed on as head coach? The Metro was collapsing, and it was getting harder to recruit. Is it possible that you got out at the right time?

I probably did. I had other opportunities. I was offered a job — after Curry and Beecher were sophomores — I was offered a job where my salary would have tripled. Beecher probably would have gone with me, Curry maybe not. But it was an ACC school. They flew in the plane, and we met in Greensboro at the airport at a restaurant. It was Clemson.

Danny Ford was the football coach. I remember calling Joe White, who was an academic advisor at Tech who went to Clemson. The Grants (Horace and Harvey) were there at the time. [White] told me they were pretty tough to coach, but that I would get along with them. I remember asking their AD — a Southern Miss guy, I’m getting old and I can’t remember names — but I remember asking them how long the contract would be. He said “you name it.” Then I asked how much Danny Ford was making on his football show. They said “whatever he’s making, you’ll do the same.” They really wanted me to come to Clemson.

And I had other jobs I could have gone after. But I think I was very loyal to Virginia Tech. Furman tried to hire me one time. That would have been a step down, but they made me a much better offer than I was getting at Tech, money wise.

Richmond tried to get me to come there, and I always felt like Richmond was a great job. The location, the city, you’re close to DC, they had good facilities. But I always felt like I was loyal to Tech. I didn’t go after jobs, I didn’t seek jobs when I was there. I was satisfied. My family was satisfied there. We had a nice place to play and we had great support. The coliseum was almost always full. Overall, I feel good about the things that happened.

Going back to the Clemson job, I felt like going against Duke, Carolina and Maryland, I probably would have gotten fired in three years time (laughs). I couldn’t believe what they were offering in salary. My salary at Tech was never that big when compared to what other coaches were making, but I was comfortable with it. I met Clemson like on a Tuesday or Wednesday night in Greensboro, and they said they wanted to get the deal done that week. I told them I was going to Seattle to the Final Four. I remember going out there, Betsy and I, and I remember going from a restaurant up to my room to make the call and tell them that I would take the job. But I never made the call, and on Monday they named Cliff Ellis their coach.

It was such an incredible offer, it was hard to turn it down.

How close of an observer to the Tech program are you these days? What do you think of the challenges facing the program? What needs to be done from a program building and recruiting standpoint?

(Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted on April 10th, thirteen days before Seth Greenberg was fired by Virginia Tech.)

When Seth Greenberg first got the job, we talked a lot. I tried to tell him some positive things that he needed to do, and we have a really good relationship I think. I see Tech play a lot on TV. I don’t go to many games. I’ve been to a few. When I go I feel like I can’t watch the game, because so many people come around talking to me.

I went up one time and sat with Seth’s wife and kids. I do follow Tech. I think he’s done a great job. I think he’s done a great job coaching. He’s a little bit different from what I was. He’s very competitive. I respect that. We lost a lot of players by not being in the ACC when I was there. It was tough to recruit against the ACC. He’s done a good job getting players and athletes there.

I think he’ll be competitive, but I don’t think anybody can come into Virginia Tech and … well, Carolina and Duke are going to select who they want, and they are going to be hard to recruit against. But still, I think the ACC helps Tech to recruit and attract players.

I’ll tell you, he’s been competitive with Carolina and Duke.

In a lot of ways his tenure at Tech has been similar to your tenure at Tech. You were competitive with Louisville and Memphis State. You’d beat them at times, but then maybe drop a game to Florida State that you probably shouldn’t have lost. Seth’s teams have been kind of like that.

In this day and time, every time you take the floor you better be ready to play. Sometimes I feel that teams aren’t ready to play. Maybe like Duke in the NCAA this year. There’s no way they should lose to Lehigh, but it happens. Sometimes it’s hard to motivate players. Every time you go out there you have to be ready. We came close to losing to some dog teams when I was there. Sometimes you just can’t get players motivated. But when we played Memphis and Louisville, they were motivated.

I’m sure for Seth they are motivated to play Carolina and Duke, but you better be motivated to play Wake Forest. I know that was a tough loss for Tech this year. That probably caused him three or four other losses along the way.

I respect what Greenberg has done. I think he’ll do a good job and they’ll be very competitive in the ACC.

Some of the things the fans talk about are how it’s tough to recruit to a rural environment, the administration support isn’t there at Tech like it is at other places … these assistants are leaving Tech and going to UAB and Charlotte and they are getting raises to go to mid-majors.

Exactly. That goes back to what you’re used to, I think. I didn’t make the money at Tech as compared to the people I was playing against. I think that’s the attitude of the administration, they think “well, we can get by with this.”

And you don’t want to lose your coaches to people like that. When I was there, my assistants weren’t getting paid what they should have been. But I felt like we had a great relationship.

It’s tougher, I think times have changed. I really think coaches are overpaid now. I really do. It’s unbelievable, but it goes from professional on down. It’s out of sight; I don’t know where it’s going to end.

But it’s tough when you lose assistants like that. I’m sure he’s lost some that he didn’t want to lose.

So listening to you talk about how it was when you were at Virginia Tech, it’s nothing new.

Oh, it’s nothing new. Exactly. It’s the way it’s always been. I didn’t push for more, really. I was living well. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve had the things I needed to have. But I think they are behind schedule a little bit.

They have [increased their support]. Coaches get paid more. Frank gets paid a lot (laughs), and Seth is doing well. If I were coaching today, I’d try to get a five or six year contract and then try to get fired after the first year, then I could go play golf.

If you could do it all over again, is there anything you would do differently?

Probably so. I’d do some things differently. I would have played more players than I played. I think that probably hurt our recruiting a little bit, that I wasn’t one that substituted a lot. And I did have some pretty good players on the bench who could have played and held their own. Like David Bennett, pretty good player. He was a forward who could have played. John Hillenbrandt, he would have been a starter for a lot of teams. John graduated with about a 3.8 in chemical engineering, and he’s on the engineering board now at Tech.

I would probably have demanded a little bit more out of the university than I did, as far as paying my assistant coaches and a little stronger recruiting budget. We were limited in the things we could do. Most schools we competed against, like Cincinnati and South Carolina, their basketball budget was more than double what we were. Louisville of course was probably triple. The way Tech was growing, we had the ability to do that. We were selling out Cassell.

It would have been tough on them though, and I didn’t demand it. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten it if I had. I don’t know. You don’t want to take away from the other sports, and I know some of those people were suffering. Some of the non-revenue sports, God it was awful.

Talking about the area, I think it was difficult to recruit to Tech. Tech fans and alumni, they felt like it was the only place to go. They think you should be able to compete with Carolina and Duke, but that’s not true. In today’s time, it stands out even more. What Frank has done has really helped Tech. Seth has done a great job there. I think it’s easier to get those players now than it was for me to get them back when I coached.

I felt like I recruited some really good players there, like Robinson, Curry and Coles. We got some good players, but it was hard work. You just had to out-recruit people. Back then the rules allowed you to do that. Now the rules don’t allow you to do that much. [Editor's note: Recruiting rules changed in the late 80s to limit contact with recruits, making it harder to outwork other schools. Just last week, they changed again to allow unlimited phone calls and texting.]

I look at some of the players Seth has recruited, and he’s done a really good job up there getting players.

Do you think you could coach in today’s environment?

I don’t think I could coach today, with AAU basketball, and the players. They all have tattoos. I used to have a rule, no facial hair. When I got here, Duke Thorpe had a mustache, and I told him to shave it off. Some of the players said, “Coach, don’t make him do that. His mouth is awful.” (laughs) But he shaved it off, and he was a really good player for me.

There was not the pressure back when I coached to make the NCAA Tournament. There just wasn’t as much money involved back then. I was shocked when Bruce Weber got fired at Illinois with the amount of success he had there.

Coach, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Well, thank you, I really enjoyed it. It’s been fun.

Thoughts on the Interview, by Will Stewart

I met Charlie Moir’s son Page about six or seven years ago, and he and I had talked on a couple of occasions about setting up an interview with his father, whom I had never met. I was a student at Virginia Tech from 1983-87, so I witnessed the final four years of Charlie Moir’s tenure and saw a lot of great basketball and some great players in a fantastic environment.

For Hokies my age, the names Dell Curry, Bobby Beecher, Keith Colbert, Al Young, Perry Young, and Bimbo Coles are still legendary. For some slightly older Hokies, Dale Solomon and Wayne Robinson are equally legendary.

We all have our little stories we can tell. Just looking at the names in that last paragraph brings a few to mind. I remember a game in Cassell against Florida State where Al Young had two quick fouls called on him, and he turned to press row, held out his hands, and said, “What am I supposed to do?” The refs whistled him for a technical … and Al was livid.  Except he didn’t take it out on the refs. He got a furious look on his face and played in pure rage for the next five minutes. He locked down on defense, and the poor FSU point guard couldn’t even get the ball across mid-court. The Cassell fans were foaming at the mouth.

I remember watching a UVa-VT game on television during the 1983-84 season, in which the Hokies broke a nine-game losing streak against Virginia, downing the Hoos 56-54 in Richmond. Perry Young was unstoppable, scoring 26 points in a classic display of the incredible interior toughness Perry possessed.

I have been friends since childhood with Phil Williams, who once told me about a road game at Florida State, when the Seminoles had the great Alton Lee Gipson playing center. Keith Colbert, a tenacious defender, was giving Gipson a particularly hard time, and Gipson was getting frustrated. There was a momentary pause in play, and the arena was oddly quiet for a couple seconds. During the lull, Gipson, normally a very quiet guy, poked Colbert in the chest and shouted, “DON’T TOUCH ME, BITCH!!” Everyone within 50 feet heard it clearly, and all of them — the players, coaches, referees, press row — all cracked up laughing.

When we were juniors, Phil Williams was instrumental in a big 84-66 win over Virginia. The Hoos featured future NBA player Olden Polynice, but the Hokies used tough defense from Dave Burgess (31 minutes) and Phil (14 minutes) to hold Polynice to just 13 points. Burgess and Bobby Beecher both got into foul trouble (eventually fouling out), and Phil was pressed into more playing time than expected, most of it guarding Polynice … and Phil shut him down.

I asked Phil how he did it, and he said, “I stood on his foot. Every time he came down the floor and set up, I stood on his foot. He was from Jamaica and had a really funny accent, so the refs couldn’t understand what he was complaining about. So I kept doing it.”

I digress, because I like to tell stories. Every time the Moir era comes up in conversation, stories like that start coming out. That was part of why I wanted to interview Charlie, to get some of the back stories behind what all of us saw on the court and on TV.

What I didn’t really expect was to gain a new-found appreciation for what a class guy Charlie Moir is, and how loyal to Virginia Tech he was. The story about turning down a triple-salary offer from Clemson, and Charlie’s comments about not pressing the administration for higher pay because it “would have been tough on them” tells you all you need to know about him and how he felt about Virginia Tech. He was, in his own words, “comfortable,” and he didn’t ask for more, because it would have taken away from others, including the non-rev sports, for whom the money situation was “awful.”

Charlie was very candid in this interview, but nothing was said with malice … except for calling Mike Slive a “damned dog.” I suspect that, too, is just telling it like it is.

Charlie Moir was a great coach who achieved a lot in his career. He could have done more, but to do so would have required meanness and dishonesty that Charlie doesn’t possess. He got his 213 wins at Virginia Tech the right way, in a tough environment to win, without compromising his principles.

Those who know Charlie and know what he is about respect him. Count me in that group.

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